Nervous system

Most people have probably heard of the nervous system, but it can be easy to overlook this highly complex part of our bodies.

This communication system in your body is responsible for many of the basic activities and functions of the human body. When your nervous system is damaged, there is a long list of potential symptoms that can impact practically any part of your body.

Are you interested in learning more about the human body, physiology, and the nervous system?

Let’s take a look at the functions and structure of the nervous system and why this system is essential to your overall health.

Female human nervous system medically accurate 3D render
Female human nervous system

What is the nervous system?

Your nervous system is made up of your brain, sensory organs, spinal cord, and all of your nerves. Nerves are fibres that carry messages between your brain and the other parts of your body.

The central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system are the two primary different parts of your nervous system.

Central nervous system

The central nervous system is made up of your brain and spinal cord. Nearly all of the functions of both your mind and your body are controlled by the central nervous system.

Our brains function as a central computer that performs a number of different functions. These include:

  • controlling our body movement
  • interpreting our external environment
  • acting as the centre of our thoughts.

These different components work together to support your movement and weight.

The spinal cord functions much like a highway between the body and the rest of the brain. If a person undergoes a spinal cord injury, it can disrupt the exchange of information between the body and the brain.

human physiology central nervous system and peripheral nervous system labelled diagram

Peripheral nervous system

The peripheral nervous system is made up of the nerves that extend to other parts of your body from the spinal cord and the brain.

The main function of the peripheral nervous system is to connect the central nervous system to the rest of your body. This includes your skin, limbs, organs, and muscles.

It is through this system that your spinal cord and your brain are able to both send and receive information to the rest of your body. This is what lets us react to our external environment.

You can further divide the peripheral nervous system. Two important parts include the somatic nervous system and the autonomic nervous system.

Somatic nervous system

The somatic nervous system plays the role of carrying motor and sensory information to and from your central nervous system. Basically, voluntary movement and sensory information are transmitted through this system.

There are two primary kinds of neurons in the somatic nervous system, which are motor neurons and sensory neurons.

Motor neurons are also sometimes referred to as efferent neurons. It is because of these motor neurons that we are able to react physically to environmental stimuli. This is made possible because these neurons transmit information from both the brain and spinal cord to your body’s muscle fibres.

Sensory neurons are also sometimes referred to as afferent neurons. They are responsible for carrying information to the central nervous system from the nerves. These neurons are what make it possible for us to take in sensory information and transmit it to the spinal cord and brain.

Autonomic nervous system

The autonomic nervous system is in charge of regulating the functions of your body that are involuntary.

Involuntary body functions include your breathing, blood flow, digestion, and heartbeat.

We have our autonomic system to thank for the fact that the vital functions take place without our conscious attention.

There are two different branches of the autonomic system. These are the parasympathetic system and the sympathetic system.

The parasympathetic system is part of the autonomic nervous system that helps to conserve physical resources and maintain our normal body functions. When we are faced with a threat, our breathing will speed up, our heart rate will increase, and our blood flow will increase to muscles, along with many other bodily changes. It is your parasympathetic system that helps your body resume a normal resting state after a threat has passed.

The sympathetic system, on the other hand, is the part of your autonomic nervous system that prepares your body to respond to threats. The system regulates the fight-or-flight response.

When an environmental threat is located, your sympathetic system will respond. It does this by increasing your breathing rate, accelerating your heart rate, activating sweat secretion, increasing blood flow to your muscles, and dilating your pupils.

human physiology parasympathetic-nerves-and-sympathetic nerves labelled diagram
Parasympathetic nerves and sympathetic nerves

What conditions can affect the nervous system?

Luckily, the way that your body is constructed provides physical protection for your nervous system. Your skull protects your brain and your vertebrae and membranes help to protect your spine. Additionally, cerebrospinal fluid cushions both your brain and your spine in order to:

  • help protect them
  • absorb shock
  • remove waste products
  • circulate chemicals and nutrients that are filtered from the blood.

Even with all of this protection, it is still possible for things to go wrong with your nervous system. When your nervous system is damaged, it impacts the ability of your body, spinal cord, and brain to communicate. There are numerous examples of disorders that can disrupt these communication pathways.

  • Conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.
  • Infections like polio, meningitis, and encephalitis.
  • Physical problems like carpal tunnel syndrome, Bell’s palsy, or an injury.
  • Blood vessel issues such as strokes, subdural hematoma, or transient ischemic attacks.

Other nervous system disorders included motor neurone disease, epilepsy, neurofibromatosis, sciatica, and shingles. The symptoms that you experience when there is an issue with your nervous system depends on what area of the nervous system is involved. These issues can either occur slowly in a degenerative form or they could occur suddenly in an acute form.

Nervous system problems can be created by a wide variety of different injuries, diseases, and conditions. In addition to the disorders mentioned above, things like exposure to toxins, mental health problems, congenital birth issues, withdrawal or overuse of substances, brain tumours, organ system failures, and many other conditions can potentially impact the nervous system.

How to maintain a healthy nervous system

As you can see, the nervous system is an absolutely crucial part of the human body. When there is an issue with your nervous system, the ability of your body, your brain, and your spinal cord to be in complete communication is disrupted.

For this reason, keeping your nervous system healthy is an important part of your overall health and well-being.

Eat a balanced diet

One thing that you can do to help maintain a healthy nervous system is to ensure that you are eating a healthy and balanced diet. About 20% of our daily energy intake goes to our brains, so it’s important that we be mindful of the food we are putting in our bodies.

There is evidence that select dietary factors are important modifiers of brain plasticity and can have an impact on central nervous system health and disease.

There are certain foods that have been linked with healing the nervous system and calming the nervous system. These include sea vegetables, green leafy vegetables, and foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish. There are also a number of foods that have been associated with healthy brain function, such as avocados, cruciferous vegetables, leafy greens, and berries.

Exercise

To help keep your nervous system healthy, you’ll want to exercise in a way that is appropriate for you at least three times a week.

One particular study conducted by the University of Texas found that working out helps to improve brain health and memory in adults who are ageing. They also found that the region of the brain that’s most impacted by Alzheimer’s disease, known as the hippocampus, received an increase in blood flow during exercise.

If you have always had an aversion to exercise, it might be time to consider trying an alternative or creative activity. Exercising does not need to mean going on a 6 mile run at 5 AM every morning. Exercising can mean playing tennis with your partner, gardening, swimming, jump roping, yoga, or pretty much anything else you can think of that incorporates getting your body moving.

Get enough, high-quality sleep

Getting good sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your overall health.

Our body and mind heal and regenerate themselves when we sleep. This means that if you do not get enough sleep, you are not allowing your body and your mind to fully recover from the waking day. Over time, not getting enough sleep can really start to negatively impact you both physically and mentally.

There are a number of things you can do to help improve your sleep health. You will want to have a sleep schedule that you stick with every night. It’s also a good idea to not look at any screens for an hour or two before bed, sleep in a dark, cool room, and wear earplugs if you live on a noisy street or are a light sleeper.

Train your brain

Activities that stimulate your brain can help to protect it from decline and delay the onset of diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Examples of brain-stimulating activities include:

  • sudoku
  • crossword puzzles
  • reading
  • writing
  • taking classes to learn something new

When you participate in stimulating activities, it helps sharpen your mind and guards against cognitive decline.

Maintain a healthy weight

A number of nervous system disorders are linked to obesity. These include diabetes, diabetic neuropathy, and degenerative arthritis. For this reason, and many others, it is important to maintain a healthy weight.

Avoid exposure to toxic chemicals

There are almost 200 different chemicals that can produce adverse effects on an individual’s nervous system. These chemicals can be synthetic or naturally occurring and are called neurotoxins.

More common neurotoxins include

  • PBDE flame retardants
  • heavy metals such as lead and manganese
  • phthalates which are a group of chemicals used to make plastics
  • fine and ultrafine particles commonly found in air pollution
  • a range of pesticides including insecticides, herbicides and fungicides
  • bisphenol A. which is an industrial chemical used to make certain plastics and resins
  • perfluorinated non-stick and stain-resistant compounds

Manage your stress

Stress can have a significant impact on your nervous system. Learning to manage stress in your life is important for your overall health and well-being in addition to the health of your nervous system. Things that can help you manage your stress include:

  • regular exercise
  • practising mindfulness or meditation
  • taking relaxing breaks when you’re feeling stressed
  • spending quality time with loved ones.

Many diseases and disorders can be linked to high levels of stress. For this reason, it’s important to keep stress in check for your overall health.

How does chiropractic care affect the nervous system?

There have been some studies performed looking into how chiropractic spinal and joint manipulation can impact the nervous system.

One study found that certain types of joint manipulative techniques commonly used to treat different musculoskeletal pain conditions, most likely help to produce an increase in skin sympathetic nerve activity on an immediate and short-term basis. However, it is necessary for more studies to be done in order to make more concrete claims in this regard.

Another study looked into how chiropractic manipulation might affect neural activity and pain perception during episodes of panic pain. This research found that they did appear to be an impact on the central nervous system and the way they respond to pain stimuli due to chiropractic spinal adjustments. There is a need for more studies and research to be done on the long-term effects on pain processing of chiropractic care.

Changes to spinal function with chiropractic spinal adjustments appear to affect the way in which the central nervous system responds to repeated pain stimuli. However, this needs to be further explored before concrete conclusions can be made.

The concept of a link between chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy and spinal cord neuroplasticity is gaining interest among researchers, and different studies have demonstrated a connection. 

Chiropractic has the potential to reduce the inflammatory process, facilitate early recovery, and provide pain relief from muscular injuries.

By changing signalling pathways connected to the inflammatory process, chiropractic may reduce secondary injury, nerve sensitisation, and collateral sprouting, resulting in improved rehabilitation from injury and mitigation or prevention of pain.

Are you looking for chiropractic care in Wellington?

The nervous system plays a role in everyday activities, automatic activities of the body, and complex brain processes. Controlling many of the most basic and vital functions of the body, nearly every aspect of our well-being and health is impacted by the health and proper functioning of the nervous system.

While more research needs to be done, there is some suggestion that chiropractic care can be beneficial to the nervous system in particular situations.

Are you looking for chiropractic care in Wellington? If so, you can book an appointment with us today.