What’s going on in that head of yours?
A lot is happening in your brain. 500 trillion neurons connect to form 125 trillion synapses in the brain (that's the same number of stars in 1,500 galaxies like the Milky Way). Electrical pulses travel out from your brain along your Central Nervous System and govern everything you do. Broadly speaking, there are three parts to this system: the sympathetic, parasympathetic and enteric systems. Enteric is a system devoted to digestion, so we'll save that for another time.
First, the sympathetic nervous system. This directs the body's rapid and involuntary response to dangerous or stressful situations. At the first sign of danger / stress, hormones like cortisol and adrenalin flood the system - increasing alertness and heart rate, surging blood to muscles, quickening the heart rate and the body produces a quick shot fo glucose for extra energy. This is everything you need to respond quickly and actively to a situation.
After the situation has passed, the parasympathetic nervous system takes over to stop these responses and calm the body. Nicknamed "rest and digest", it basically undoes the work of the sympathetic nervous system. Though we need both systems to work, in general we want to exist in a parasympathetic state. (It's a nicer place to be).
The problem occurs when the sympathetic nervous system gets activated then doesn’t turn off. Sadly, more and more of modern life seems geared toward trigging this type of reaction. From infections, to the stress of a year of self-isolation, to a diet high in processed foods; all can cause the sympathetic nervous system to stay stuck on.
For those with chronic issues such as auto immune diseases or chronic infections like Lyme or Post-Covid Syndrome, it can be even harder to shut off your sympathetic system, as it believes it's helping your immune system win the fight!
An "always on" sympathetic system can wreak havoc on your body in many ways: triggering prolonged muscle tension, headaches, shortness of breath/rapid breathing, elevated blood pressure/heart rate, hormone imbalances, GI dysfunction, compromised immune system, and can even start to shrink the amount of grey matter in your brain!
That sounds bad. What can I do?
As researchers uncover more about our nervous system and brains, we're learning more about how to control these unconscious impulses. The term neurofeedback is broadly used to cover the many different ways we try to activate the parasympathetic system while relaxing the sympathetic nervous system - bringing both into balance.
There are several ways to conduct neurofeedback. The cheapest of which is ancient and free: meditation. Study after study demonstrate the impact meditation has on your ANS. The trouble is, most of us don’t have the time, focus or perseverance to spend _____ hours / day for ____ days in a row becoming proficient at meditating.
If self-guided neurofeedback seems too daunting, there are several guided programs available that seek to achieve the same goal. At Case Integrative Health, we prescribe programs like the Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS) or Binaural Beats. Even apps like Headspace work to help calm the sympathetic nervous response.
On the more interventional side, there several in-clinic programs. There are several therapeutic neurofeedback tools that use operant conditioning (a training method where behaviors are reinforced through consequences or rewards) and through visual stimuli shown on a screen. EEG (electroencephalography) sensors are affixed to a patient's head showing them where their brainwaves are causing a sympathetic response. Patients are then asked to actively work on changing / regulating their thought patterns until they achieve the desired effect. It's basically mediation guided by modern medical scanners. This has helped many people achieve breakthrough results, though typical protocols can take 30-40 sessions. Just like meditation or at-home therapies, the heavy lifting is left to the patient.
So… any other options?
Microcurrent neurofeedback (MCN) is a unique form of therapy in that the device both monitors brainwaves AND provides stimulus to help achieve the optimal impact. Just like traditional neurofeedback devices, MCN technology uses an EEG to measure brainwaves, but then adds low intensity pulses of energy through several small electrodes affixed to the head. The energy used is very small: 3 trillionths of a Watt, or ~3 Pico Watts (that's 1/300th the intensity of an AA battery for as little as 1/100th of a second). MCN is like toggling a light-switch on and off in the brain - reminding it to switch off the sympathetic response and return to a parasympathetic response.
At Case Integrative Health, we use IASIS Microcurrent Neurofeedback TM, a non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical, way to rebalance and reorganize the nervous system for better regulation / optimal brain performance. Because the IASIS device both monitors and impacts brainwaves, patients frequently feel results faster and achieve stable improvements in fewer sessions than with other forms of neurofeedback. Early studies on marines are demonstrating improvement in PTSD and mild cognitive impairment from Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) improvement.
MCN is used to “reboot” the system by laying down new neural pathways and increasing neuroplasticity. It is worth noting that only frozen, stuck patterns are affected. Healthy, functional brainwave patterns are resilient and therefore unaffected by this treatment.
Who Is It For?
At its heart, MCN will help stop unnecessary "fight or flight" responses , so it is especially useful for related emotional issues:
In addition, several other conditions have, at least in part, neurological components. Many symptoms are perceived or amplified by our brain's reception of stimuli from nerves. If these pathways get stuck in the 'ON' position, or if the brain forms a habit around certain negative reactions to stimuli, MCN may be an open to stop these "hard-wired" impediments to cures. These conditions include:
Over-sensitivity to treatments
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Traumatic Brain Injuries
Getting your mind right
The science of brain health is expanding rapidly, with new discoveries almost daily. Clinical tools like neurofeedback and MCN follow closely behind the research and provide us with fantastic options for patients looking for help in getting correcting a nervous system imbalance. We're excited to have microcurrent neurofeedback as part of our toolkit for healing both body and mind.