Rebalancing Dysfunctioning Autonomic Chronic Conditions with Lifestyle Medicine

Today many medics and GPs are retraining in Lifestyle Medicine because the medical model alone is not a sufficient "cure" for chronic conditions.

Title: Navigating Dysautonomia: A Holistic Approach to Management

Introduction:

People often ask me “is the Reset to Thrive programme useful for anything other than chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), Long Covid and Burnout?” Since everything in the programme and in the book is based on the body going into survival overdrive, over activating the sympathetic and dorsal vagus parts of the autonomic system, then the book “ Breaking Free: A guide to Recovering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Long Covid Symptoms” and the Reset to Thrive programme are relevant for anything that is as a result of a dysfunctioning autonomic system.

The autonomic nervous system is responsible for regulating automatic bodily functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and temperature control. The parasympathetic branch, with the vagal nerve attached, is often called “ rest and digest’ as it is the system responsible for aiding rest, healing and digestion. When the survival systems are turned on, the calm healthy “ rest and digest” cannot function. Furthermore, the sympathetic, our fight and flight mechanics, is designed to increase heart rate, send excess energy to the peripherals- arms/ legs- affects blood pressure, sweating and your thermostat control. The dorsal or reptilian response is freeze, dumbfounded, brain fog, shutting down the body for its own protection- often called fatigue ( it is NOT tiredness) and crashing or burnout. An imbalance of the autonomic nervous system ( ANS) can be linked to IBS, digestive problems, poorly functioning immune system making us susceptible to viruses and unable to recover normally, as well as other conditions such as rashes, anxiety, overwhelmedness and exhaustion.

An umbrella term for dysfunctional autonomic imbalances is often called “ Dysautonomia” although it is often used in relation to specific symptoms such as lightheadedness, palpitations, fatigue, gastrointestinal disturbances, and temperature dysregulation, associated with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS).

Anyone who feels fatigued, has a racing heart, sore joints, dizziness or pain must consult a medical professional who can do diagnostic tests to eliminate all the known medical conditions. Medicine definitely has its place in regulating the body but more and more, GPs and medics are recognising that drugs do not cure the condition and are looking to other alternative, holistic approaches. Today, many qualified medical doctors are training in Lifestyle Medicine to develop a more holistic and useful way to help people with chronic conditions. Kath Jones GP and Lifestyle Medicine practitioner, is attending the Reset to Thrive live interactive webinar on 4th April 2024 to discuss why and how qualified medics are training in complementary treatments because medicine alone has restrictions for chronic conditions such as pain, fatigue, anxiety and a host of other conditions. https://resettothrive.co.uk/li...

Dysautonomia encompasses a spectrum of disorders characterised by dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system.

Medical Interventions: Medical management of dysautonomia often involves pharmacotherapy aimed at alleviating specific symptoms. This may include medications to increase blood volume, stabilize heart rate, or manage symptoms such as nausea or pain.

Lifestyle modifications like increasing salt and fluid intake, wearing compression garments, and physical therapy can complement medical treatment. Caffeine and alcohol can exacerbate symptoms so it is recommended that these are avoided; this is true for any condition that is affected by the autonomic system going out of balance.

Exercise: Contrary to some who think exertion is to be treated with fear and caution due to post exertion malaise (PEM), evidence shows that engaging in regular, moderate exercise tailored to individual abilities can improve cardiovascular fitness and reduce symptoms of dysautonomia. Gentle exercise such as swimming, yoga or cycling can promote circulation and reduce problems with standing or being upright.

Stress: It is known that stress can exacerbate symptoms because it activates the very system that is already out of balance and so any chronic condition with autonomic dysfunction needs to include a programme to reset the autonomic system and alleviate stress, such as The Reset to Thrive programme. It is based on the neurological model whereby the numerous parts of the brain are activated to put us into survival mode and send out red alert signals, experienced as symptoms, when it gets feedback that we are stressed, under threat or struggling with events. Of course the condition itself is stressful and so stopping the secondary fear associated with “ not being able to do anything” is an essential part of rebalancing the system.

In my book “ Breaking Free: A Guide to Recovering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Long Covid Symptoms” and in the Reset to Thrive programme, you are given tools to break the survival circuit and rebalance the autonomic system as well as vagal exercises to reset back to the healthy, calm system that enables growth, repair and recovery, often called the “rest and digest” mode. If you have a chronic upset tummy it is worth checking out if the “ rest and digest” mode has been compromised; do see your GP for medical advice to eliminate other medical causes.

As with any dysautonomia and imbalance, developing a good sleep routine is essential as sleep is the body’s medicine for recovery and repair. There are references in the book “ Breaking Free” to good sleep routines and recommended books as well as podcasts such as Dr Michael Mosely’s sleep podcast.

It is difficult to reset the system back to the calm mode if we are forever being triggered by stressors and so it is important to consider whether your environment and conditions are conducive to thriving or if it feels like you are surviving in difficult conditions. No amount of fabulous work and vagal exercises can keep us in the vagal system if the body keeps having to adapt back into survival mode to deal with problems, events or people who feel threatening or too demanding of our resources, so seek help to work out how to alleviate load that may be coming from all directions.

Conclusion:

There are numerous sensations that are fired off by the brain when it detects we are in trouble and this can become a chronic condition which can be reset using medication in some cases and in all cases needs lifestyle changes to help return the autonomic system back to its healthy, calm and vital vagal system. Alleviating any perception of things being too demanding, threatening or hard as we las developing lifestyle changes with regards caffeine, salt intake for POTs and getting sleep are critical components in resetting to thrive mode again. The autonomic system is our adaptive system, it literally adapts according to the environment it registers that we are in, allowing us to thrive in healthy environments and it puts us into survival modes ( sympathetic system or dorsal reptilian) when it detects we need rescuing. Today medics who are disenchanted with only being trained in the medical model and not taught about the autonomic system in medical school ( or chronic conditions) are training in complementary therapies or treatments to offer a more rounded service to those patients who have dysautonomia, imbalanced ANS symptoms and other long term chronic conditions where medicine alone offers an insufficient cure.

Categories: Wellness