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Is a Limbic System Impairment Hijacking Your Health?

Jonathan Streit, DC

Understanding the limbic system’s role in your health is pivotal to identifying whether or not you have a limbic system impairment. It can also equip you to recognize the types of trauma that create limbic system dysfunction. Knowing if a limbic system impairment is hijacking your health empowers you to put an end to suffering and usher in better health outcomes.

Your brain is made up of a 100 billion brain cells. Each cell is in constant communication with other cells. This allows the brain to adapt to countless stimuli. Using neuroplastic retraining2, we can change the brain’s way of processing.

The Primitive Brain


The limbic system is the most used area of the brain. This system is composed of the amygdala, the hippocampus, the hypothalamus, and the cingulate cortex. The limbic system is also known as the “primitive brain.” Its function allows you to adapt to your everyday environment. It helps you determine how to experience life by creating positive or negative feedback loops based on individual circumstances. In a nutshell, the limbic system is your threat assessment and avoidance system.

The Amygdala


The amygdala1 is the area of the limbic system that is responsible for anger, fear, and rage. It bypasses cognitive reasoning and triggers our negative and positive emotional responses. The amygdala is also responsible for analyzing our environmental situations and changes. Let us say you find yourself in a dark alley. You can feel your senses switch to high alert. Within a split second, before you can even fight or flee, your amygdala analyzes the environment. It allows you to respond to a situation based purely on survival instinct.


If negative self-talk is a consistent habit, it can program the amygdala to respond with fear, negativity, or anger. Whatever our predominant emotions (negative or positive) they dictate our physical reaction to environmental changes. Depending on your state of mind and your confidence in any given situation, fear and anxiety can creep in. The amygdala is what incites you to fight or flee.

Becoming aware of this amygdalin tendency, also allows us to understand we are equally capable of creating positive feedback loops. Luckily, no one resides permanently within a dark alley.

What are you focusing on?


To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “You are what you think all day.” This 19th Century poet echoed Proverbs 4:23 (GNT ), “Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts.”

The more negative emotional responses you have to circumstances in life, the more you are training your amygdala to respond to every interaction in your life as negative.

People sometimes ask me, “How do you bear the emotional burden of working with so many chronically ill patients?” It is true that listening to patients describe their struggles and witnessing their tears can be difficult. However, I refuse to view these interactions through the lens of negativity. Instead, I choose to have a cupcake and rainbows outlook. I train myself to be the kind of person that focuses on the positive. Our patients need a serious, yet joyful, place to seek help. Creating a positive environment for healing is a top priority for us.

The Hippocampus


To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “You are what you think all day.” This 19th Century poet echoed Proverbs 4:23 (GNT ), “Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts.”

The more negative emotional responses you have to circumstances in life, the more you are training your amygdala to respond to every interaction in your life as negative.

People sometimes ask me, “How do you bear the emotional burden of working with so many chronically ill patients?” It is true that listening to patients describe their struggles and witnessing their tears can be difficult. However, I refuse to view these interactions through the lens of negativity. Instead, I choose to have a cupcake and rainbows outlook. I train myself to be the kind of person that focuses on the positive. Our patients need a serious, yet joyful, place to seek help. Creating a positive environment for healing is a top priority for us.

Triggering a Limbic System Impairment


A person with multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS), can be triggered even if they are doing their best to live in a toxin-free environment. I know many people who avoid sitting in church or walking through stores, because someone else might be dowsed in scents and perfumes. The hippocampus remembers the asthma attack, blurry vision, dizziness, anxiety and fatigue that plagued them at their worst and just a whiff can cause these symptoms to re-emerge.

When the brain re-patterns the body’s physiology around an experience it used to have, it creates a true limbic impairment. This doesn’t mean it is all in your head, but rather it is in your brain. A physical rewiring needs to occur in order to change the way your brain processes stimuli.

The Hypothalamus


The hypothalamus is another component of the limbic system. This very busy portion of the brain is all about keeping the body’s systems balanced. It is responsible for relaying neurological impulses to regulate hormonal functions.3 Processes, such as hunger, thirst, body temperature, fatigue, sleep, and circadian rhythms fall into this category. It is also important for aspects of parenting and attachment behaviors.

The hypothalamus is the master relay system. It receives impulses sent by the limbic system and relays them to the rest of the body. The stimuli you encounter can create a change in your physiology for good, or bad, via the function of the hypothalamus.


The Cingulate Cortex


The cingulate cortex is another component of the limbic system. This area relays positive or negative experiences to the body. Then, it regulates your heart rate and blood pressure based on that experience.

For example, Jane struggled with vertigo and anxiety in her past. She still carries a bottle of Xanax close by just in case she gets that faint “off feeling” or “rush” that is so common with anxiety suffers. Recently, she was driving through a tree lined lane. The alternating shadows and sunlight pouring through the trees triggered her vertigo. She started to become very anxious. She did not realize it was the flashes of bright sunlight followed by quick bursts of dark shadows, that triggered her symptoms. Instead, she was confused because it had been three years since she had these symptoms. She asked herself, “Why is this happening now?”

If your brain has a limbic system impairment, your body automatically goes into a fight or flight response. When this happens, your physiology changes to a pre-programmed state based on similar past experiences. This entire limbic fall starts to push you into a downward spiral. The good news is this can be prevented if you know how to stop it.

Limbic System Impairment


A limbic system impairment is a neurological, negative feedback loop. It is an automatic and unconscious process set up in your brain. Without hesitation, it accesses all of the relatable past events. Based on these events, it triggers physical responses in your body to warn you that you need to avoid the threat. This is not just a set of localized symptoms. It has many ramifications. For example, if you had a bad relationship in the past, it may cause you to avoid relationships in the future, to avoid being hurt again.

The limbic system is your body’s way of assessing threat and creating an avoidance mechanism against that threat.


Signs You May Have a Limbic System Impairment


Do you find yourself constantly body checking? I often talk to my patients about the driving test. Not the one you get at the DMV, but the one many chronically ill patients do prior to starting their car. Are my legs working? Check! Are my eyes good for this lighting? Check! Am I comfortable enough? Do I have back pain? Yes…no, check! If you do not find a reason not to drive, you slowly put the keys in the ignition.

Do you body check before you even get out of bed for the day? Do you lay in bed and say, “Alright, I have a headache, my legs hurt, my feet hurt, and my back hurts?” By having a negative internal dialogue, you are already convincing yourself the day is going to stink. If this sounds like you, you undoubtedly have a limbic system impairment.

It is natural for the limbic system to scan the environment for threats. It keeps us alive. We may not even remember why we do the things we do. Why do I always have to sit at the table facing the door or the window? What makes me have to stay on the side of the bed that’s closest to the door? Why do I know where the exits are in every establishment? Is it paranoia or is it great preparedness? The real question is, “Why do I want to know how to escape any given situation?” Is there a repressed memory of being trapped? Is there a sense of insecurity in my surrounding? Maybe I will never know. However, when I reduce this tendency by changing my seating habits, or intentionally setting my mind against assessing every exit strategy, I notice positive changes begin to occur.

Negative Feedback Loops


I often ask my patients, “Are you predicting outcomes before they happen?” Here is an example. You accept an invitation from a family member or friend. You seem to know exactly what will happen and how they will treat you, because that is what always happened in the past. Perhaps you start getting ready to go out, but then you begin to feel unwell. Your heart starts to race. You get an all too familiar nauseous feeling. This is remarkably similar to stage fright. You associate symptoms you used to feel with similar situations from the past. Then the downward spiral begins. Your brain triggers a negative feedback loop, beckoning you not to go. Your internal self urges you to be safe. The message tells you to stay home where you are protected. When you avoid the threat, then the feeling subsides. Have you ever found yourself reacting in a similar way?

Do you find yourself becoming anxious or having an increase in symptoms based on a particular type of experience? When this happens, the amygdala, hippocampus and cingulate cortex are likely creating a negative feedback loop. This negative feedback loop is driving you to avoid similar experiences.

Do you feel afraid, but do not know why? Are you often negative or feel hopeless? Do you frequently retell your story of poor health? Are you prone to addictive tendencies with your cell phone or social media? Do you find yourself asking “why me?” Feeling this way is not purely emotional. It is coming from the brain. Experiencing a limbic system impairment causes you to feel the original pain all over again.


Trauma Induced Limbic Impairment


Trauma can cause these negative feedback loops. The most common cause is microtrauma. After attending lectures on brain traumatology by Author Croft4, I can see how easily the brain incurs trauma.

95% of your conversations are with yourself. So, if you constantly tell yourself that you’re not good enough, or you’re never going to feel better, then you are more likely to manifest this physically. Once again, this is not a mind/head thing. Instead, it’s your brain’s way of following a pre-programmed set of responses. If we didn’t have this mechanism, we would never know not to touch a hot stove. These pre-programed feedback loops are important for our survival.

References:

  1. Doidge, Norman. Brain’s Way of Healing. Penguin Group US, 2015.

  2. Ressler, Kerry J. “Amygdala Activity, Fear, and Anxiety: Modulation by Stress.” Biological Psychiatry, vol. 67, no. 12, 2010, pp. 1117–1119., doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2010.04.027.

  3. Seladi-Schulman , Jill. “Hypothalamus Overview.” Https://Www.healthline.com/Human-Body-Maps/Hypothalamus#Anatomy-and-Function, Healthline Media a Red Ventures Company, 2018, www.healthline.com/additional-information.

  4. Croft AC: Advances in the clinical understanding of acceleration/deceleration injuries to the cervical spine. In Lawrence D, Cassidy JD, McGregor M, Meeker WC, Vernon HT (eds): Advancements in Chiropractic, vol 2, Chicago, Mosby Year Book, Inc., 1995.








Jonathan Streit, DC

drstreit@irestorehealth.com

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