There’s no doubt about it, something is going very very wrong with our culture. The dysautonomia cases I see are often late stage migraine cases. It is the people who have had migraines for a long time that have only been approached with medications…

It is almost a part of the progression of migraines when they are not dealt with properly in the same way that fibromyalgia can be. As the brain is more and more affected, the immune system becomes more and more dysfunctional and our nervous systems functioning breaks down more and more, we get dysautonomic and we fall into a massive pain and flare cycle that perpetuates itself.

Luckily, we can see this cycle coming from a mile away. Even 10, 20 or 30 years away the symptoms start to show. In this article I will be covering how to understand and empower ourselves with dysautonomia, connect it to migraines and then cover some simple vagus nerve exercises.

How can we understand dysautonomia in a way that empowers us?

Dysautonomia is a term that is used as an umbrella for a number of different conditions where our autonomic nervous system dysfunctions.

We have two parts to our nervous system:

  1. The motor side that controls our movements and musculoskeletal system
  2. The autonomic side that controls everything else including heart rate, breath rate, pupil constriction and dilation, digestion, blood pressure and temperature

Basically, the autonomic nervous system controls everything else that we do not consciously control.

But there are two parts to the autonomic nervous system:

  • The sympathetic(fight, flight, or flee) side

  • The parasympathetic(rest, digest and repair) side

Our body is constantly taking in information and determining how much into one side or the other we should be.

If a tiger attacks us, we become very sympathetically dominant and our blood sugar increases, adrenaline gets released and our body starts to burn and mobilize resources to fight it or run.

When it does this, it turns off things that we need in the long term like detoxification and digestion.

This is great in the short term but terrible long term.

In the long term we want to be parasympathetic dominant. We want to live in our rest, digest and repair nervous system.

This is the nervous system that cleans the house, breaks down food and absorbs nutrients, keeps our immunity regulated properly, repairs tissues and allows us to think clearly.

If we think of it in terms of traditional Chinese medicine and the yin/yang then the parasympathetic is the yin and the sympathetic is the yang.

The YinYang of Migraine Health

The yin or parasympathetic is what gives us the energy and resources to be yang. The yang is what takes those resources and spends them and breaks down tissue so that hopefully when you are mostly yin again you can repair and the tissue can become even stronger.

This happens in a perfect world where we are healthy, have nutrients that support repair and aren’t stuck in an inflammatory cycle.

But in reality, our bodies get beat up all of the time and we are in a constant stressed out go-go-go mode that drives us into the ground.

Small stresses here or there are not a problem and we can usually bounce back but when we go through things like:

  • Early childhood trauma that programs our nerves to be on high alert

  • Long bouts of continued stress

  • Trauma or grief

  • Toxicant exposure

  • Chronic infections

  • Nutritional deficiencies

Then our body can be sent into a cycle of inflammation, oxidation, catabolism and blood sugar dysregulation.

Normal Vs abnormal nervous system response

In a normal and healthy individual, you get stressed, your body releases a massive amount of resources to help you and you can meet the demands of the stress.

Once the stress is over, your body turns off this release and goes back into calm, cool, rest, digest and repair mode.

In an unhealthy individual this stress response doesn’t get shut off properly, it’s abnormal and continues for too long and the balance gets broken.

The feedback systems our body and brain have to turn the fight of flight system off break.

We become hyper excitable, anxious, nervous, jittery, wired and tired. And so does our brain. It becomes hyper sensitive to stimuli that are normal, regular every day things.

This happens all too often and is a sign our balance between the two is breaking.

Primary vs secondary

Generally there are two types of a disease that can present:

  • Primary that happens “by itself” and for “no reason”

  • Secondary that happens as the result of something else going on

The problem is that our systems of assessment are not very good. A GP will on average only spend a few minutes with you and this is nowhere near enough to understand what is going on in your body, mind or environment.

This often ends with many many disorders being classified as “primary” and having no cause when in fact there are many dysfunctional systems going on and a disease progression process coming on long before this disorder came to be.

Health isn’t as cut and dry as it’s often made to be and we need to understand that our influences from birth have a far greater role in our health than our genes.

Where should we be looking?

Instead we need to look into our body systems and try to understand what is happening from a functional, holistic and integrated perspective. As we now know, everything that is happening in the body is affected by everything else happening in the body.

Ex. The brains health is dependant on the guts health…

But

Our gut health and brain health are both dependant on our emotional health

And then coming full circle, our emotional health is dependant on our gut health.

So we need to look at all of our systems and then have someone help us look at underlying factors if we are still in pain.

We not only want to look at the systems that are having issues whether that be digestive or hormonal or nervous or musculoskeletal…

But we also want to look at how we think, breath, move, eat, drink and sleep.

We want to look at our environment for toxicants and at our social/familial exposures for stresses.

This is when we start to unravel the “mystery” of why we are sick because, to be honest, if we just look at the system falling apart and the diagnosis we are given, we can feel like it’s a mystery and feel lost.

Connecting dysautonomia and migraines

So how can dysautonomia create migraines and how can migraine create dysautonomia?

If we speak in terms of symptoms then they cannot. Symptoms cannot necessarily cause dysfunction other than compensations.

But if we speak in terms of how can the dysfunction of our nervous system(dysautonomia) and how can neurodegeneration(migraine) cause each other, then we are looking more at physiological processes and how they affect each other because of their connection to each other.

One of the easiest ways dysfunction of our nervous system can contribute to migraines is the deregulation of our intestinal tract, the food that we put in it and any infections that may be lurking.

If our nervous system is not properly innervating our gut to maintain tight control over what is happening, the 100 trillion + organisms inside can become opportunistic quite quickly.

That list of a few foods that triggers our migraines can quickly grow into 50, 80, even 100+ foods creating an immune reaction.

Likewise if our brain is constantly inflamed and in pain then the very fabric of our nervous system begins to fall apart.

We become inflamed and then the damage of inflammation creates more inflammation and the damage of that inflammation creates even more inflammation and so on.

We enter into a vicious cycle of self perpetuated inflammation even if we begin doing “everything right.”

It can take a long time to shut off the response once we stop throwing gasoline on the fire.

See this video where I explain everything in detail around dysautonomia and migraines.

How can we see them coming?

Our body is constantly “speaking” to us.

Constantly trying to convey what is going on inside of it and whether what we are doing is favourable or not.

Long before a disease develops, we have symptoms.

For most people unaware of their bodies signs, these symptoms are just regular every day things that hold no meaning.

But things like feeling tired around mid afternoon, having chocolate or sugar cravings, being a little gassy, mood swings, having to have that coffee daily, developing fat around your organs or having PMS are all signs you are in the early stages of system break down.

These symptoms are actually very common, but they are not normal.

You want to look at areas of your life where you don’t have optimal functioning and areas where your functioning is not normal. (Remember common is different from normal)

For example, a burp after a meal may be normal. Burping for an hour after a meal is not.

Having a period is normal. Having PMS is not.

Pooping a soft fluffy log once a day without strain is normal. Filling the toilet with offensive diarrhea daily is not.

What do we do?

There are many things we can do today and right now. Many will cost us nothing but our time or energy, and this is where we should start as we begin building ourselves back up. This is where the 10 steps program comes in.

But we have to make sure we have strong vagal tone above many other things.

Our vagus nerve runs from our brain into our organs and is a super highway of information, most of which is going from the organs into the brain for processing and interpretation.

We want to keep this vagus nerve toned much like we would a muscle.

It needs exercise!

Evolutionarily, we would constantly be exposed to scenarios that would tone our vagus nerve but because we now live sedentary, comfortable, indoor lives where everything is brought to us, this doesn’t happen anymore.

This means we need to force it.

5 Dysautonomia Exercises that strengthen the vagus nerve

Of course before starting or changing anything see your healthcare provider for information and advice.

I will not be too left brained about these as your body and what it responds is individual to yourself and I invite you to listen to it.

Regular cold exposure is what we evolved with

The cold is an incredible tool, especially because it makes us so uncomfortable. Much of our chronic illness and the break down in our brain is because we have lost the stimuli that our bodies evolved with. We did not evolve to sit on a couch or have 3 square meals or be warm all year long and it shows in how fragile our bodies have become.

Of course, the cold is such a powerful tool that in many cases it should be worked up to. It is a stress to be in the cold so we want to make sure we work up the dose and have the resources to recover after it.

Staying parasympathetic while in an ice bath or cold shower is a skill in and of itself, but almost free to do and takes little to no time. You have no reason not to.

Practice Breathing daily

Breath is our ultimate tool for controlling the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. It’s a great way to pump your body and tone your vagus. See this video for some simple breathing exercises.

Gently gag your way into vagal tone

For this, you can use a tongue scraper or toothbrush.

Simple reach farther and farther down your throat until you gag.

You’ll know you’re doing it enough when your eyes begin to water.

Gargle at maximum intensity

A heavy and hard gargle with as much effort as possible. This should be a sprint of gargling.

Hum your heart out

Singing and humming is a great way to tone the vagus nerve, you just have to do it at maximum effort and to exhaustion to force your nerves to grow and connect.

These should be repeated 4-5 times daily for the first 3 weeks to notice an effect, especially with severe dysfunction.

But of course, they are no replacement for a whole and balanced program including all of the different factors that add stress on or take stress off of your body.

For that, the 10 steps program is the absolute foundation for brain health. Click the link to begin.

Do you have both dysautonomia and migraines?

Let me know in the comments below and how they progressed for you.

Mark Canadic

Mark Canadic

Holistic Health Practitioner

Mark Canadic is a writer, speaker, holistic health practitioner and migraine community leader. Read Mark’s inspiring comeback story, “My Burnout and Brain Fires that Lead me to the Root.” Feel free to send Mark a message here.

 

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