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Overview of Physiology
A healthy person detects and responds appropriately to the environment. When the environmental load is greater than what you can handle, disease occurs as a way to tweak the normal physiology so that it can withstand said force. There are three main dimensions in our teaching model with which we respond to the environment: Reflexes, Brainstem, and Cortex. So every disease should be able to be explained in relation to these systems. Also, all our treatments/training is related to these three systems.
When the doctor hits your knee with a hammer, you might kick him. This is called a reflex. The hammer causes a quick stretching of the muscle. The muscle detects the stretch, and sends a message to the spinal cord. The spinal cord receives the message, and responds by sending a message back to the muscle to contract. This reflex is a simple and necessary mechanism allowing for an immediate response to a person getting pushed over or stepping in a hole.
Before getting into some of the other reflexes let's first explain why reaction would probably be a better term. Technically, a reflex would mean that every time the hammer hit, the exact same response occurred. But this is not the case in adults. Depending on how excitable you are, your reflexes might be heightened or suppressed (like when sleeping). The simple point we are making here is that your reflexes are tuned to be more or less pronounced, which means they aren't reflexes but reactions. We will stick with the term reflexes to describe the loop from the body to the spinal cord in red and returning to the body via the blue line.
Inflammation in your body is controlled largely via reflexes. This is true on several levels, but we will just mention a simple one here to illustrate the basic fact. Your tissues have pain (properly called nocisensoric) receptors, and when there is an injury, the tissues detect the injury, and send a message to the spinal cord. The input reaches the spinal cord, and then sends a message back to the area around the injured tissues to cause the blood vessels in the area to constrict, with the obvious purpose of preventing excess bleeding in the damaged tissues. Because the degree of inflammation is related to the volume of blood flow (among other things), this reflex being more or less excitable means that the inflammation will occur to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the excitability of the nervous system. For example, as we will explain in greater detail elsewhere, a person who is working or doing sports would have a diminished inflammation reaction, and a person who is feeling overwhelmed would usually have a greater inflammation reaction. We point this out because common wisdom is that arthritis is a condition caused by some entity unrelated to us or by some genetic malfunction. We will also describe why certain characteristics lend themselves toward arthritis, and others preclude us from arthritis.
Another example of a reflex would be the the pupil reflex that occurs when a a bright light enters the eye. The mechanism involves detection of excess light, that message being sent to the central nervous system, which sends a logical response back to the pupil to constrict.
The reason we mentioned this last example is to make it obvious that these reactions are with purpose and need to occur quickly to have any value. Obviously, when light is shined the eye needs to react immediately, and the fact that the nerve pathway involves a short distance and there is no analyzing the information (goes in and comes out), time is saved. The same is true for the constriction of blood vessels, as well as the postural reflexes.
Electrical stimulation, acupuncture, all forms of exercise, manual therapies and many other modalities stimulate or inhibit these reflexes, and we will explain how each of them work in that context elsewhere.
You require a degree of defensiveness to deal with lights, injury, loud noises, etc. However, could you imagine how insane we would be if we were unable to curb these reflexes? For example, how would we ever sleep? What about times when you are in a dangerous situation, don't you need to be a little more on edge? Of course you do, and the brainstem is able to influence the reflexes one way or the other. You can see from the picture here that the reflexes are normally inhibited. If your arm is relaxed and someone goes to shake your hand, you wouldn't pull back strongly. If they jerked your arm hard, you might then pull back. So there is a certain reactivity of the reflex based on the fact that the brainstem inhibits input to the reflex up to a certain threshold. When someone has a stroke and the brainstem is injured, they might end up with their elbow stuck in the bent position because the brainstem is no longer able to inhibit the reflex.
This is nice to understand, because it illustrates how much the excitability of reflexes can be altered. Even though you don't actually see the effects of the inflammation reflexes being uninbibited or excessively inhibited, the results are dramatic in terms of what they do to the body. The good news is that this brainstem ability to modulate (turn on or off) inflammation can be trained in the same way it develops during the process of a baby creeping on their hands and knees.
Everyone hears about serotonin, and we use serotonin as a great example for how the brainstem works. You may know that serotonin is used as an antidepressant, but in the body serotonin is actually a precurser to your home made endorphins. So instead of focussing on just one chemical, we will explain how the system works, one major part of which involves serotonin.
The serotonin system is, in our understanding, the anti-fear system. If you are walking on a parking lot full of glass with no shoes, you would want to have some fear, or at least caution. You would walk carefully, and want to feel any sharp feelings so you could immediately react (your self protective reflexes are uninhibited at this point obviously). During these times you would not be producing serotonin.
Now, suppose you are running on a soft, sandy beach. There would be no need to analyze every step, because it would be the same as the previous one thousand steps. In this mental environment, the serotonin production would increase. It is the serotonin production that causes the brain to produce endorphins, which block produce a block pain input at the level of the reflexes. Serotonin would be also be released directly into the cortex (from the Raphe Nuclie in the brainstem), and you would stop analyzing the outside world. This is partly why, when doing repetitive and easy tasks like driving, people zone out, have time to think, and feel relaxed.
There are other things going on in the brainstem, but for now we want to point out one very important thing: Endurance athletes get really good at producing serotonin, and are really good at ignoring pain. They won’t get hit with the chronic pain or chronic arthritis. However, if taken to extreme, they might have the opposite problem, being that they could wear themselves out without knowing it.
On the other hand, a person who has trained in the broken glass parking lot environment, the key factor of which is the randomness and unknown that makes one always on alert, will not produce serotonin. They will not be able to ignore pain very well because that system isn't developed. Every fibromyalgia, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, chronic arthritis person we have ever seen has preferentially developed this system to the detriment of the serotonin system, and taking 5-HTP or narcotics will never change the more fundamental problem we just described. Brain function is a product of how we train it, for better or for worse.
Imagine being in a room with several conversations going on, and having to focus on one person talking. Information from all areas of the room are coming into your cortex, but obviously you cannot make sense of it all, so you focus on one person. What you are doing neurologically speaking, is sending messages from your cortex down the the thalamus, and actively preventing sound coming from those spatial areas from entering the cortex. At the same time, sound coming from the area of interest is actually enhanced, and essentially that is what this important function involves.
Of course this would be tiring if you had to do it all the time. We have coined a personality type 'the scientist' as a person who is able to ignore things by focusing on something else. It is not a problem but an asset. But if the brainstem system doesn't work, one might rely on the deliberate ignoring of pain which works until the injury gets worse. At that point, the brain gets tired, and there is nothing left to modulate the pain (brainstem/serotonin system is weak), and that is the point at which the scientist comes for help.
On the other hand, the person who has been trained in the random broken glass parking lot gym develops a strong ability to experience everything. The red lines around the cortex are well developed, but the blue lines which are used for ignoring things become weak. This person has no barriers between themselves and the outside world, and will always be overwhelmed with pain or other information until they train those neglected areas of the brain.
So these are the broad systems that exist in our physiology We can explain most people problems and behaviors in tems of these systems.