Relaxation is reliant on the state of the nervous system. The nervous system is an incredible, individually intricate, highly sophisticated web of neurochemical and electrical activity, which includes the brain, the spinal cord and all the nerves in the body.
Every one of our 65 trillion or so cells is influenced by the actions of our nervous systems. From mundane automated processes to executive thought and creativity, the nervous system is the director of it all.
Your nervous system
Your brain has 100 billion neurons and trillions of supportive glial cells. Each neuron, or nerve cell, is connected to other cells by 20,000 individual connections. This means there are more connections in the brain than stars in the universe, according to Daniel Amen MD.
The brain is soft like butter, consists largely of fat substances and is coordinated by complex cascades of interacting — and often shape-shifting — compounds called neurotransmitters that rely on a battery of co-factor nutrients and are orchestrated in part by hormone-producing glands. The more one investigates the brain’s activity, the more aware one becomes of how incredible and awe inspiring our biocomputer central processing unit is.
Physiologists divide the action of the non-conscious, automated nervous system into two arms: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic arm is referred to as the “fright, flight, freeze” system and the parasympathetic the “rest and digest” nervous system. Your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems work in unison to enable the healthy functioning of your entire body, a balance between stimulation and inhibition, or action and rest. When you are in rest mode, your ability to carry out additional detoxification processes is increased.
Nerves and toxins
There is an array of factors affecting the functioning of the nervous system and toxins certainly have an enormous influence. A toxin is defined as any compound that has a detrimental effect on cell function or structure. There are many toxins that can damage the function or structure of the nervous system.
The body has many mechanisms to prevent poisoning from toxins. One of them is the brain blood barrier, a capillary network that manages to keep some of the toxins out of the brain. Despite this protection, some toxins are still shunted into the brain’s fatty tissue: for example, aluminium. Your body’s tendency is to maintain the health of the blood, often at the expense of the tissues.
“The body will try to get toxic minerals, such as lead, out of the blood stream as fast as possible before they can do damage to the central nervous system,” explains mineral expert Dr Pauline Roberts. Therefore, highlights Roberts, “blood tests for toxicity may not be showing the whole story” because the toxins are not in the blood but in different tissues throughout the body.
If a toxin interferes with a particular biochemical function, the body can, to an extent, take a different biochemical pathway to achieve the same end result. However, as toxin load builds up, compensatory mechanisms can be overcome and toxins can begin to thwart nervous system functioning.
From dentist to farm
Toxins that can commonly accumulate in nervous system tissues include the heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium, aluminium, nickel and arsenic. Mercury is well known to wreak havoc on the nervous system. The term “mad as a hatter” derives from the use of mercurous nitrate in treating felt used for hat making, which left the hatters experiencing irritability, shakes or issues with memory, hearing and vision.
Dentists today also suffer health issues, one study showing 90 per cent of dentists have some motor tremor. Robert Gammal’s website provides an excellent referenced resource for more information about toxicity in dentistry.
Many synthetic chemicals used in farming — organophosphates (OPs), organochlorines and organocarbonates, collectively known as the persistent organic pollutants or POPs — have been shown to interfere with enzymes that transform neurotransmitters. These chemicals were designed as pesticides to interfere with insect neurotransmitters. They work in a similar way in our nervous systems, though obviously our larger scale stops us from keeling over after one exposure.
POPs are persistent, meaning they don’t degrade easily. Residues can be found in waterways, fibres like wool and cotton and lanolin products as well as conventionally grown foods. This is a major reason for supporting organic production methods where POPs are not used.
Excessive toxins can lead to many disorders, from an inability to think clearly to depression and possibly even Parkinson’s disease. High incidence of suicide in farming communities is postulated to be influenced by the high levels of organophosphates that cohort has been exposed to.
“Organophosphates [OPs] are predominantly used by sheep farmers to destroy invertebrate pests such as lice and worms through dipping or drenching,” explains Dr Roberts. “Various studies in the UK and Ireland have concluded that neurological disorders such as depression have a causal link with OP poisonings in farming communities.”
Elaine Hollingsworth, long-time raw food advocate who co-ran the Hippocrates Health Centre in Queensland, writes about the dangers of “excitotoxins”. These are food additives that sweeten, preserve or enhance the flavour of processed foodstuffs that over-stimulate and interfere with healthy nervous system function. Other toxins such as solvents, formaldehyde, toluene, benzene, drugs and alcohol can damage our nervous systems.
Providing minerals to the body is the gentle, safe approach to detoxification of the nervous system. Adequate mineralisation of the body is required to ensure there is sufficient energy available for the detoxification processes and that you’re not draining struggling toxified body systems even more.
“Many detox regimes stimulate liver and kidney function to engage in toxin removal. However, the body does not spring clean unless it has the energy and resources to do so safely,” explains Dr Roberts.
“To stimulate a body into toxin removal before it is ready is to my mind the antithesis of the natural process. Therefore, I always make sure my clients are fully mineralised and have good levels of intrinsic energy and stabilised blood sugar before undertaking a detox routine, in line with the body’s own modus operandi.”
Minerals are fundamental in supporting effective detoxification. The concept of mineral swapping introduces an idea of how required dietary minerals can protect from us from toxic minerals because they can compete for absorption into the body tissue.
Dr Pauline Robert explains, “The relationships outlined in the periodic table have relevance to human systems. We know that needed minerals such as calcium and magnesium compete for absorption and some of this competition is to do with their atomic size and charge, both being 2+ cations.
“The intake ratio of any minerals that can compete for absorption becomes very important; too much magnesium can have a deleterious effect on calcium uptake, for example. Similarly charged atoms that might not be beneficial can compete for the same binding sites. In the case of calcium, this certainly occurs with the wholly toxic lead (also a 2 + cation) which is why I believe children, with their tremendous requirement for calcium for growth purposes, should not be allowed to live in lead-polluted environments such as Mt Isa.
“Whilst the harmful effects of anti-nutrients such as lead are increasingly understood, our tests and gauges for toxicity in children are not as accurate,” says Dr Roberts.
When removing toxins from the tissue, Dr Roberts suggests, there is a sequence involved, directed by the body’s capacity to deal with the toxin load: “What is clear is that removal of aluminium occurs in the body at the expense of silica. In the brain, where aluminium can become deposited, silica maintains brain cement. If silica supplies are lowered by aluminium, removal of the toxic mineral can occur at the expense of renewal of brain cement.
“I suspect silica wasting plays some role in the reduction in brain integrity found in aluminium-induced Alzheimer’s disease. Forced removal using chelation or other badly managed detoxification programs could cause similarly unintended consequences.”
It’s not as simple as putting silica in to get aluminium out or calcium in to get the lead out. “The body’s own system approach shows us that toxin removal is not as simple as pulling something out and shoving something back in,” says Roberts — or, as she says elsewhere, the best approach is “support, don’t slam”. Let the body’s innate wisdom detox at the rate that it can manage and well-balanced minerals, from seaweeds or organically grown vegetables, can support it in its job.
Sleep has an important role in effective detoxification each night. Dr Reza Samvat gives an analogy of a nightly board meeting occurring in the brain’s suprachiasmatic nucleus of the ventral hypothalamus. Dr Samvat describes more than a dozen sleep molecules, neurochemicals, hormones and prostaglandins acting as board members. Each of them must be present each night to enable the agenda items to be executed.
Topping the nocturnal agenda is always toxic waste management. Only when the toxic load is dealt with can the other nightly agenda items be tended to. These include important actions such as healing, repair, immune functions, growth, emotional processing, memory consolidation and learning.
Our physiology undergoes daily rhythms known as circadian rhythms. While we sleep, various hormone levels, including the “super-antioxidant” melatonin, peak. The whole system enters a cleansing and repair phase. When the “rest and digest” arm of the nervous system predominates, as it does during sleep, detoxification processes are more effective.
The liver, through a two-phase process, is a major organ of detoxification. Put simply, phase one involves a series of enzymes that break down toxic substances into smaller fat-soluble compounds. These are then dealt with by one of seven different phase-two processes which effectively add a compound to the phase-one end product to render it water soluble and able to be excreted from the body.
Given that the brain and nervous system comprise around 60 per cent fat, ensuring both these phases are in good, balanced working order is incredibly important to stop toxins entering the fat tissue.
Dr Samvat suggests the liver is predominantly involved in phase-two processing during the night. Supporting this phase in the evenings, and avoiding stimulating phase-one processes, assists in adequate detoxification and allows the board members get to other agenda items. This can be achieved by avoiding phase-one stimulating drugs like alcohol, nicotine, codeine and caffeine, foods such as charcoal meats, high-protein meals and oranges and environmental toxins such as pesticides, exhaust and paint fumes. Avoiding these will reduce overburdening phase-two activities.
Additionally, increasing brassica vegetables, low-protein meals, gastrointestinal supports (digestive aids and probiotics), turmeric, rosemary, calcium and magnesium can promote swift action within the nocturnal boardroom. Sleep is the time to build up the body’s reserves. Supporting detoxification can lead to a satisfying beauty sleep.
Supplements for your nervous system
There are many supplements which have the ability to protect the nervous system. The suitability and safety of these neuroprotectants should be discussed with your health practitioner. Common supplements include Coenzyme Q10, L-carnitine, L-acetylcysteine, betaine, various antioxidant agents and herbal liver and nervous system herbs such as skullcap (Scutalaria laterifolia), oatgrass (Avena sativa) and Schizandra berry.
Nourishing the nervous system is a powerful way to support ongoing detoxification. Such nourishment combines nutrition, herbs, exercise, social supports and holistic counselling when required.
Sally Mathrick practises naturopathy with a specialty in detoxification. She provides workplace wellness programs and is a health writer.