The Autonomic Nervous System

The nervous system is composed of two major divisions. First, there is the voluntary nervous system which is responsible for the functions under the volitional control of the organism. This part of the nervous system perceives the things going on in the environment on a conscious level and can consciously respond to those things. The second division is the automatic nervous system which operates behind the scenes on an unconscious level to enhance the survivability of the organism in response to the environment. It controls things like breathing, heart function, digestion, urination, sight, focus, sweating, defecation, and every function of the body which is not under direct, willful control. Of course, some of these functions are under voluntary control to some extent like breathing, but overall, they function automatically in the background (under the radar so to speak) to control the homeostatic processes of the organism.

Taking a closer look at the autonomic system without getting into too much detail it is divided into two parts. These are called the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for what have been termed fight, flight and fright reactions. One can demonstrate the responsiveness of the sympathetic nervous system by startling someone and watching them jump or move. The heart races, the blood rushes to the extremities, the pupils dilate, the sweat glands may secrete, the breathing becomes increased, all of which are attempts of the body to prepare itself to quickly react to the environment in an immediate survival mode. This may result in fighting, fleeing, or just plain being scarred out of one’s wits, if you may. It occurs automatically, and instantly without the individual thinking about it. If he had to, it may be too late. Now that is survival at its best.

The parasympathetic nervous system on the other hand is responsible for the functions of rest and digestion. It slows the heart rate, slows breathing, causes the blood to be diverted to the trunk, stimulates digestive and eliminative function, etc. So both of these systems have a nerve supply that innervates every organ of the body to either speed up or slow down the function of that organ, depending on which organ is being addressed.

So what does all of this have to do with Nutrition Response Testing? In order to properly answer that question we must look at the anatomical design of the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system exits the spine basically in the thoracic area. To be technical the distribution is usually from T1 to L2. At any particular level in the spine the sympathetic nerve which exits at that level supplies a specific organ or specific organs in the body. For instance, the sympathetic nerve exiting the spine at T6 goes to the stomach. The sympathetic nerve exiting the spine at T10 goes to the adrenal gland. If you are unfamiliar with this the entire spinal nervous system has been mapped out as it were and you can view the organ spinal relationships throughout the spinal column on a chart which you will be able to do at any chiropractic office. This is a large part of the rationale supporting the benefit of chiropractic in treating health related conditions.

But, to carry this further, it is also known that at any particular level of the spine this accounts for only 20% of the sympathetic nerve. The remaining 80% of the nerve is distributed to the skin or surface of the body. This anatomical nerve distribution gives scientific support for the argument of reflexes known as viscero-somatic, somato-visceral, and viscero-visceral reflexes. It provides the rationale for acupuncture. It gives scientific support to the use of physical therapy modalities applied to the surface of the body, and helps to explain the benefits of therapeutic massage. But, most importantly for this publication it affords one the ability to actually assess the functioning of the different organ systems of the body using Nutrition Response Testing. Let us take a look at how this is accomplished.

If one were to make a “map” of the surface of the body differentiating the surface by spinal nerve distribution on the surface one would display the commonly known dermatomal pattern of which most medical practitioners are aware. Since any particular dermatome has a specific nerve level going back to the spine through the sensory or afferent nerve there is an associated organ at that level which also sends also receives a sympathetic nerve from that same level. By contacting the surface of the body at a particular dermatomal area with the hand one causes a hyperemic compression of the skin which stimulates the afferent nerves distributed to that level to send an impulse back to the spine. If the associated organ at that level is functioning correctly (is not under stress causing it to be hyper or hypoactive), the body does not send an impulse to cause the muscle being tested to go weak. If, however, the organ is under stress it is either in hyper or hypofunction and this additional stimulus to that spinal level will cause the muscle tested to fail to lock. This phenomenon is reproducible and can be used to assess the function of the sympathetic nervous system and the effect it presently has on the body based upon abnormal physiological stress and its’ attempt to maintain homeostasis.

What is so beautiful about this procedure is the ability of the practitioner to assess physiological stress before that stress moves into a pathological state. This then can assess body function many times before physiological symptoms may even present. It is far more sensitive than any testing for pathological changes which is the basis for medical testing. If a condition can be recognized prior to becoming pathological and treated with the proper nutritional support the condition can be corrected much easier and safer, and without the individual having to go through the suffering, expense and damage which will ultimately occur as a result of pathological damage.

Nutrition Response Testing therefore assesses the function of the sympathetic nervous system to see how the body is responding to the demands placed upon it. If everything is functioning normally the muscle will remain locked. If hyperfunction or hypofunction is present, the muscle will lose its lock and go weak. There apparently exists a sensory threshold which, when reached by hand compression over a sensory nerve to stimulate the afferent nerve on the surface of the body and send a signal back to the spine at an already excited level due to the change of stimulation from a compensating organ malfunction, a resultant loss of muscle lock can be perceived in the individual. As simply as it can be stated, that is how it works.

The first test we will discuss is autonomic nervous system regulation.

Nutrition Response Testing allows the practitioner to identify and correct any dysfunction of the ANS. In other words, as the ideal nutrients are being supplied, along with any impediments to cure being removed, the nervous system is then able to self-regulate and bring itself back into balance, reversing any unpleasant symptoms and allowing for an eventual return to ideal health and well-being. Once the underlying stress is corrected, this weak muscle response will no longer occur. Since the body is directly used for analysis, (versus doing lab tests) it is faster and tends to be just as, if not more accurate. There are also no huge expensive machines, no drugs, surgery, nasty needles, or laboratory fees to cover. And following a consultation the patient is given the results of the testing in a way that he can understand, along with a specific nutritional program to follow.
Right now, you might be wondering exactly what the autonomic nervous system (ANS), and how it functions. Briefly, the ANS is that portion of the nervous system, which is normally self-regulating, and beyond a person’s conscious control. With biofeedback or yogic training, some conscious control of the ANS can be achieved, but the beauty of the system is that it will always make the best adjustments that it is capable of under any given circumstance. Symptoms, therefore, are the body’s best attempt to create a workable balance and still maintain life.

The ANS controls such functions as the rate and depth of breathing, rate and rhythm of the heart, blood pressure, digestion and assimilation of nutrients, circadian rhythms (the wake/sleep cycle), immune system functioning, hormone secretion, detoxification pathways, and many other important bodily functions. The electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), a common diagnostic test that measures the rate and rhythm of the heart, is an example of a functional test of the ANS.