Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has much to offer to support our nervous system.

Nervous system health: A traditional Chinese medicine perspective

We discuss nervous system health and how we can best support it with Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Understanding the nervous system

This is an incredibly important time to discuss nervous system health and how we can best support it from a range of disciplines. Whether as a direct result of contracting the Covid-19 virus or simply as a consequence of living through a pandemic, it is commonly known that these last years have pressured nervous systems globally with the result being an upsurge in conditions such as tension, anxiety, depression, insomnia, fatigue and post-traumatic stress. Thankfully, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has much to offer in this domain, both in terms of treatment and advice for self-care.      

The Autonomic Nervous System

Stemming from the brain and subdivided in to the central and peripheral nervous systems, the nervous system is the control centre that guides us through our daily lives, governing everything from speech and movement to respiration, thoughts and feelings.

Within the peripheral nervous system is the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS controls involuntary processes such as our heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and digestion via the sympathetic (activating) and parasympathetic (calming) nervous systems. It is the ANS that is activated when we experience the ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ or ‘freeze’ response to threatening situations and it is the communication between the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis that regulates this response. (1)

HPA axis 

When we encounter stress or a perceived danger, the sympathetic nervous system galvanises us to react (fight) or flee (flight) through a hormonal response. The hypothalamus, located at the base of the brain, releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). CRH prompts the pituitary gland to secrete adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) which then promotes the adrenal glands to release the ‘stress hormone‘, cortisol. The adrenal glands also release adrenaline and noradrenaline, which prepare the body to fight or flee by increasing blood pressure, heart and breathing rates. Once blood levels of these hormones reach a certain level they will send inhibitory messages to the hypothalamus and this negative feedback returns the body to homeostasis. In the face of chronic stress, however, this equilibrium is not achieved and we suffer what is known as hyperactivation of the HPA axis. (1,2)

Many herbs are suitable for self-care. However if a health condition does not resolve with home remedies we recommend using the information in Herbal Reality along with your health advisors, especially herbal practitioners from the professional associations listed in our Resources page (‘If you want to find a herbalist”). When buying any herbal products, you should choose responsible manufacturers with independently assured quality standards and sustainability practices. Check the label carefully for the appropriate safety and sustainability information.

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