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The nervous and endocrine systems work together to manage stress responses

Nervous system health

How do the nervous and endocrine systems work together to manage stress responses and how can the nervous system be supported to increase resilience to stressors and mitigate the effects of stress

Understanding the nervous system

The nervous system is the body’s control centre, providing coordination between input to the brain and actions of the body.  It can be thought of as the motherboard, which allows communication between the organs and systems of the body, so that internal homeostasis and health can be maintained.

Nervous system health

A healthy nervous system is vital for health of the body and mind, a subject which is gaining more attention as links between stress and disease come to light and it is suggested that a high percentage of disease is linked to stress.

Stress is described as a “state of threatened homeostasis or disharmony” (1).  The origin of stress can be what are termed as positive or negative.  Some level of stress can be beneficial for health, and help to propel us on, but chronic unchecked stress is usually damaging.  Chronic stress creates disharmony in physical and psychological function, disrupts health and sense of wellbeing, leads to a whole range of inflammatory responses, immune system dysfunction, and eventually disease states (2).

The nervous system works closely with the endocrine system to manage the body’s responses to stress.

This article will give an overview of the nervous system, and how the nervous and endocrine systems work together to manage response to stress.  It will focus on supporting overall nervous system health, how to maintain healthy stress responses, and support recovery from the repercussions of excess stress with herbs and lifestyle measures.

Nervous system overview

The nervous system keeps order in the body in 3 main ways, which in simple terms are as follows:

  • Sensory input from the rest of the body which travels to the central nervous system along sensory nerves.
  • Integration the central nervous system processes information and responses are formulated.
  • Motor output is the response from the central nervous system to the rest of the body which activates effectors (muscles or glands).

Structurally, the nervous system is categorised in two parts:

  • The central nervous system: consists of the brain and spinal cord.
  • The peripheral nervous system: consists of the peripheral network of nerve tissues which travel from the spinal nerves to the rest of the body.

The peripheral nervous system is further categorised according to these functions:

  • Somatic Nervous System (SNS): refers to the voluntary control of skeletal muscles.
  • Autonomic Nervous System (ANS): refers to involuntary control of smooth muscle, cardiac muscle, and glands.

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) has three parts:

  • Sympathetic Branch: usually supports exercise of emergency action, in ‘fight or flight’ responses to stress or perceived stress.
  • Parasympathetic Branch: usually supports ‘rest and digest’ activities, and more relaxed or passive states.
  • Enteric nervous system (ENS): refers to nerves which are involved in the function of the smooth muscle, glands, and endocrine cells in the gastrointestinal tract. The ENS is also affected by the parasympathetic and sympathetic branches of the ANS.

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is involved in managing stress in the body.

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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