Do you suffer from a chronic illness that you have been unable to resolve despite having been to multiple doctors, tried many therapies, and now feel like your illness is a mystery to even the experts? There might be hope for your situation if this describes you. There is a part of the brain known as the limbic system that is responsible for regulating our emotions and many autonomic functions of the body. When this part of the brain is impaired, which can happen from toxic exposure, infection, or trauma, it can lead to a host of mysterious symptoms that eventually become chronic if the limbic system is not rehabilitated.
I have personal experience with being stuck in a cycle of chronic illness and mysterious symptoms for over a decade. I was diagnosed with Lyme disease along with a host of other issues like all sorts of food/chemicial hypersensitivities, sleep issues, hormone issues, and anxiety. I wasn’t able to work anymore and was even bed bound at times. I tried every therapy my doctors recommended, and mostly my system couldn’t handle the treatments. I was on dozens of supplements and had several self care routines that really seemed to keep my mildly functional at best. I didn’t understand why after seeing some of the smartest Lyme disease specialists in this country, and after spending thousands of dollars trying to get well, I was as sick as ever. I knew there was another core dysfunction that was not understood by my doctors. And I saw this same pattern in so many others I knew with chronic illness. There was a missing link.
I eventually learned about how the brain regulates the entire autonomic nervous system, the immune system, and the endocrine system. I realized that my brain was “off-line” so to speak and wasn’t doing the job it was intended to do. It couldn’t fully recognize the pathogens in my body. It couldn’t detoxify the toxins or even handle the supplements I was taking. My brain was overreacting to everything from food to normal environmental chemicals. My brain was the problem, and trying to “kill” bugs in new ways was just a waste of my time and money.
When I learned about the function of the limbic system and learned that it was probably impaired based on my symptoms, I found hope that I could heal if I could heal my brain. And that is just what happened. I learned how to rewire the limbic system using principles of neuroscience and physical therapy for the brain. I learned how to regulate my hypervigilant nervous system and create a more healing chemistry in my body. And in time my brain began to “remember” how to regulate my immune function and recognize “self” from “non-self”. My detoxification pathways started to open and my brain came back “online” again.
I now educate others in states of chronic illness that even though their original illness may be infection or a toxic exposure, the inability to return to a functional state is due to a brain injury. The brain needs to be rehabilitated first before trying to alleviate all the other symptoms. And oftentimes once the brain is working better, there is no other treatment required other than basic healthy lifestyle principles.
Some of the diagnoses that are often the result of a limbic system impairment include:
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
Lyme Disease and other chronic infections that do not resolve with treatment
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Electric Hypersensitivity Syndrome
Many practitioners don’t realize that if the brain, or specifically the limbic system, is not addressed, it can be difficult to recover from these different conditions listed above. The limbic system regulates the entire nervous system of the body and the nervous system must be in harmony for full healing to occur.
So what is the limbic system?
It is the part of the midbrain that is responsible for emotional associations, or how we “feel” about everything we interact with. And this emotional center closely interacts with the structures that regulate the immune system, the endocrine system, and the autonomic nervous system of the body. If we are emotionally dysregulated, this can result in dysregulation of each of these other areas as well.
The limbic system primarily refers to the amygdala, the hippocampus, the cingulate cortex and the hypothalamus. The amygdala is where all emotions are processed in the brain and is known as the “fear center” of the brain. The hypothalamus is the control center for all autonomic functions and links the pituitary gland, the “master” gland to the nervous system. The hippocampus deals with storing and making new memories, and the cingulate cortex integrates information from the thalamus with the amygdala and hippocampus and is also connected to memory, learning and emotional processing
Why does the limbic system matter so much with chronic illness?
When there is an impairment in the limbic system, which usually results from trauma or inflammation, the nervous system’s threat mechanisms (fight or flight responses) can become hyperactive and misinterpret incoming sensory information which leads to dysfunction in the regulatory structures of the brain and nervous system. This dysregulation affects the immune system, the endocrine system, the somatic nervous system, the digestive system and other important systems of the body. If you are chronically ill or have endocrine issues, it can be near impossible to heal if your threat mechanisms are overactivated and “stuck” due to limbic dysfunction.
The good news
There is hope if this feels like you. Thousands of people who have been sick for years are now discovering that they can rewire their nervous system to regulate the autonomic functions of the body and heal. I know many people with the various disorders listed above who have healed or are in the process of healing by using the scientific principles of retraining the brain and nervous system to self regulate. I’ll be writing more articles in the future to dive into the details of this amazing science that I believe is the medicine of the future.