The Mental Health - Overall Health Connection

Carl B. Forkner, Ph.D.

Introduction

May is designated as Mental Health Month in the United States. One may consider the brain as the body’s central processing unit (CPU), responsible for both the operating system (involuntary functions) and executing specialized programs (voluntary functions). Much like a CPU, the brain both sends and receives electrical impulses carrying messages between various components of the body. It is this two-way traffic—sending commands and receiving and interpreting signals from other components—that inextricably ties brain health to overall health.


The Brain-Gut Connection

The key to understanding the gut-brain connection is collecting relevant data on the electrophysiology of the connection, focusing on the role of the vagus nerve in transmission. The vagus nerve provides the connection by which information on the heart, lungs, stomach, intestines, and liver are sent between those organs and the brain (Browning & Mendelowitz, 2003). Further understanding of the gut-brain axis will come from studies that examine how the signals transmitted along the vagus connection affect changes in neurochemistry in the brain and influence behavior (Forsythe, Bienenstock, & Kunze, 2014). A basic map of what functions the vagus nerve axis enables appears in Figure 1.


Figure 1. Vagus nerve axis. (Knight, 2017)


Most neurotransmitters found in the human brain may be produced by gut microbes. Although these neurotransmitters act predominantly in the local gut area, there is evidence that supports a view that gut microbes can influence central neurochemistry and behavior (Dinan & Cryan, 2017). Efforts to delineate a role for the brain-gut axis range from stress disorders (anxiety, depression, IBS) to neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism (Stilling, Dinan, & Cryan, 2014). In each of these cases, the growing field of neuroscience may hold key solutions.


Neuroscience and Overall Health

The brain is our body’s CPU, controlling our nervous system using chemicals called neurotransmitters that allow the different areas of the brain to communicate. Neurotransmitters communicate within a healthy brain to develop positive neuroplastic pathways. Current knowledge suggests that the adult brain is dynamic, changing based on both internal and external influences. This phenomenon of remodeling the brain is referred to as neuroplasticity, which changes can be either adaptive or maladaptive (Kays, Hurley, & Taber, 2012). Positive neuroplasticity is the result of experience, exposure, and practices creating neuronal connections that influence positive resilient positive psychological and physiological functioning.


Negative neuroplasticity occurs when the brain is remodeled by traumatic experience, exposure, or practices that create maladaptive results, such as sleep disorders, hypervigilance, and substance dependencies. Trauma and chronic stress may result in the brain being “stuck.” Harnessing the power of advanced computer technology serves to help the brain to “heal itself” or rebalance. Having the brain in a balanced state leads to a better quality of life, allowing us to act in a more deliberate manner, take care of our bodies through proper nourishment, balance emotional responses, and increase realization of potential through enhanced performance. Using neurofeedback and biosignaling provides a pathway to engage this advanced computer technology with the brain and body.


Neurofeedback and Biosignaling as a Pathway

Neurofeedback is a non-pharmaceutical means to achieve optimal brain functioning. This method works by “teaching” the brain through rewarding brain waves to achieving self-regulation into statistically “normal” brain wave patterns. This process of rewarding “normal” brain wave patterns while ignoring patterns outside the “normal” range fosters self-regulation.


Neurofeedback is an operant conditioning-based technique that enables individuals to sense, interact with, and manage their own physiological and mental states. It has been applied across many psychiatric conditions, treating sub-clinical symptoms, and enabling performance enhancement in healthy—even elite—populations (Orndorff-Plunkett, Singh, Aragon, & Pineda, 2017). To accomplish neurofeedback, one of many types of headsets or caps is used, positioning sensors in key locations on the head to monitor and record brain wave activity. When the goal is to normalize the system—using neurofeedback, for example—it may be described as self-directed neuroplasticity which outcome is long-term functional, structural, and behavioral changes or normalization.


Neurofeedback has become increasingly visible as a means to address mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and others. The neurofeedback approach is a closed-loop psychophysiological process by which feedback of neural activation is provided to the participant to foster self-regulation (Sitaram et al., 2017). It is a non-pharmaceutical solution to addressing major psychological issues, as well as associated physiological health.


Biosignaling is a form of subtle neuroresponse that is communicated through galvanic skin response (GSR). In skin conductance response, the skin becomes a primary conductor of electrical energy when internal or external stimuli are physiologically arousing (referring to overall activation). This is accomplished through a hand cradle that uses GSR technology. The non-invasive cradle is used for transmitting balancing signals from the computer to the body, with the key outcome being balanced intra-brain communication.


Summary

Mental health is as important to the human body as good nutrition is to the brain to properly function. The Brain is like the CPU and memory of the body, sending and receiving signals that operate and psychological and physiological activity. By using non-invasive processes—such as neurofeedback and biosignaling—rebalancing of intra-brain communications may have a significant positive effect on psychological well-being, physical condition, and provide the client with greater clarity that fosters enhanced productivity. Whether the outcome is meant for an individual’s pursuits or those in a corporate environment, neuroscience provides an alternative to traditional, invasive treatments by training the brain to learn how to rebalance itself for improvement in the client’s quality of life.


Learn more about neuroscience and achieving brain performance optimization at http://vitanya.com/brain-performance/

References

Browning, K., & Mendelowitz, D. (2003). Musings on the wanderer: What's new in our understanding of the vago-vagal reflexes?: II. Integration of afferent signaling from the viscera by the nodose ganglia. American Journal of Gastrointestinal Liver Physiology, 284(1), 1-19.

Dinan, T., & Cryan, J. (2017). The microbiome-gut-brain axis in health and disease. Retrieved from Cork, Ireland:

Forsythe, P., Bienenstock, J., & Kunze, W. (2014). Vagal pathways for microbiome-brain-gut axis communication. In M. Lyte & J. Cryan (Eds.), Microbial endocrinology: The microbiota-gut-brain axis in health and disease. (pp. 115-133). New York, NY: Springer.

Kays, J., Hurley, R., & Taber, K. (2012). The dynamic brain: Neuroplasticity and mental health. Psychiatry Online. doi:10.1176/appi.neuropsych.12050109

Knight, K. (2017). The Vagus nerve and chronic fatigue? Retrieved from https://theguruexperiment.com/vagus-nerve-chronic-fatigue/

Orndorff-Plunkett, F., Singh, F., Aragon, O., & Pineda, J. (2017). Assessing the effectiveness of neurofeedback training in the context of clinical and social neuroscience. Brain Science, 7(8), 95-117. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5575615/ doi:10.3390/brainsci7080095

Sitaram, R., Ros, T., Stoekel, L., Haller, S., Scharnowski, F., Lewis-Peacock, J., . . . Sulzer, J. (2017). Closed-loop brain training: The science of neurofeedback. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 18, 86-100. doi:10.1038/nrn.2016.164

Stilling, R., Dinan, T., & Cryan, J. (2014). Microbial genes, brain & behaviour--epigenetic regulation of the gut-brain axis. Genes, Brain and Behavior, 13, 69-86. doi:10.1111/gbb.12109

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