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sympathetic dominance



“The longer the individual has had Fibromyalgia [Chronic Pain], the greater the gray matter loss, with each year of fibromyalgia being equivalent to 9.5 times the loss seen in normal aging”.     McGill University Center for Research, from The Journal of Neuroscience

  • Do acidic foods upset your stomach?
  • Do you get chilled easily?
  • Are your hands and feet cold and clammy?
  • Do you find it difficult to relax?
  • Do you gag easily or frequently have a ‘lump’ in your throat?
  • Are you startled easily?
  • Does your pulse race after you eat — particularly if you eat carbohydrates?
  • Do you find yourself sick often, yet heal slowly?
  • Are you sensitive to bright lights?
  • Do you have digestive problems?
  • Do you struggle with an array of pains that doctors have characterized as ‘Neuralgia’?

If you can answer “yes” to very many of these questions, you may well be living in a state of Sympathetic Dominance.  Allow me to explain.

We live in a pedal-to-the-metal, maximum overdrive society.  It seems that we are always under deadlines and running behind.  There are never enough hours in the day to accomplish all we need to do.  And then we tend to crash in front of the TV for several hours every evening.  On top of that, despite spending more dollars on healthcare than any nation on the planet, we are one of the most chronically ill societies the world has ever seen — and it’s getting worse with every passing generation (HERE). If you want to begin to nip your emotional and health problems in the bud, you’ll have to have at least a cursory understanding of the Nervous System.

In a very over-simplified explanation, the Nervous System is made up of three parts.  There is the ENTERIC SYSTEM, which is what is frequently referred to as the BRAIN / GUT.  Then you have the Sympathetic Nervous System and the Parasympathetic Nervous System.  These two parts of the Nervous System are antagonistic to each other, and are always trying to influence your body in opposite directions.  Pay attention.

  • THE SYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM:   This is your “fight or flight” system (your adenergic or adrenaline-based / epinepherine-based system —- also known as the Sympathetic-Adrenal Response).  It is your Sympathetic Nervous System that makes your heart race when the phone rings at 3:00 am.  Or if a car pulls out in front of you and you have to jam on your brakes.  Or while you are waiting to find out why the boss wanted to see you in his office at 5:00 on Friday afternoon.   It is also the Sympathetic Nervous System that stimulates your Adrenal Glands to action.   Other things associated with Sympathetic Response includes things like increased heart rate and contraction of vessels, sweating, dilated pupils, dilated lung passages, and orgasm.
  • THE PARASYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM:   On the other hand, the parasympathetic nervous system works in an opposite manner.  It is often referred to as the “rest-and-digest” or “feed and breed” part of the nervous system. The Parasympathetic Nervous System is responsible for things like digestion, sexual arousal, and activities associated with using the toilet (peristalsis — the movement of food through the digestive tract).

Let me give you a “real life” example of how these two systems work together to help you survive and thrive.  You are out hunting deer in the Mark Twain National Forest.  You ate a nice breakfast of farm eggs and homemade beef sausage a couple of hours ago, and now you feel satisfied — rested — almost drowsy while sitting in your tree stand.  You are in a state of being that is heavily weighted toward Parasympathetic Control. 

All of a sudden, you hear a crashing through the underbrush.   The next thing you know, you are staring at a 10 foot tall Sasquatch from about 20 yards away.   Your Sympathetic Nervous System goes into overdrive and stimulates your Adrenal Gland to dump a boatload of epinephrine into your blood stream. As the switch from Parasympathetic to Sympathetic occurs, your sphincters relax (you wet and soil yourself), your digestion comes to an almost instant halt as blood supply is shunted away from your digestive organs to your legs — so that you can run if you need to, the passageways to your lungs open up, and your heart goes into high gear to supply the blood necessary to run like the wind.

Now; stop and imagine that something similar to this is your normal state of being.  Although this example was quite radical, the truth is that a huge percentage of the American population is living in some degree of Sympathetic Dominance.  Due to stress, whether physical, emotional, psychological, dietary, etc, the Sympathetics are being stimulated and the Adrenal Glands are firing —- almost non-stop.  These people tend to live in a state of stress, fear, worry, anger, and resentment.  Think it through.  What are some of the classic signs of Sympathetic Dominance?   Lets see if we can name just a few, using the picture at the top of the page, as well as the bullet points above.

Firstly, your food is going to move very slowly through your digestive tract.  This means that not only is your digestion going to stink, you are likely to end up constipated as well (as the body tries to compensate, you get the wild swings to diarrhea that are seen with IBS).  Because the digestive tract is not secreting well, you get a diminished amount of stomach acid present (as crazy as it sounds, this is one of the major causes of all sorts of DIGESTIVE PROBLEMS).  You find your LIBIDO IS DROOPING, you have HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE, and Chronic Pain —- your Adrenal Glands are so overworked that they are going into ADRENAL FATIGUE.  Oh, let’s throw insomnia in there now as well.  Some of the other commonly seen symptoms of Sympathetic Dominance includes things like….

  • MIGRAINE HEADACHES: HERE is a good link.  Be aware that while many chronic Migraine sufferers are Sympathetic Dominant, many of these are the result of SCAR TISSUE.
  • ADD / ADHD  / DEPRESSION / ANXIETY / FORGETFULNESS / BRAIN FOG:  HERE and HERE are a couple of good links.


As with most problems, a great place to start is with diet and exercise.  In order to avoid reactive foods, the diet you probably need to be on is some version of PALEO.  As far as exercise is concerned, I would probably not recommend something like running or other intense form of Cardio Training for a person who is struggling with Sympathetic Dominance.  This is because intense Cardio Training actually turns on the Adrenal Glands full bore in many people (see CARDIO -vs- STRENGTH TRAINING). 

Dealing with these two factors is going to solve most cases of Sympathetic Dominance.  However, if these steps do not work, make an appointment with a FUNCTIONAL NEUROLOGIST trained by Dr. Ted Carrick.  If your problem is BRAIN BASED, this approach is a must.  Since I have been doing Mineral Hair Analysis for about 15 years, HERE is a link on Sympathetic Dominance from that approach as well.  To see my other posts on Sympathetic Dominance, HERE, HERE and HERE are the links.


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