Nerves

General characteristics

General characteristics

Nerves are specialised cells within the body that act as part of the nervous system to relay information between the brain and the rest of the body and feeding back to the brain, concerning movement of the muscles, secretion of hormones and, enzymes etc. and for sensory information. The nerve cells themselves, called neurons, are the cells responsible for the passing of information in the form of electrical pulses. The nerve cells themselves are composed of various proteins and are surrounded by a protective coating, the myelin sheath.

The central nervous system (CNS) comprises the brain and spinal chord whilst the peripheral nervous system (PNS) consists of the nerves originating from the spinal chord into the limbs, organs and tissues, carrying nerve impulses from the brain to the rest of the body and relaying further information back to the brain. It also contains the autonomic nervous system, the branch of nerves responsible for actions that are outside of our conscious control such as digestion, hormone release, heartbeat and our physical responses to emotions like fear for example. The nervous system ultimately presides over all functions of the body, including movement of the muscles and skeleton, gathering sensory information from the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin and relaying it to the brain, pain perception, hormonal release, digestive processes, blood pressure regulation and our thoughts and emotions. It is obviously essential to keep this system in good working order wherever possible.

Certain substances are vital for the functioning of the nerves such as cholesterol, B vitamins, calcium, sodium and potassium (and other ions), magnesium, antioxidants, flavanoids, essential fatty acids, amino acids (building blocks of protein) and the state of sleep or deep relaxation helps to restore vitality to the nerves.

Factors that can aggravate or weaken the functioning of the nervous system include excessive stress and worrying, poor diet and lifestyle (lack of good nutrients or excess of junk and unnatural foods), overworking, excessive exercise, excessive studying (for exams for example), pharmaceutical drugs (such as diuretics, antidepressants, antibiotics), excessive caffeine and other stimulants such as cola, recreational drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines, alcoholism, blood sugar imbalances, infections, ageing, physical trauma, poisons, inflammation, metals such as cadmium and mercury, poor blood circulation, lack of sleep and rest, pesticides (such as neonicotinoids), insecticides and repellents.
Healing objectives for maintaining a healthy nervous system include ensuring proper nutrition based around whole fresh foods and the avoidance of processed and harmful foods, reducing stress wherever possible, regular exercise to maintain good circulation, reduction or avoidance of harmful environmental factors, adequate sleep and relaxation and correcting any other health issues that may contribute to nervous system imbalance.

Diet and lifestyle

Diet and lifestyle

B vitamins are crucial to the healthy functioning of the nervous system so a daily supply of all the B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12) is essential to help maintain and strengthen nerve functions. Good all round sources include whole grains, green leafy vegetables, yeasts and fermented foods and organic animal products like grass fed beef and eggs.

The nervous system requires plenty of calcium to function smoothly and efficiently. Fresh carrot juice, tahini and other nut butters, live yoghurt, leafy greens and the like will provide these and many other nutrients.

Porridge and homemade muesli (including whole grains, nuts, seeds and dried fruits) are excellent foods to help support and nourish the nervous system and are a good way to start the day.

Try to eat an apple a day!

Eat foods rich in fatty acids such as seeds, nuts, olives, wild caught oily fish etc.

Foods rich in iodine such as the edible seaweeds (kelp, wakame, hijike, dulse etc), seasalt and edible blue-green algaes can help to maintain a healthy nervous system.

Another nutrient which is extremely important in efficient nerve function is magnesium. It helps prevent nerves from being hypersensitive (over-reactive) yet also exerts a gentle sedating action on the nerves when needed. In other words it helps to maintain a well balanced nervous system. Good sources of magnesium include nuts, beans, black-strap molasses, leafy greens, fresh fruits and vegetables.

Avoid processed foods generally, especially sugar, excess wheat and refined grains, processed meat and animal foods.

Be aware of the depleting effects of stimulants such as coffee, black tea, colas, and the like on your nervous system.

Avoid smoking and excessive regular alcohol consumption.

Eat organic wherever possible to avoid the damaging effects of pesticides and the like.


Useful herbs

Useful herbs

Sensible advise for maintaining nervous system health is to use foods and herbs that 'feed' the nerves with appropriate nutrients rather than using a symptomatic approach of sedation or stimulation. Sedation and/or stimulation can be useful for many specific nervous complaints (such as parkinsons, epilepsy etc) but for general all round maintenance, the supporting 'nervines' are far more appropriate.
A daily tea of oatstraw, raspberry leaf and nettle will provide calcium, B vitamins and many other nutrients useful for invigorating and maintaining nerve health. Use equal parts of the herbs and drink at least 1 strong cup (2 teaspoons of mix per cup) daily or up to 3 cups daily if you have nervous weakness.
The Lion's Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) from Asia has been shown to contain a substance vital to nerve health called 'Nerve Growth Factor' (NGF).
Chamomile tea is relaxing, soothing yet restorative to the nerves and is gentle enough tonic to be taken very long term. It is also anti-inflammatory and beneficial to the autonomic nervous system. Make it strong using a heaped teaspoon or tablespoon and take up to 3 cups daily.
Turmeric is a powerful anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, eases nerve pain, protects against tumour formation and cancer and helps keep nerves healthy. Use a half teaspoon of powder in herb teas, twice daily or add to cooking. Start with smaller doses if you are not used to taking turmeric as it can cause intestinal discomfort in the form of diarrhoea.
Skullcap, damaina, vervain, celery seeds, burdock root and black cohosh (alone or in combination) can have potent restorative/tonic effects on the nerves, particularly the CNS and the motor nerves (nerves concerned with movement).
Siberian ginseng tincture or powder can help the body to cope more efficiently with the effects of stress and help to soothe and feed frazzled nerves as can other adaptogenic herbs such as ashwagandha and schisandra.
Passionflower can relieve nerve pain caused by spasm and tension.
Mullein leaf is a good pain reliever for any inflamed or damaged nerves, particulary facial nerves.
Other herbal nervines, herbs that feed and strengthen the nerves include gotu kola, wood betony, gentian root, cleavers and ginkgo.
The herb prickly ash is a powerful circulatory and nerve stimulant that can help when nerve damage and lack of blood to an area are the cause of nerve pain, muscle weakness, semi-paralysis, tingling feelings, numbness and loss of sensation. Start with a few drops of tincture 3 times daily.
The tonic and stimulating laxative cascara is known to soothe the nerves.
Chilli/cayenne also has positive effects on the health of the nervous system.
Celery seeds are known for their tonic action on the nerves and their pain relieving properties in neuralgia and other types of pain.

Natural healing

Natural healing

Regular exercise is vital for general all round good health, including the functioning of the nervous system. Anything that gets the heart pumping and the blood moving such as brisk walking, swimming, gardening, dancing etc will help.

Rest and relaxation are also extremely important to maintain a healthy nervous system so make sure you are sleeping well in the night or take naps during the day to restore energy and allow time for the nervous system to repair and regenerate.
Meditation is known to have positive effects on the mind and nervous system.
Apple cider vinegar (always buy unpasteurised and 'with the mother' if you can) helps many people overcome stress, nerve pain, trapped nerves and inflammation (amongst many other ailments)  and seems to help the body absorb nutrients from food more effectively.
Vitamin B complex supplements can be taken daily for a quick boost to the nervous system if you are very stressed or depleted.
Yoga and tai chi can have positive effects on the whole body and help reduce stress and calm the mind.

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