The modern world isn’t exactly set up for calm. Technology, deadlines, to-do lists…
We finish one task and another follows soon after. We certainly have more convenience on offer than ever before, but how can we be calmer too?
In this article, a few strategies will be outlined that you can use to soothe an overactive sympathetic nervous system naturally.
First, let’s get some context on how having a less active sympathetic nervous system and a more active parasympathetic nervous system can lower the risk of burnout.
Symptoms of an overactive sympathetic nervous system
Although they’re rather wordy descriptions, the ‘‘sympathetic nervous system’’ and ‘‘parasympathetic nervous system’’ are worth paying attention to.
Why? Because they produce very different reactions in the body.
The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) rules over the ‘‘fight or flight’’ response (1). This division of the nervous system activates when a threat or need for physical activity is detected.
When we’re not in a situation of stress, we enjoy the ‘‘rest and digest’’ way of living. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) controls this mode.
The SNS and PNS affect everything from the eyes, to the heart, gut (and more) (2).
You’re probably familiar with some of the symptoms of an activated sympathetic nervous system, such as:
- Feeling anxious
- Heart beating faster
- Mouth becoming dry
- Needing to urinate
- Shallow breathing
- Tense muscles
When the SNS is overactive, many of these symptoms can occur more often than normal.
We may feel more on edge, irritable, or fearful.
In the long-term, the symptoms listed above and their accompanying emotional reactions can lead to burnout.
SNS activity causes energy expenditure to increase (3). But the body is only built to use up so much energy on a daily basis.
The even bigger issue here is that sympathetic nervous system overactivity is linked to a range of health conditions (4).
Time to focus on the positive — strategies and natural treatments you can use to address an overactive sympathetic nervous system.
Soothing strategies for an overactive sympathetic nervous system
The body is intelligent, more intelligent than humans have yet to fully understand.
Whilst stress is an unavoidable part of life, we do have some control over how much stress we expose our body to.
Thankfully, there’s a range of strategies that people frequently use to ease their nerves.
Here’s a quick list that you can choose from if you want to encourage your body to relax
Want a fast way to access the ‘‘rest and digest’’ parasympathetic nervous system?
Breathing slower and deeper into the belly is a great place to start.
The reason deep breathing is so useful is that it stimulates the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is one of the central parts of the parasympathetic response (6).
Blood pressure and heart rate decrease when the vagus nerve is stimulated. Bodily relaxation and digestion, meanwhile, both increase.
You shouldn’t feel guilty for having some time for yourself. Taking the foot off the gas can restock your energy levels so that you’re more productive in other areas of life.
Protect some time each day for a self-care activity if this is possible. The activity doesn’t need to be too long. Five or ten minutes is better than nothing.
What’s viewed as a relaxing and enjoyable activity is, of course, personal to each individual. But if you would like some ideas, people often feel calmer after a hot bath, reading a good book, receiving a massage, or spending an extra thirty minutes in bed.
Gratitude practices are popular, these days. You may have heard of entrepreneurs and celebrities talking about how they can’t do without their gratitude diary.
Maybe you think that taking some time each day to write down what you’re grateful for sounds cheesy.
This may feel unnatural at the start because you won’t be used to the process. With time, though, the practice should come more easily.
People report that within ten weeks of starting a regular gratitude practice, they feel happier and more optimistic about their lives (7).
And the best part is that it’s free to try. All you need is a pen and paper, or simply use your smartphone notepad.
Natural treatment for an overactive nervous system
Feel like the strategies above aren’t quite enough? Several natural treatments can also help to calm an overactive sympathetic nervous system. These include:
If you think that you could be suffering from an anxiety disorder — which can trigger an overactive sympathetic nervous system — then seeing a psychotherapist may be a sensible option to consider.
There are many different forms of psychotherapy. In CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy), people are guided to observe their thought patterns, examine the validity of these patterns, and shift negative loops of thought that are worsening anxiety.
There’s also MBSR (mindfulness-based cognitive therapy). This treatment combines cognitive therapy with Jon Kabat Zinn’s mindfulness-based stress reduction approach.
Bioresonance therapy also has wonderful results at helping to reduce anxiety and other nervous system symptoms.
You may be interested to try herbal medicine remedies which we use frequently here at the London Clinic of Nutrition.
Valerian root has been used to support people with sleep and anxiety issues by reducing GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) breakdown (10).
In simple terms, this means that there’s more GABA in the brain and nervous system, which helps to regulate impulses in the nerves.
Nutrition is an underrated treatment for calming anxiety. But there are many different foods that have been found to be beneficial for the nervous system.
Turmeric is often referred to as a ‘‘superfood’’ for its long list of health benefits.
Salmon is another. Wild sources of the fish are a great source of vitamin D in particular (16).
A fascinating study showed that a sample of people eating salmon three times per week for six months experienced lower levels of anxiety than people eating chicken, or the red meats of pork and beef (17).
And here’s one to celebrate for the chocolate lovers out there…
Dark chocolate, which is packed with healthy flavonols, can improve brain function by increasing blood flow and providing nerve-protective benefits (18).
Nobody wants to feel ‘‘tired and wired.’’
If you want to soothe an overactive sympathetic nervous system and lead a calmer life, the only option is to start changing how you live day-to-day.
For advice on calming your nervous system, contact us here or call 020 3332 0030 for a free 15-minute consultation.
Words by Thomas Davy.
The sebaceous gland - located in the dermis - is responsible for producing an oily substance called sebum. Sebum provides lubrication to the skin and helps to make it waterproof. In some people, the sebaceous glands can produce too much oil which leads oily skin. The most common condition caused by excessive sebum production is acne. The key the successful treatment of oily skin is to identify and address the following underlying causes:
- Genetic factors - a positive family history is often a good indicator.
- Imbalance of the skin’s and the gut’s microbiome (the gut-skin axis).
- Systemic inflammation.
- Insulin resistance - exacerbates oily and acne prone skin by increasing the proliferation of keratinocytes and it also stimulates the synthesis of androgens.
- High androgens - testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT, the more metabolically active form of testosterone) cause the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum in the skin.
- Changes in female hormone levels - before menstruation, oestrogen and progesterone levels fall and result in proportionally higher levels of testosterone.
- Stress and other environmental factors.
The best vitamins to consider when treating oily, acne prone skin:
Vitamin A is by far the most researched vitamin in relation to oily and acne prone skin. Vitamin A is well known for its role in supporting barrier function, it also heals the skin and modulates sebum production. Consuming dietary beta carotene, the precursor of Vitamin A, may be the most optimal option to achieve good levels of Vitamin A in the body.
Vitamin E stimulates skin regeneration and has anti-inflammatory properties, making it a promising tool in the treatment of oily, acne prone skin.
Vitamin C has also been shown to improve oily skin due to its anti-inflammatory properties.Vitamin C may help to reduce redness and swelling and is good for accelerating the healing process of the skin.
Vitamin B3 and B5 regulate the amount of oil the sebaceous glands produce and prevent them from going overdrive (9).
What vitamins are good for hair, nails and skin?
The skin, together with hair and nails, forms the integumentary system, a major protective barrier which guards us from chemicals, pathogens and other elements of our environment. Both hair and nails develop from the epidermis and are composed of (dead stratified squamous) epithelium cells which are rich in protein, especially keratin. Strong nails and glossy hair are considered great signs of health and vitality. From a naturopathic point of view, brittle nails and dry, lifeless hair can be a good indicator that some of the key vitamins and minerals are deficient.
The best vitamins for skin, hair and nails and their mechanisms discussed below:
Vitamin C and Vitamin E may be useful in supporting the integumentary system. There is growing evidence to suggest that oxidative stress is a pivotal mechanism behind hair graying and hair loss (10) thus ensuring these nutrients are adequate should be part of your intervention.
Biotin is one of the B vitamins and has many vital roles relating to the health of skin, hair and nails (11). It helps to protect your skin from water loss and regulates fatty acid metabolism and it has been shown to promote hair growth, particularly in people who are deficient (12). Brittle nails, scaly scalp, hair loss and dandruff can be signs of biotin deficiency.
Vitamin B12 and iron are essential for the production of red blood cells and haemoglobin and deficiency of these nutrients have been implicated in hair loss (13).
Nutrients that are essential in providing the building blocks for hair and nail growth: zinc, iron, copper, selenium, silicon, calcium and magnesium, silica. Proteins are also crucial for the health and vitality of our skin, hair and nails, especially the amino acids methionine, lysine, cysteine, glycine and proline.
What vitamins are good for skin elasticity?
Skin elasticity is the skin’s ability to return to its original shape after stretching. Your skin gets its stretchiness and resilience from two important proteins, collagen and elastin. The loss of elasticity, called elastosis, is a natural part of the ageing process which starts to appear in our 30s or in your 40s - if you’re one of the lucky ones (14). This ageing process is a result of both intrinsic (as with all internal organs) and extrinsic factors (sun exposure, stress, poor nutrition, high alcohol intake, smoking and air pollution) (15). Hormonal changes are also key factors, particularly the natural decline in oestrogen (16) and testosterone (17) production.
Here are the best vitamins essential for skin elasticity:
Vitamin A (retinol) is converted to retinoic acid in the skin and it has been shown to modulate gene expression and influence cellular processes in both the epidermis and dermis, thereby exerting potent anti-ageing effects on our skin. Vitamin A has a key role in the prevention and treatment of UV-induced skin damage (18), making it the most important vitamin in the prevention of wrinkles and loss of elasticity.
Vitamin C is vital for the formation of collagen and elastin. This great but humble vitamin is also a powerful antioxidant, which means that it can trap free radicals that contribute to many processes of ageing, including loss of elasticity of the skin.
Vitamin E is another skin-friendly antioxidant and has been extensively investigated for its role in UV damage protection (19). Vitamin E appears to improve skin elasticity and vitality.
B vitamins – contribute to the production of collagen in the human body. Studies have shown that deficiency of Vitamin B2 & B6 is directly correlated with low collagen content of the skin so including a good B complex may be beneficial.
Get in touch and find out more about our Skin and beauty IV therapy, available here at our clinic in London.
What vitamins are good for skin with eczema?
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition, characterised by red, dry and itchy patches. It’s commonly found on the skin of our neck, hands, feet, elbows and the back of the legs. Atopic eczema (atopic means ‘with a genetic predisposition’) is the most common form affecting 1 in 5 children and 1 in 12 adults in the UK (20).
Usually, healthy skin cells are tightly packed together creating a good natural barrier for immune defence. When you have eczema this barrier function is impaired and the skin’s delicate balance of beneficial bacteria is disrupted. This disruption allows toxins and pathogens to enter the skin (a process similar to leaky gut), which leads to an immune response and ultimately to an inflamed, irritated skin.
The best vitamins and nutrients for the management of eczema:
Vitamin D has been shown to alleviate the symptoms of eczema through its immune-regulatory, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activities in the skin. Vitamin D deficiency is very common in eczema (21) and supplementation of at least 1000IU daily has been shown to reduce symptoms. Your practitioner will be able to assess your vitamin D levels through a simple finger prick test.
Vitamin A - the great ‘skin-vitamin’ - strengthens the skin’s protective layer and supports healing (22) and has been implicated in the treatment of eczema.
Vitamin E accumulates in the mitochondria within skin cells and promotes collagen and fibroblast synthesis. In a recent study, 400iu of vitamin E significantly improved the severity of eczema symptoms, including itching (23).
Vitamin C has anti-inflammatory properties, it’s a natural antihistamine and due to its effect on collagen production it’s a really useful vitamin for the treatment of eczema. Vitamin C might also help alleviate redness, itchiness and long-term damage to the skin.
Eczema is a multifactorial condition and its development often starts as early as birth so it’s important to approach it with a holistic, in-depth and comprehensive support. Read more about our expert practitioners who can offer more personalised support and advice.
Which is the best vitamin for skin complexion and makes your skin glow?
I’m sure we’ve all met someone who has a beautiful, blemish-free skin with an inner glow and luminance to it. Great skin is a true reflection of our inner wellbeing and you can achieve it by having good nutrition and looking after your physical and mental health.
The best vitamins for a healthy glow and great complexion:
Vitamin C, as mentioned above, is a powerful antioxidant that stimulates collagen production (24) making it your number one ticket to a luminescent skin. When applied topically Vitamin C has been shown to brighten the skin by reducing the appearance of hyperpigmentation.
Vitamin A again. Vitamin A has the ability to even skin tone and to give your skin a beautiful, healthy glow.
Biotin, helps to protect your skin from water loss and regulates fatty acid metabolism, giving your skin a healthy complexion.
Vitamin B3 is known to increase keratin, a protein that keeps your skin firm and healthy.
IV- nutrient therapy with glutathione can give your skin a natural ‘refreshed’ glow and may even reduce pigmentation and redness of the skin.
Do Multivitamins help skin?
A well-balanced multivitamin that contains the key nutrients discussed above can be a great tool to support your skin health and your overall wellbeing. Choose a carefully formulated complex that is effective, pure, ethical and contains therapeutic doses of vitamins and minerals in their most bioavailable and easily absorbed from. Look for Vitamin D3 vs D2, methylfolate vs folic acid, iron citrate vs iron sulphate and so on. For the best skin support, choose a good multi that contains the most important nutrients: vitamins A, C, D, E, B complex, zinc, iron, selenium and chromium. Any plant derived antioxidants like green tea, rosehip, blueberry, turmeric is a bonus!
Have you tried IV nutrient therapy before? Here, at the London Clinic of Nutrition, we offer a range of conventional and bespoke infusions to revitalise our clients’ health and help them reverse chronic disease. Find out more here.
Dietary and lifestyle considerations for a healthy and glowing skin
- If your skin complaints continue to persist, consider eliminating allergens such as wheat, dairy and eggs.
- Include probiotic rich foods such as kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, fermented tofu and kefir to support the skin’s (and gut) microbiome.
- Take a good quality and pure omega 3 supplement to support skin hydration and regulate inflammatory response of the skin (26).
- Consider supplementing with marine collagen, a natural source of type 1 collagen that is easily absorbed.
- Support methylation and detoxification with vitamins and minerals like methylfolate, methylcobalamine, vitamin B6, zinc and copper.
- Consume organic produce wherever possible.
- Although sun exposure is vital for vitamin D production and our circadian rhythm, a sensible approach is recommended to avoid sun damage.
- Protect your skin from damage with antioxidants. Eat plenty of vegetables and (some) fruits of rainbow of colours. Particularly green and orange ones for their carotenoid and polyphenol content.
- Include protein rich foods - protein supports the growth and maintenance of collagen and elastin fibres. Amino acids proline and lysine work together with vitamin C to enhance the formation of collagen.
- Choose more natural household products to minimise exposure to environmental toxins.
- Manage stress through mindfulness, meditation and yoga. Improve sleep hygiene by reducing blue light in the evenings.
Consult one of our expert team members to discuss functional tests to assess gut issues, liver function, hormonal irregularities and genetic predisposition for vitamin inefficiencies (for example MTHFR and VDR).
Call us today on 020 3332 0030 and a member of the team will be available to answer any queries you have.
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The London Clinic of Nutrition is a multi-disciplined health practice offering personalised nutritional medicine and naturopathy using the functional medicine approach.
100 Seymour Place
020 3332 0030