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Healthy Brain Function
The brain and the brainstem require a constant delivery of nutrients and oxygen from blood vessels that travel through the neck. The main two blood vessels that send blood to the brain are the vertebral artery and the carotid artery. The vertebral artery travels up through the outer portion of bones in the neck and through the atlas bone, the top bone of the spine. The carotid artery travels deep in the neck and passes directly in front of the atlas bone.
Blood that travels to the brain also has to leave the brain effectively. The largest blood vessel that drains the brain is the internal jugular vein. The internal jugular vein also passes directly in front of the atlas bone on its way down the neck.
Because of their close proximity to the atlas bone, these blood vessels are susceptible to problems in the upper cervical spine. A misalignment of the craniocervical junction (the joints between the skull and the top of the spine) can cause pressure and tension on these blood vessels, diminishing their blood flow. Twisting of the craniocervical junction can be especially compromising.
When blood traveling to the brain is diminished, it can cause significant problems in the brain. Vertebrobasilar insufficiency is when the vertebral arteries do not deliver enough blood to the brainstem and the back of the brain. A misalignment can cause a mild vertebrobasilar insufficiency. This can lead to vision problems, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, and numbness in the hands and feet.
Diminished blood flow to the brain can also diminish brain activity over time. Without proper blood flow, brain function and concentration are impaired. The longer that blood flow carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain is diminished, the more difficult it becomes to think clearly and have the brain work its best.
Blood flow traveling out of the brain through the jugular vein can also be compromised. When the brain cannot correctly drain, pressure can build in the brain cavity. This can lead to migraines, idiopathic intracranial pressure, and hydrocephalus. If left long enough, there is evidence showing that this can lead to long term neurodegeneration.
Cleaning the Brain
The brain is surrounded by a protective fluid called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This fluid is very important to brain function and brain protection. This CSF provides protection from shock such as falls and head injuries. The CSF is also responsible for delivering nutrients to the brain from the bloodstream. Not only does it provide nutrients, but it plays a major role in clearing out waste between the nerve cells of the brain.
A craniocervical junction misalignment can twist or torque the covering over the spinal cord (called dura matter) and cause this fluid to pound on the brainstem. This pounding turbulence is linked to pounding headaches and multiple neurodegenerative conditions including multiple sclerosis.
In some instances, the brainstem can also plug the bottom of the brain and cause a blockage of the CSF flow. This blockage is like putting a cork in the bottom of your brain cavity, backing up the fluid. This blockage occurs commonly with people who have Arnold-Chiari malformations, especially if they also have an upper cervical misalignment. It can also occur in individuals who have had traumatic whiplash-type injuries that have pulled the spinal cord and brainstem down. These injuries will often lead to a misalignment of the upper cervical spine.
When the CSF fluid flow is blocked at the upper cervical spine, the fluid can back up and can increase pressure in the cranium (linked to hydrocephalus and ventriculomegaly). This backed up fluid can lead to migraines and pain behind the eyes. If the fluid is not draining properly, waste products from the brain can accumulate which can slow down cognitive function. If left long enough, it can progress to more severe conditions such as hydrocephalus and neurodegeneration, including dementia type symptoms.
Peak brain activity occurs when the brain receives strong and clear nerve signals from our physical senses. This information includes sight, sound, taste, touch and hearing, as well as information from our joints, muscles and organs. About 10x more information travels to the brain from the body than the brain sends to the body. This means that the brain thrives when nerve signals traveling up to it are strong and healthy.
These nerve signals activate the brain and the nerves that they travel along. All nerve cells require activation to remain healthy. Nerve signals need to be sent along nerves in order to keep them useful. This is similar to how exercise keeps muscles healthy and strong. Nerves need activation in order to maintain function.
Reality vs. Dream
Any loss or changes in nerve signals can diminish brain activity. Some interesting findings came out of WWII concentration camps and POW camps. When soldiers were put into isolation in small, dark, quiet cells, and threatened to not speak, it limited the amount of sensory input to their brain. Very limited information from sound, taste, touch, sight and movement would be available to their brain.
The results were devastating in that these people could not tell the difference between reality and dream, could not feel the passing of time, and even described difficulty distinguishing between themselves and their environment. In fact, upon studying a number of these cases after the war, the British Medical Journal published a conclusion about the importance of sensory input the brain:
“There is evidence that the maintenance of consciousness and of the individual’s awareness of his relation with the environment is dependent on a steady stream of sensory impulses both from without and from within.”
A Quiet Brain
Similar symptoms have been found in people who experience depression. Frequently described symptoms associated with depression include a feeling of disconnect or absence from the environment and from others, lack energy, sleep disturbances, changes in appetite (eating more or less), impaired cognition, recurrent thoughts of death, and more. In PET scans of the brain, there is often a decrease in brain activity in patients with depression.
With brain activity being stimulated primarily by sensory input, any interference in these nerve signals into the brain has the potential to reduce brain activity. These interferences can include dull environments that do not provide healthy sensory activity (like grey cubicles) and a sedentary lifestyle (limited movement reduces input to the brain). Drugs like opioids and even antidepressants can interfere with sensory input as well, which has the potential to lower brain activity further. In fact, one person describes this phenomenon well:
“The irony is that some of the antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications we use to overcome mood disorders can also cause emotional numbness. My short lived experience taking amitriptyline and then Prozac gave me a feeling of being flatlined emotionally. I wasn’t sad but I also wasn’t happy. I was simply there.”
There is also a significant potential for mechanical interference in the nerves that carry signals to the brain. A common location of this type of nerve interference is in the upper cervical spine, in an area called the craniocervical junction. These joints between the skull and the top of the spine can become misaligned through injuries to the head and neck, altering or diminishing signals traveling to the brain. This reduction in brain activity makes it very hard for the brain to function at its best.
Activating the brain to its full potential requires maximum nerve signal input to the brain. This means creating an environment for sensory immersion. In people with depression, significant improvements have been seen with exercise, light therapy, communication, social involvement, and even vagus nerve stimulation. This works because each of these dramatically alters the input to the brain.
Restoring and Activating the Brain
Improvements in brain activity have also been seen through upper cervical care. Restoring the alignment of the craniocervical junction improves nerve signals to and from the brain, improves the blood flow to and from the brain, and improves the filtration of the brain. By removing interference at the craniocervical junction, nerve signals strengthen. Your brain functions better, you feel better, and your senses improve.
Seek the Experts
Upper cervical chiropractors have a unique focus on correcting misalignments of the craniocervical junction that can lead to brain and body dysfunction. Their post-graduate training prepares them to identify subtle misalignments in this area and correct it using a variety of gentle and precise corrective techniques. Designed to be a long-term solution, the goal of these doctors is to correct and stabilize the upper cervical spine to restore the integrity of the nervous system. If you have concerns about you or your family’s health care, seek your local upper cervical chiropractor.