During my recent neuroinflammation training, I came across a couple of ‘new’ reasons why we may be hyper-sensitive to things. One of them is the concept of neurons being too close to threshold. I recently saw Dr Datis Kharazzian explaining this so I’ll share that and you can see what I mean…
If you are overly sensitive to scents, light, or sound, or if you have intolerance to many foods and supplements, you may have neurons that are “too close to threshold.”
Neurons in our brains communicate with each other by discharging small messenger chemicals called neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine.
When a neuron is at rest (which is not often), it has a resting membrane potential that determines how close it is to threshold, defined as the amount of input needed to cause it to act, or “fire.”
If a neuron’s resting membrane potential is far from threshold, a great deal of input is required to make it fire. One example would be someone who needs to turn the volume ever-higher on their iPod in order to hear music.
On the other hand, when a neuron is close to threshold it fires too easily. In my practice what I see most often are patients whose brains are too close to threshold: their neurons are “touchy” and fire much too easily. For example:
Tinnitus: Many factors can cause tinnitus, but neurons that are close to threshold are one explanation. Take for example a former band roadie who was exposed to ear-splitting music volume nightly for years. His brain has degenerated and is so close to threshold the neurons fire on their own, resulting in a constant ringing in his ears.
Migraines: For another patient, simply walking past the perfume counter at the store triggers incontinence and migraines that last for days. Her neurons responsible for processing smell had degenerated and fatigued to the point that any input overwhelmed them and caused them to fire when they shouldn’t.
Neuron threshold and fatigue
When too many neurons are close to threshold, any type of stimulation causes fatigue. Driving your car, reading a book, having a conversation, or other normally easy tasks become a huge burden.
Unfortunately, many people’s neurons are unhealthy and become either too far from or too close to threshold.
Fascinating concept, huh? Essentially, this is a form of brain inflammation caused by a loss of ATP in the neuron cells. Here’s my more technical explanation for you:
Neurons are never at rest, they need constant activation to build mitochondrial ATP to function.
Calcium enters the cell and the neuron has to reach the RMP (resting membrane potential – threshold) level for the neuron to fire. There then has to be enough ATP to push the calcium back out of the cell. If some calcium remains, the threshold doesn’t come back down far enough and remains higher than it should be so it takes less to activate the cell. This occurs in different pathways so wherever has lost ATP/has a higher threshold will become hypersensitive/activated too easily.
Symptoms and indicators…
Any or all of these might indicate an issue: can’t handle too much light or sound, blinking lights, can’t bear things touching skin or the feel of food in the mouth, react to smells, can’t tolerate foods/supplements/chemicals. No brain endurance, have to absent yourself or avoid things, shut eyes, move away, sleep – shut out or reduce the stimulus in some way. The symptoms depend where the inflammation is taking place in the brain; it could be localised or a general loss of ATP.
These patients become fatigued as well as hypersensitive and that is a clue too – often we lose brain endurance so we just can’t handle as much stimulus as we used to like crowded rooms, lots of different noises going on, flashing lights, smells are stronger, or we can’t read for as long, drive as far as we used to, concentrate, focus, bring words and thoughts together. We need lots more sleep and/or ‘alone’ or down time than we did.
The causes might include low ATP in neurons, high oxidative stress, reduced oxygen to the brain – think: low blood pressure, lung disease inc. asthma, decreased cardiac volume – and/or impaired blood glucose delivery to the brain – insulin resistance, hypoglycaemia, diabetes etc.
All of those need to be addressed if present. Treatment is important because the area affected is approaching neuro-degenerative changes. An approach might take the form of regulating blood sugar, improving blood flow to the brain, reducing oxidative stress, lowering neuroinflammation and anything perpetuating it (like inflammation somewhere else in the body), plus specific brain exercises to activate the neurons to build mitochondrial ATP.
As you can see, this might well be useful knowledge for those of us who are overly-sensitive to food, chemicals, light, sound etc! It’s not the only mechanism – I’ve another couple to share with you soon – but in essence the job is to feed, protect and reactivate the brain regions involved and and to lower neuro-inflammation.
Diet and lifestyle are paramount…
There are several elements to a neuroinflammation protocol. Interestingly, the diet and lifestyle changes are FAR more important than a supplement protocol. The elements to be considered include alcohol intake, gluten free (and cross reactive free) diet, plus other dietary changes depending on the severity of the case, sleep, physical exercise of particular types, brain exercises to reactivate the neuron mitochondria and vagus/relaxation work.
It’s complex! But infinitely do-able.
Me as an example…
Part of the reason I chose to work on the vagus in my own case (see here for my recent post) is because on the Brain Region form, which helps me to identify specific areas of the brain where the problem is, mine came up with sympathetic dominance, a problem in the limbic system. This is not surprising since all the Healing Plan stuff I did was all designed to help regulate the limbic system.
One reason for sympathetic dominance is because the vagus nerve is not working optimally so that’s what I’m working on. I suppose you could say I found that the neurons in my limbic system (and a couple of others actually) were too close to threshold so it doesn’t take much stress to get my limbic system (which controls the senses) to fire, hence sensitivity to food (taste and smell), chemicals (smell), too much sound, light and touch (still can’t bear tight clothes!). I am miles better than I was and this gives me hope that my threshold is improving. It will, I’m certain of it.
Interesting concepts anyway, don’t you think? It amuses me that all that work I did with the Healing Plan was inadvertently helping my limbic threshold and activating my neurons so they could build more ATP – I must have got the threshold down far enough to start to become less sensitive, but then stress has raised it again so I have more limbic work to do.
If you recognise yourself here, book yourself in and we’ll go through it together. All cases are different so I can’t give a standard protocol to follow. We have to put the investigation and some personalised work in to start to get that threshold back down. Clinically, my approach to multiple sensitivity cases will now involve looking at the brain and possible causes there – I must admit I did whoop a few times when I came across some ‘new’ causes for us to work on! In the next couple of blog posts, I’ll share some info about some of the other new things I came across in case it helps you.