Weight Management: The Autonomic Factor
Weight is a complicated issue. It is affected in many ways: genetic, mental, stress, GI function, exercise, diet, medications, lifestyle, hormones, etc. All of these ways also effect the P&S nervous systems. Granted some of these things cannot be changed or treated, like genetics, but perhaps the net resulting weight may only be modified. All of these ways also affect or are affected by the P&S nervous system.
Simply put, more Sympathetic activity tends to lead to increased metabolism and weight loss, and more Parasympathetic activity tends to lead to decreased metabolism and weight gain.
There are two notable complications to this. First, more Sympathetic activity presumes less Parasympathetic activity. However, this is not always the case. Granted, it is abnormal for the Parasympathetics to increase when the Sympathetics increase, but it happens, and it happens more often than previously known. Further, even though both are increasing, the Parasympathetics are the primary mover, and its effects result in the net effects. Therefore, increased Sympathetic activity, by itself will help with weight loss, but increased Sympathetic activity with an increase in Parasympathetic activity (what we call Parasympathetic Excess, or PE) will actually lead to weight gain, or at least no weight loss.
The other complication is PE induced exercise intolerance. PE may cause exercise intolerance by “locking away” the fat stores as a stress response and permit only the amount of exercise enable by the current blood sugar levels at the time of exercise. This may significantly restrict exercise and even cause fatigue, either or both of which often leads to weight gain.
Maintaining a proper P&S balance optimizes the potential for proper weigh control, which by the way, in some patients, means gaining weight to reach a healthy balance. Regardless of what the tabloids say, not everyone is (genetically) designed to be a size 2. We do not mean more fat weight; we mean more muscle weight. However, fat weight is not always bad either. Research has shown that there are those that are genetically “programmed” to be “elephants.” In fact, the “elephants”, even though large, do not suffer cardiovascular diseases unless there is an attempt to make them Gazelles. They have normal life expectancies and are not plagued by heart attack, heart failure, or stroke, as those who are not meant to be elephants and are obese. In fact, their main problem after a while, is their knees. Recent advertisements promoting acceptance of different, healthy, body shapes help to reduce the mental aspects of weight control.
On another note, the American diet and lifestyle is also promoting poor weight management. Foods “fresh from the factory” are significantly lacking in many necessary nutrients. The processing of foods to make them “fresh,” quick, convenient, and microwaveable, requires many chemicals that are foreign to the body. A supplement regimen to follow as an attempt to replace what is lost is never complete, nor is it always healthy. Again, there are chemicals that are used in the supplements that are foreign to the body. Added to this is the mental and physical stresses that Western societies are under, including a sedentary lifestyle, that re driving up healthcare costs, arguably, faster than anything else. A better diet starts with “factory” fresh foods. Not necessarily “organic,” assuming you have no sensitivities, but foods fresh from a garden or a farm. Even the inner cities have farmers markets that are better sources of food than the average grocery store refrigerator section. And cooking with and for the family, whatever your definition of family is, and eating and speaking (with the mouth, not the thumbs) and laughing, with that family is usually a great stress reliever. These tend to be simpler, less expensive, things to change to lose weight, than medications and gym memberships.
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* ‘RFa’ is known to be a measure of Parasympathetic activity and ‘LFa’ is known to be a measure of Sympathetic activity, based on reference: Colombo J, Arora RR, DePace NL, Vinik AI, Clinical Autonomic Dysfunction: Measurement, Indications, Therapies, and Outcomes. Springer Science + Business Media, New York, NY; 2014.