Neuroplasticity – Finding Hope With Setbacks
April 7, 2016
We’ve all experienced setbacks while trying to recover our children. Neuroplasticity – Finding Hope With Setbacks is something we all need to figure out as time goes on. We implement a new diet, supplement protocol or therapy, and it goes well for a while, but then something triggers a complete turnaround and chaos ensues. It’s part of the cycle. It is easy at these times to question the interventions we’re using. I have questioned my own decisions on many days. It’s an unnerving yet natural reaction. We parents spend every spare moment of our time reading, researching and working with our children. When things appear to be moving backwards or are stalled out, we need the confidence to know our efforts aren’t wasted. Fortunately, the “recently” established concept of neuroplasticity provides hope that there are always improvements we can make with our children, despite any setbacks that may have previously been encountered.
Neuroplasticity – Finding Hope With Setbacks and How It Will Help Your Child
On the path to recovery, gut health, immune function, nutrition, mitochondrial function and other related physical systems take the main focus. Addressing these underlying conditions is vitally important, in part because they affect neurological symptoms downstream. But the pathway moves in both directions—supporting brain health directly also helps the body’s other systems to function optimally. Our children use their brains to navigate the world, interpret information, socialize with others and learn. We are ultimately trying to heal their brains. The good news is, the brain is retrainable.
Up until relatively recently (10–15 years ago), the medical community believed that the brain was “hard-wired”—that brain function was established and couldn’t be improved. In particular, scientists thought that if there was a loss of brain function from injury, illness or over time from degeneration that this function could not be recovered. Under this framework, when neurons died, the body did not have the ability to regenerate them. This was the prevailing belief because the technology to examine the brain at a microscopic level was not available.
Then along came the concept of neuroplasticity, which opened up a whole new way of understanding neurological function. Simply put, neuroplasticity means malleable (plastic) neurons (neuro), or neurons that can change. Neurons are the main cells in the brain and are made up of axons, cell bodies, and dendrites. Dendrites receive input from other neurons through their tree like branches. The dendrites then lead into the cell body which leads to the axons. The axons are like wires of varying lengths (from microscopic to 3 feet in length) that can carry electrical signals. Neurons can receive either an excitatory or inhibitory signal. An excitatory signal will result in the neuron firing off its own signal, an inhibitory one means the neuron is less likely to fire off a signal.
The axons which carry these signals are separated from the dendrites of a neighbouring neuron by synapses (microscopic space between them). Once the electrical signal reaches the end of the axon it triggers a chemical messenger (neurotransmitter) that floats over to the dendrite of its neighbour and either excites it or inhibits it and the chain continues.
Neuroplasticity involves a physiological change in the brain (continuous rewiring of the brain) that results from our ongoing interactions with our environment. From the day we are born to the time of our death, our brain adapts to our changing needs. Fortunately, scientists have found that the connections between the cells are infinitely receptive to change and growth.
“One of the core laws of neuroplasticity is that neurons that fire together wire together.” In other words, repetitive mental stimulation will change the structure of the brain's neurons that are processing the stimulation or experience, which makes the synaptic connections stronger.1
Neuroplasticity is a two-way street. Even when the brain is not functioning optimally (the neurons are wired together improperly), it has the potential to change. In the right environment the brain can be rehabilitated and lost or undeveloped function recovered. This simple yet profound fact gives me hope even in the face of the most challenging setbacks. With the right combination of biomedical and nutritional therapy, and other therapeutic interventions (such as functional neurology to retrain the brain), anything is possible.
How to Move Past Setbacks and Leverage the Power of Neuroplasticity
- Don’t necessarily give up on the treatments and therapies you are currently using. Continue with your biomedical, nutritional and other therapies. Unless you have dire concerns about a particular treatment, making sudden large changes makes it difficult to assess what is working and what needs to be changed.
- Be ready to work hard and document everything. When you aren’t in the midst of a setback (i.e. when you can think logically instead of emotionally), circle back to note what has changed and when:
- Review your Food, Mood, Sleep and Poop Journal and your Biomedical and Nutritional Therapy Tracking Tool to see if there are any trends associated with the setback.
- Notice if there have been any changes in the environment of your home (e.g. did you paint your house, or change a mattress or pillow, introducing toxins associated with new materials?), at school or any other place your child spends time.
- Contact your practitioners and/or therapists. Review your notes and the current setback with your practitioner or therapist to get their clinical expertise on how to move forward to overcome the setback.
- Add a therapy to your child’s treatment plan that leverages the healing power of neuroplasticity. Many options exist, but I recommend a Functional Neurologist or other practitioner trained in brain rehabilitation, who will best understand how to implement the therapy. There are also many tools and programs based on the concept of neuroplasticity including, but not limited to, Brain Balance, Interactive Metronome, Vision Therapy, Therapeutic Listening, etc.
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