HRV & Inflammation

By Joel Jamieson

There are two branches of the autonomic nervous system (ANS):

1.) Sympathetic
2.) Parasympathetic

Neuroimmunology studies how the ANS and the CNS are tied into the immune system.  This new field shows us how closely inflammation and the immune system are regulated by the ANS.

The ANS is one of the main regulators of inflammation of different tissues throughout the body:
The sympathetic branch is pro-inflammatory
The parasympathetic branch is anti-inflammatory

Inflammation is one of the key parts of the healing process of the body; it tells the body which tissues were damaged.  However, it is critical to turn off the inflammatory process once it is no longer beneficial to healing.

A more recent model of the relationship between the ANS and inflammation is the cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway:

The vagus nervous (PNS) is one of the biggest regulators of immune function via inflammation by blocking the release of pro-inflammatory markers (cytokines).

Take home message: vagus nerve function is what we’re measuring in HRV.  We’re able to get an idea of how much inflammation is present in the body and how efficiently the brain is managing it by looking at HRV.

Monitoring levels of inflammation is hugely important because of its relationship to a wide variety of chronic diseases/disorders, including:

Depression
Arthritis
Cardiovascular Disease
Cancer
Diabetes, etc.

The important distinction to make is that chronic inflammation is closely related to various health problems, while controlled inflammation within normal ranges promotes healthy recovery.

By looking at HRV and what it tells us about vagal activity, we can gauge whether the body is promoting pro-inflammatory cytokine production or inhibition.

Understanding the body’s overall inflammatory processes through HRV can help us manage the difference between tissue health (and proper inflammatory function) and tissue injury (uncontrolled chronic inflammation).

By implementing diet, exercise, recovery, and other lifestyle changes that promote increases in HRV, you support the body’s ability to regulate and tamp down on inflammation via the parasympathetic nervous system.


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