Stress influences the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis and the nervous system, which alters metabolic and cardiac control. Activation of the HPA axis releases hormones that help maintain homeostasis when confronted by internal and external challenges.
Early-life stress alters how the HPA axis functions and can persist throughout adulthood causing low resilience to stress. Recent evidence suggests that factors acting across the life span are important in determining the risk of cardiovascular disease. Function of the body is controlled by the nervous system, which is subdivided into two branches: the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). These branches work in an antagonistic harmony to properly control function of the body. Heart rate is one of the functions controlled by the nervous system.
Heart rate variability (HRV) is measured by monitoring fluctuations of the heart rate. Unlike heart rate, having a higher HRV is a sign of healthy cardiac function.
HRV has been used extensively to evaluate physical fitness and is an accurate prognostic indicator of certain disease processes. Research shows that many disease processes have been associated with decrease in HRV in adults and infants.
Since there are many factors that determine the HRV of an individual such as sex, age, and gender, using HRV may be most accurate and useful in a longitudinal manner to track a patient’s score over time rather than comparing scores of different patients. HRV can be used as an analysis of the nervous system and to monitor its balance.
In a healthy organism, higher heart rate variability represents greater adaptability to stress from its internal and external environment.
When the nervous system is free of obstructions, it can better regulate anatomic, physiologic, and biochemical alterations. Correcting the vertebral subluxation is crucial to removing nerve obstructions and allowing the body to correctly perceive itself and its environment.
Vertebral subluxations may result in altered autonomic nervous system activity. Heart rate variability is a reliable and valid tool that may be used to assess the changes in autonomic activity associated with the reduction and correction of vertebral subluxations. Controlled studies suggest that chiropractic may improve heart rate variability and that favorable changes in heart rate variability may follow reduction or correction of vertebral subluxations.
This case study describes a 38-year-old male being seen for off and on low back pain and right heel pain. Several levels of his lower back had fused together. Medications only provided temporary relief. The man also had a desire to lose weight and decrease overall fat mass.
The chiropractor examined him and found structural shifts in his neck, mid back, low back, and pelvis. Range of motion was restricted in his neck and lower back. Muscle spasms and tenderness were noted in his neck and lower back. X-rays and other testing confirmed these findings in addition to degenerative disc disease in the lower back. These structural shifts can lead to obstruction of the nerves and it is these obstructions, called vertebral subluxations, that chiropractors correct. Heart Rate Variability testing showed decreased nervous system functioning.
Following chiropractic adjustments, he had improved HRV measures and his neck and low back improved significantly. Dietary modification and regular exercise helped him lose 61 pounds and decrease his fat mass by 9.5%.
The study’s author called for additional research to investigate the role of chiropractic care on HRV and cardiovascular health.
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Improvements in Heart Rate Variability and Reduction in Dysautonomia Following Chiropractic Care: A Case Study and Selective Review of Literature. Jeffrey Cole, DC & Nathaniel Lewis, DC. Annals of Vertebral Subluxation Research ~ Volume, 2020.