Nervous system dysregulation is more common than you might think and can affect anyone. In this article, we explore how supplements can be a valuable addition to your toolkit for managing a dysregulated nervous system, but remember, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.
What is Nervous System Regulation?
Before we dive into the world of supplements, let’s understand what a dysregulated nervous system looks like. Our nervous system is a complex network of nerves and cells that transmit signals between different parts of our body. It plays a pivotal role in regulating everything from our heart rate, to our breathing and stress response.
In modern life, we are all susceptible to the wear and tear of chronic stress. When we lack the resources to cope, this can result in a dysregulated nervous system.
A regulated system should respond to stress and threats and return to a healthy baseline. Failure to do so means that the system gets stuck in a heightened stress response (“stuck on”) or stuck in a shutdown or freeze (“stuck off”).
When things aren’t functioning as smoothly as they should, we may experience symptoms of nervous system dysregulation. These include anxiety, depression, fatigue, mood swings, and even physical symptoms like headaches or digestive issues.
Although there can be physiological causes to health challenges, nervous system regulation can go a long way to improve symptoms and quality of life.
Ways to Regulate Your Nervous System
Before we turn to supplements, let’s look at some common ways to regulate your nervous system. Different practices work for different people and therefore if one practice doesn’t work for you, move along and try something different.
These practices are a good starting point for managing dysregulation:
- Breathing Exercises: Slow, belly breathing, where the exhale is longer than the inhale, can help activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This is often called the “rest and digest” system.
- Meditation: Regular meditation practice may help reduce stress and improve overall nervous system balance.
- Yoga: Yoga combines physical movement, mindfulness, and breathing techniques to promote nervous system regulation.
- Exercise: Regular physical activity helps release endorphins, which may have a positive impact on your nervous system.
- Diet: A balanced anti-inflammatory diet which aims to stabilise blood sugar may support better nervous system regulation.
- Sleep: The quality and quantity of your sleep is crucial for nervous system recovery and balance.
- Cold Water Exposure: Over time, repeated exposure to cold water may lead to adaptations in the autonomic nervous system. This may improve its ability to respond to stressors and enhance overall resilience to physiological challenges.
- Mindfulness: Being present in the moment and practising self-awareness can also help regulate your nervous system.
- Interoception Exercises: Interoception is when we place our awareness on sensations inside the body. It is a form of mindfulness that may have a settling effect on the nervous system.
- Somatic Experiencing: Somatic experiencing supports nervous system regulation by helping individuals release stored tension and trauma-related energy through mindful awareness of bodily sensations. This may allow for the restoration of natural autonomic balance and emotional well-being.
These practices are a great starting point and are often recommended by healthcare professionals. However, some individuals may find additional benefit to a dysregulated nervous system when using supplements.
Nervous System Supplements for Dysregulation
Supplements are supplementary to diet and lifestyle practices that support a dysregulated nervous system. They can be a valuable addition to your healing protocol. Remember, they are not a magic cure, and their effectiveness varies from person to person. Here are some ways in which supplements may help:
- Valerian: Valerian can be a powerful supplement if you experience symptoms such as anxiety. It impacts the nervous system by increasing the availability of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which may lead to a calming and sedative effect. We like the valerian root capsules from NOW.
- Passionflower: Passionflower may support nervous system regulation by enhancing GABA availability. NOW also offers passionflower in capsule form.
- L-Theanine: Is an amino acid found in tea leaves, especially green tea. It may promote relaxation and reduce anxiety by increasing GABA and serotonin in the brain. You can take L-Theanine in supplement form. Again, NOW foods offer an excellent option.
- Chamomile: Chamomile contains bioactive compounds, like apigenin, which bind to receptors in the brain, creating calming effects. Enjoy chamomile as a comforting tea, or in supplement form.
- Hops: Hops supports nervous system regulation via compounds such as xanthohumol[*], which can interact with GABA receptors in the brain. This may create a calming effect and potentially help with anxiety and sleep disorders. Before you take this as an endorsement to down a pint of beer, we recommend taking hops in supplement form. We like these capsules from Nature’s Way.
- Skullcap: Skullcap, may support nervous system regulation by acting on GABA – your brains relaxation receptors. This may encourage sleep and relaxation. You can take skullcap in supplement form, like these from Nature’s way.
- Lemon Balm: Lemon Balm contains compounds like rosmarinic acid and eugenol, which can enhance the availability of GABA. For an easy-to-swallow option, try these from California Gold Nutrition.
- Ginkgo Biloba: This flavonoid rich supplement enhances blood flow and oxygen supply to the brain, improving cognitive function, and aiding in conditions related to nervous system disorders, such as memory loss and cognitive decline. Try this ‘double-strength’ option from NOW foods
- Magnesium: Magnesium helps regulate the nervous system by acting as a natural calcium channel blocker. This action helps maintain a balance between sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system activities. It may promote relaxation and reduce the excessive firing of neurons, creating a sense of calm and reduced symptoms of anxiety and stress. Our go-to magnesium supplement is ‘ReMag’ from Dr. Carolyn Dean.
These nervous system supplements may ease your dysregulation, but it’s crucial to consult a healthcare professional before adding them to your routine. The effectiveness of these supplements can vary based on individual needs, and proper guidance is key.
When Should You Consider Nervous System Supplements?
Supplements can be a useful consideration when you’ve tried foundational practices like breathing exercises, meditation, and lifestyle changes, but still experience significant symptoms of nervous system dysregulation. It’s also a good idea to consider supplements if you have a known deficiency in certain nutrients, as this can exacerbate nervous system issues.
Supplements, especially those that support anxiety, may offer relief in the short term while you put other long-term diet and lifestyle practices in place.
It’s also worth noting some supplements can lose their effectiveness over time if underlying physiological imbalances are not addressed.
Who Should Avoid Supplements?
While supplements can be beneficial, not everyone should jump on the supplement bandwagon. If you are pregnant or nursing, have underlying health conditions, or are taking prescription medications, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplements. Additionally, individuals with allergies or sensitivities to specific supplements should avoid them.
Is There Another Way to Boost Nutrient Intake?
While supplements can be beneficial, the best way to get essential vitamins and minerals is through a balanced diet. Whole foods offer a plethora of nutrients that are not only more bioavailable but also come with other health benefits.
That being said, many ingredients that have been proven to be most effective in supporting nervous system regulation – valerian for example – may not be found in our every day diet.
A balanced diet should still be considered a foundational step in managing health generally and mood specifically.
Supplements for a Highly Sensitive Person
Highly sensitive individuals often find it challenging to tolerate supplements due to their heightened responses to external stimuli. If you are a supplement sensitive person, consider these tips:
- Start with One Supplement at a Time: When introducing a new supplement, add one new supplement at a time.
- Start Slowly: Begin with a lower dose to assess your tolerance. You can gradually increase the dosage as your body adapts.
- Pulse and Taper: Try a pulsing approach. Take supplements for a specific period, then give your body a break before resuming. This can reduce the intensity of your body’s response.
- Work on Regulation First: If you find supplements overwhelming, focus on foundational practices like mindfulness and lifestyle changes to regulate your nervous system. Once you’ve achieved some balance, you may be better prepared to introduce supplements.
When Should You Work with a Practitioner
It is all very well having an understanding of what could be helpful, but it isn’t always easy to know what type of support you need for your specific situation. If you feel overwhelmed or you are struggling to work things out on your own, it is a good idea to work with a healthcare professional, like myself. I can identify your unique requirements and help you create a personalized plan.
It can be hard to know when supplements could be helpful or when you may achieve more through diet, lifestyle or trauma therapy like Somatic Experiencing. Being a trauma-trained practitioner, I am able to understand and balance the needs of my clients and make recommendations which take all aspects of their case into consideration.
I also have a group program, called Nurturing Resilience, for those who want to explore their nervous systems and achieve better regulation using somatic tools, before diving into the world of supplements.
RegulateCo Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases made from our articles. We get commissions for purchases made through Amazon links in this post.
We may also earn a commission for purchases made via iHerb links.