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  • Writer's pictureCarla Allison, CHHP

What is Limbic System Impairment?

Do you suffer from a mysterious chronic illness? Do you feel like you have exhausted every medication, natural treatment, diet, and cleanse, yet you are still sick? You may have limbic system impairment. Addressing this root cause of suffering could be the answer.

As explained in my previous article, the limbic system is a deep set of structures in the brain responsible for our emotions, memories, learning, behavior, and motivation. It includes the hypothalamus, the hippocampus, the amygdala, thalamus, and the cingulate cortex. The limbic system is always determining our "safety" and sparks the fight, flight, or freeze response. It is often referred to as the emotional or feeling and reacting part of the brain. But, it is also the control center for many vital functions of the body.

The limbic system monitors our internal and external environment. It is involved in sensory input, always processing what we see, hear, feel, smell, and taste and even assigns emotional significance to these things. This is the area of the brain responsible for that sudden surge of anxiety or even that hot flash. It is involved in immune function and endocrine function, regulating hormones. It regulates the functioning of the autonomic nervous system (parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems) which includes our breathing, heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, and our emotional response.

What Can Impair Limbic System Function?

When the limbic system is functioning properly, it is only activated when there is a legitimate threat or danger. When it is injured or impaired, the limbic system overreacts to stimuli in what we call a chronic overactive stress response. There is a "cross-wiring" of sorts in the normal neural circuitry of the brain, causing a distortion of unconscious reactions, sensory perceptions, and protective responses. The limbic system becomes hypersensitive and hyper-aware, overreacting and over-firing.

Over time, this weakens the immune system as well as other body systems, creating a cascade of various symptoms that may even seem unrelated. It can affect digestion, cognitive function, detoxification, mood, hormone balance, and much more. The body is not allowed time to rest and repair as it is too busy overreacting to perceived threats that it would normally ignore. Basically, the stress response becomes like a switch that gets stuck in the ON position.

Limbic system dysfunction or impairment is generally caused by:

  • Toxins such as mold or chemical exposure

  • Viral or bacterial infection

  • Trauma (physical, psychological, or emotional)

  • Accumulated stress (creating the "perfect storm")

  • Inflammation

Once the brain is triggered by one or more of these factors, the repeated over-firing of the fight or flight response to the increasing and distressing symptoms just further embeds these neural pathways into a limbic trauma loop. The brain gets stuck in survival mode. There is a continual subconscious release of stress hormones, including epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol. This can result in a person's health spiraling out of control into what can feel like a deep abyss of mysterious symptoms affecting multiple body systems.

Let me be clear. This is not a psychological illness. It is not caused by thoughts or feelings. This is a real brain trauma or injury. This can be a reaction to the actual trauma or damage to any of the neurons along that pathway within the limbic system. In a sense, the limbic system goes rogue. And, since the brain is the control center of the body, this can wreak all kinds of havoc as the brain sends a downstream of distorted messages to the body. This is the basis for the science of psychoneuroimmunology which studies how the central nervous system interacts with the immune system and influences the progression of disease.

What Are Some Symptoms of Limbic System Impairment?

The sympathetic nervous system drives the fight or flight stress response while the parasympathetic nervous system stabilizes the body into a state of rest and digest or homeostasis. When the brain becomes stuck in an unconscious fight or flight pattern, it literally changes the chemicals, hormones, and neurotransmitters in the body. It can keep the body inflamed and exhausted. Cellular communication is compromised, and the body cannot absorb nutrients effectively, digest properly, or detoxify efficiently.

Some of the symptoms and illnesses that may be associated with limbic system injury are:

  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic encephalomyelitis

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Panic Attacks

  • OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)

  • Migraines

  • Lyme disease infection

  • Epstein-Barr virus

  • Brain fog (cognitive issues)

  • CIRS (Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome - mold illness)

  • Electric Hypersensitivity Syndrome

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome

  • Food sensitivities

  • POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome)

  • Skin conditions (hives, rashes)

  • Mast Cell Activation

  • PTSD

  • Chronic pain

  • Dysautonomia

  • Allergies

  • Sensory issues

  • "Long Haul" Covid syndrome

This list is not exhaustive of the symptoms and conditions that can be involved in limbic system impairment. Fortunately, many people are finding relief from these conditions and others by healing the limbic system. Even after many years of chronic illness, the results of addressing these entrenched patterns in the brain and nervous system have been astounding.

How Can You Heal Limbic System Impairment?

It was once thought that the brain was hard-wired and could not change. However, science has emerged with incredible discoveries that prove that the brain is indeed changeable and is capable of being "rewired." It can literally change in structure and function. This is known as neuroplasticity - the brain's ability to change in response to stimuli and experience. New neural pathways can be created and the brain healed without invasive interventions.

Neuroplasticity has proven to be significant in rehabilitating stroke patients. Certain exercises are implemented to retrain the brain and recruit new brain tissue to recover motor function. Similarly, many people are recovering from chronic illness disease patterns in the brain by means of self-directed neuroplasticity programs that target brain function and rehabilitate the limbic system. The Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS) is one of these programs that continues to produce recovery stories and is increasingly being recommended by a variety of medical professionals.

The DNRS program focuses on rewiring limbic system function and helping shift the body out of the chronic sympathetic fight or flight state and into a parasympathetic state, allowing growth and repair. Participants are taught how to decrease the over-firing of the protective mechanisms in the limbic system, allowing for new neural pathways to form. This helps to promote the body's own innate healing ability. The body finally has a chance to focus on healing, rather than simply surviving.

If you are suffering from any of the conditions listed in this article, I strongly encourage you to consider limbic system retraining. "Rebooting" your limbic system may be the missing piece to your recovery.


Wired for Healing - Remapping the Brain to Recover from Chronic and Mysterious Illnesses, Annie Hopper.

The Brain That Changes Itself, Norman Doidge, M.D.


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