Sunday, June 12, 2011


Everyone is aware that we possess what is called a voluntary nervous system that enables us to carry out actions at will. The control mechanisms are, of course, in the most developed part of the brain. Many people are, however, ignorant of another part of our complex body communication system. This is known as the autonomic nervous system and its controls are in the lower or more primitive part of the brain, the limbic system and brainstem. The sophisticated thinking part of the brain still has many activities that are still unexplained. We do not understand the true nature of thinking or consciousness. Whether it is a computer or not is unknown. The limbic system and brainstem are clearly vital parts of an extremely complex computer. They control our ability to adapt to all the mental and physical sensory input that we experience throughout life. Most people are aware that we have a bunch of glands collectively known as the endocrine system. They release their respective hormones on cue from messages that are sent out automatically by the lower brain control mechanisms. They are really messengers of the brain and as they return to the brain in the blood, their concentration is carefully monitored and controlled by biofeedback. That is why it is virtually impossible to give people hormones that imitate this for we do not know the required concentration of any hormone at any one time in the twenty-four hour cycle

The autonomic system can be compared to two telephone lines, each of which goes to every organ in the body. They are called sympathetic and parasympathetic and they essentially provide messages to the body organs that oppose each other. The sympathetic “telephone line” is the “action system” and it is capable of initiating a number of reflexes that are important to our survival. The best known of these is the fight-or-flight reflex, aimed at “killing the enemy, for example a wild animal, or escaping from it”. It consumes a great deal of cellular energy and is designed for short term action. After the danger, whatever that may be, is over and survival has been accomplished, the sympathetic system is automatically withdrawn and the parasympathetic arm goes into action. Under its guidance, we can “roll a stone over the mouth of our cave” and we can sleep, eat, have sex and do all the things that we can do in a safe environment. Of course, our stress factors have changed dramatically from that encountered by our ancestors. We now have the modern equivalents associated with our civilization. Most modern stress is mental and does not require a physical response as an escape. It is a very different kind of attack and can unfortunately be prolonged, thus exhausting cellular energy. It must be emphasized here that the word “stress” must be used as the “causative physical or mental input”. It is the response that is the important issue. It may explain, for example, why a given child can come out of a parental divorce without harm whereas another child may not, depending on how the stress is handled.

The prefix “dys” means “abnormality of” and so that is how dysautonomia simply means that the system is not functioning as it should. There are genetic factors, as there always are, but the most important cause of this dysfunction (see the prefix again) is inefficient use of oxygen in providing cellular energy. The brain is the organ that is most dependent on a continuous supply of oxygen and its use in oxidation. This particularly apples to the limbic system and brainstem because they compute 24 hours a day and maintain our survival. For example, the brainstem contains vital centers that control automatic breathing. Thus, as we go to sleep, these centers maintain both the speed and strength of heart muscle contraction as well as taking over the control of breathing. An example of this failure is the awful disaster of sudden infant death where the automatic mechanisms in a rapidly developing brainstem have been compromised. The infant stops breathing or his (more common in boys) heart ceases to beat. Published medical literature points to deficiency of magnesium or thiamine as a common underlying cause, even though the positioning of the infant in the crib is now apparently accepted as the only cause. It is well known that SIDS occurs more commonly where there is poverty and where “junk” nutrition is more likely to be a factor.

A condition in adults known as sleep apnea is one way in which abnormal brainstem function is indicated. There is also a lethal condition called "Ondine's Curse" where the automatic life mechanisms fail. Ondine is a mythological "water nymph" who was jilted by her human lover. As a punishment she cursed him by abolishing these normal life controls and hence he died in his sleep. By far the easiest and most common way to produce changes in these vitally necessary mechanism is to take an excess of sugar since its metabolism is tied to a number of essential nutrients, the most important of which are vitamin B1 (thiamine) and magnesium. In a previous post I described the “choked engine syndrome” that used the analogy of a car engine where there is too much gasoline in the cylinder and either insufficient oxygen or a defective spark plug.

Of particular interest, it has long been known that the autonomic nervous system controls the body organs asymmetrically. For example, the message received by the heart from the right side of the sympathetic nerve system is different from that received by the left side. One of the curious things that happens in the early stages of dysautonomia (the prototype for dysautonomia is beriberi, the disease discussed in some detail in an earlier post) is that the reflex control mechanisms in the limbic system and brainstem become much more reactive to perfectly normal mental or physical sensory input. Blood pressures in the two arms become widely different when measured at the same time. Since our emotions are generated in the limbic system automatically by the kind of input it receives, (for example, an insult initiates anger) affected individuals become much more emotional. Anger becomes exaggerated and may explode in violence that would not be perpetrated if the emotional reflex was normal and influenced by the thinking part of the brain. That is why I have suggested that the school shootings and otherwise inexplicable human reactions in this modern era are related to high calorie malnutrition. I have never seen anyone interested in the diet for a "school shooter". It simply does not exist as a question. A recent medical paper from Japan reported 17 adolescents with beriberi, caused by the ingestion of sodas in their social relationships. Dietary mayhem may be an extremely important factor that is largely ignored in this modern era that we refer to as civilization. The more that we forget our biologic orgins and how our diet affects our energy metabolism, the greater the danger of abnormal behavior and loss of control under the influence of stress.


  1. This article sparked my interest but I am left with my original question that brought me here... Can the sudden onset of dysautonomia cause your body to stop metabolizing oxygen properly? And if so, please explain how.

    I developed what was originally thought to be a pulmonary issue concurrent with the onset of my dysautonomic symptoms, (now 3 separate forms diagnosed, all thought to be an adverse reaction to my H1N1 vaccine--basically my whole autonomic system is hypersensitive). I showed a significant reduction in my diffusion rate on pulmonary function tests (PFTs). The problem was, all other aspects of my PFTs were normal, excellent in fact; and all other tests and imagery found nothing wrong with my lungs. To really confuse everyone, I also have high blood-oxygen saturation levels (97-100%) which would not be expected with a diffusion rate of 68-71. This was so out of the ordinary, they re-did my PFTs three times thinking there must have been a glitch or some other explanation.

    My first cardio-pulmonary stress test was with an ABG that indicated metabolic acidosis. My second one nine months later was with a sports medicine doctor who calculated my VO2 Max at 23 (extremely low oxygen consumption). He hypothesized I could have a condition affecting my cellular mitochondrial ability to properly metabolize oxygen.

    He is the only doctor so far that has an explanation, and it seems to make sense too. He said, because of a failure to use the plentiful oxygen available in my blood, the oxygen saturation remains high in the blood returning to my lungs. So very little oxygen can diffuse over to the already oxygen-rich blood, giving the appearance of a reduced diffusion rate on PFTs. Despite the high levels of oxygen in the blood, the muscles still fail to get sufficient oxygen/energy, triggering the metabolic acidosis.

    This could potentially account for my exercise intolerance, shortness of breath and air gasping, muscle cramps, extreme fatigue and altitude susceptibility. I think it could also account for my blackouts and tachycardia as my body responding to sudden drops of oxygen consumption that effect my brain, heart and blood pressure as well.

    Confirmation of a diagnosis would require a muscle biopsy, but I can't undergo non-emergency surgery due to my dysautonomia. They also stated that a definitive diagnosis would not change my current treatment plan because the various conditions are all untreatable (basically, it would have screwed up my DNA).

    I guess I am looking for a different answer. I am facing a lifetime on a cocktail of medication to address each symptom individually. I am just getting starting on some this week. If my dysautonomia could be effecting how my cells use oxygen (or vice versa), maybe there is a treatment that could ignite my body into doing what it is suppose to. One can hope... and pray.


  2. You are absolutely right! This is clearly a deficit in oxidative metabolism, resulting in loss of energy and the awful fatigue that goes with it. You need high dose, non caloric nutrients and this should start with intravenous administration. Go to the ACAM(American College for Advancement of Medicine)website and see if there is a physician registered with this organization. If you want further discussion with me, please e-mail me at

  3. How is it going? Are you any nearer to a solution?

  4. I know I have emailed you individually, but figured I'd give your readers an update too. First, to let them know you were absolutely right. Second, to encourage them to keep seeking answers until they get them. I have seen over 30 doctors at some of the best facilities in the country. I can't tell you how many times I was told to accept that symptom management was the best I could do and that I would NEVER get to the bottom of what really happened to me.

    I finally had the muscle biopsy in Nov 2012. It confirmed an end-process metabolic disorder, in other words, a "deficit in oxidative metabolism." It was triggered by a toxic exposure. After a lengthy investigation, my employer finally acknowledged that I (and at least 12 others in my office) were chronically exposed to pesticide (the servicer frequently sprayed us inside with product only labeled for outdoor use).

    I got a referral to hyperbaric medicine, which increased my metabolism and thus my ATP (energy production /oxidative metabolism). The increased ATP is mostly temporary, but it got me out of being in a chronic state. Now I have to manage energy consumption & use supportive nutritional supplementation of the Electron Transport Chain/ATP process.

    During hyperbarics, I was weened off the cocktail of meds all the different docs had put me on. I am only taking a specific beta-blocker to keep my heart rate down, reducing my tachycardia. I added a lot of Mitochondrial (Mito) supporting supplements that I took during hyperbarics & continue to take daily (no one here did non caloric nutrient IV therapy, so high-dose oral supplements was all I could do).

    Anyone suffering from similar issues, including CFS and Fibromyalgia which are now being linked to Mito dysfunction, should have in-depth lab work done by a doc that knows what to look for, which is hard to find. I had docs from Stanford, Vanderbilt, Walter Reed and UC Davis who all found a piece of the puzzle. Through your info & my persistence, I finally found a doc that connected all the dots. But it also took me three years and some really good insurance to cover all that I went through.

  5. I was shocked to find out that most doctors have little to no knowledge about the real cause of CFS and/or Fibromyalgia, or Mito dysfuction. They might have heard of it, maybe remembered it a little from Med School; but they had no real clue.

    You played a huge role in helping to education me; and as one doc told my husband, "Do you realize your wife knows more about Mitochondrial Dysfunction and the latest in viable treatment options than probably 98% of the doctors who aren't actually in that field of medicine?" I immediately took it as a compliment due to my unrelenting research to try to find out what happened to me and if there was a fix. But I quickly realized it was a statement as to the sad condition of "traditional medicine," that only teaches the diagnosing of symptoms verses conditions, and "treating" with pharmaceuticals verses actually taking the time to get to the bottom of the cause of those symptoms. This whole process has left me thinking, "Where is the interest, excitement, and intrigue in truly seeking a definitive cause of any particular illness, which would bring us so much closer to developing real ways to cure and/or mediate the disease."

    All I can say is, thank you for your departure from traditional medicine and staying intrigued by the challenge of truly seeking solutions for your patients. Also, for encouraging a healthy debate about the current medical model and the importance of understanding how the body works, in its most intricate detail. The human body truly is a remarkable creation. If I lived closer, I would have been honored to call you my treating physician. I appreciate all you did to consult on my case. Your insight helped to lead me to my accurate diagnosis (FINALLY) and a much better chance of improving my overall health.

  6. I must add a few words to the comments although I am coming back late in the day. I have good evidence that there are thousands if not millions of people affected in this way. The true villain in our civilization actually happens to be sugar. Anyone reading this post and its comments would be well advised to look up the book by John Yudkin entitled "Sweet and Dangerous" that was written as long ago as 1973.