The Limbic System: What It Is and How It Affects Healing

The Limbic System: What It Is and How It Affects Healing

The brain is the most complex computer in the world. There are approximately 86 billion neurons in the brain, and they communicate with each other constantly. The brain and spinal cord influence and are influenced by the entire body, including your emotions.

Your emotions influence all organs and structures of your body and play a major role in overall health. People with good emotional health can cope well with stress and problems, as well as have a positive outlook on life. However, when something disrupts emotional health — such as injury, illness, stress, or trauma — negative emotions associated with those events can have detrimental physiological effects. (1)

What Is the Limbic System?

The limbic system is an area of the brain that controls behavior and emotions, especially behaviors related to caring for your offspring, fight or flight, obtaining food, reproduction, and survival.

The two main structures in the brain that control the limbic system are the amygdala and the hippocampus. The hippocampus helps to form long-term memories and associates memories with various senses. For example, how you may taste pumpkin spice flavors and think of Halloween, or how the smell of a cigar may remind you of a beloved grandfather.

The amygdala, located right next to the hippocampus, forms memories associated with fear. The amygdala initiates the fear response in your body when something unpleasant happens. The anxiety, heart pounding, and sweating that accompany something frightening starts in the amygdala. (2)

How Your Brain Processes Emotions

Your brain is a complex organ, especially regarding emotions. Psychologists say that you have six basic emotions: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, joy, and sadness. All the other emotions you experience are a combination of those basic six.

For the brain to relay messages, it needs chemicals called neurotransmitters. The two main neurotransmitters are dopamine and serotonin, which are sometimes referred to as the happy hormones. (3)

Dopamine influences:

  • Alertness
  • Blood flow
  • Cravings
  • Desire
  • Learning
  • Mood
  • Motivation
  • Movement
  • Sleep
  • Urine output

Just as dopamine plays a central role in everyday functioning, serotonin regulates:

  • Blood clotting
  • Body temperature
  • Cognition and concentration
  • Digestive system movement
  • Hormonal activity
  • Metabolism and appetite
  • Mood and emotions
  • Sleep/wake cycle

These neurotransmitters don’t act independently, however. They interact with each other to maintain chemical balance. When one or both are out of balance, it can affect the entire body, including your emotions.

How Emotions Affect Illness

You may know people who are either unfailingly happy or constantly looking at life through a negative lens. Positive and negative emotions are a healthy part of your everyday life. Problems can arise, though, if you remain in a constant state of fear or negativity.

Positive emotions help you to grow and be open to new ideas and experiences. Having an upbeat attitude improves health, lowers blood pressure, and helps maintain healthy weight and blood sugar levels. (4, 5)

Negative emotions stimulate the amygdala and can increase anxiety and depression. Although most people experience occasional bouts of anxiety, depression, and negative emotions in their lives, if that negative space remains with them for extended periods, it can create illness and disease. (6, 7, 8)

Signs of poor emotional health include: (9)

  • Changes in appetite
  • Chest pain
  • Extreme tiredness
  • High blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Upset stomach
  • Weight gain/loss

microbe poor emotional health

How Illness Affects Emotions

Illness, especially chronic illness, can have a profound effect on your emotions. It interferes with your ability to cope, potentially leading to anxiety and unhealthy behaviors.

What you think and feel, plus how you deal with emotions, can directly affect your ability to heal from your illness. It can be quite challenging to cope with long-term illness, but maintaining positive emotions while dealing with your situation can have a dramatic effect on the outcome. Patients who have excellent coping skills and a positive attitude are more likely to heal from chronic illness.

A study by Johns Hopkins observed people with a family history of heart disease. They found those with a positive outlook were 1/3 less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular event within 5 to 25 years than those with a more negative outlook. This includes individuals who had the most risk factors for coronary artery disease. (10, 11)

What Negatively Affects the Limbic System?

You now know how negative emotions can affect your healing, but did you know that the limbic system can get stuck in a destructive loop, contributing to symptoms and disease? The limbic system isn’t only affected by acute stressors. It is also influenced by less-obvious stressors, such as chemicals, parasites, and toxins. (12)

Here are some examples that can hurt the limbic system: (13, 14, 15, 16, 17)

  • Chemicals — such as those in cleaning products, personal products, and plastics — can damage the limbic system.
  • EMF (electromagnetic field) exposure can affect the nervous system and cause damage to cells, depression, headache, sleep disturbances, and unusual growths.
  • Heavy metals like cadmium, lead, and mercury can cause abdominal pain, anxiety, diarrhea, depression, headaches, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Infections — including bacterial and fungal — can cause symptoms similar to those you get when you're depressed. You get tired, lose your energy, and feel stuck in a bad mood.
  • Physical, sexual, or emotional trauma can cause anxiety, depression, fear, and PTSD.

Exposure to toxins can cause your brain to stick to survival mode. When that happens, your brain detects everything as a threat. The limbic system can then overproduce fight or flight hormones. (18)

microbe limbic system enemies

How Toxins Affect Emotions

Toxins are everywhere. They are in your environment, plus in cleaning products, cosmetics, food, plastics, and water. Your body does a wonderful job of filtering them out, but sometimes an overload of toxins becomes too much for your body to handle.

If you live in a toxic environment, prolonged exposure to them can cause:

  • Changes in personality
  • Delirium
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nervousness
  • Numbness
  • Poor memory
  • Problems with concentration

For example, exposure to aluminum, lead, and mercury can cause the above symptoms and harm the limbic system. (19)

Toxins may affect the limbic system by altering your memory, mental status, and mood. When toxins overwhelm your body, they change the neurotransmitters, which worsens your emotional state. (20)

Removing toxins like heavy metal can remove obstacles affecting your limbic system and overall health. By ridding harmful toxins from your body, your limbic system can again function properly, keeping your moods and body systems in balance.

How Parasites Affect Emotions

Many people think that their emotions are affected by outside influences. Frequently that is true. But did you know that the critters inside can also have a profound effect on your emotions? Parasites change the way your neurotransmitters work, which helps to ensure their survival. Parasites try to decrease neurotransmitters that inhibit their activity, which can change the way you think and feel.

Parasites can disrupt mechanisms in your body in several ways: (21)

  • Creating inflammation
  • Interfering with neurotransmitter levels
  • Robbing your body of nutrients needed for a healthy emotional state

Parasites can also trigger intense feelings. Among these are explosive anger and aggression toward others or even yourself, often out of character.

The motto in this situation is "better out than in." You may want to take natural parasite-killing herbs and essential oils, as well as eat right to discourage these unwanted critters.

If you do a parasite cleanse, parasites will likely double their self-protective efforts, which can temporarily worsen emotional symptoms. But keep with it. Your neurotransmitter levels should return to normal after you evict the freeloading parasites. (22)

Detox and Nutrition for a Healthy Limbic System

By ridding your body of toxins and parasites, you can do more than achieve optimal health. You can also rebalance the neurotransmitters, thereby rebalancing the limbic system. You can reclaim your emotions.

There are many options to rid your body of unwanted substances and restore emotional and physical health. First, you can open drainage pathways to help clear our your body and flush out toxins. Second, you can consume a diet full of healthy whole foods and fresh water. Third, you can start detoxing toxins and parasites.

Outside these steps, your emotional health can also benefit from the following.

Herbal support — Strong evidence exists that herbal and mineral-rich support may help relieve anxiety and depression. (23, 24, 25, 26)

  • B complex vitamins
  • Chamomile
  • GABA (amino acid/neurotransmitter)
  • Kava
  • Magnesium
  • Melatonin
  • Passionflower
  • St. John’s wort
  • Valerian root

Meditation and mindfulness — Mood imbalance and other mental health issues respond favorably when you calm, redirect, and refocus your mind. Techniques involving conscious relaxation and mindfulness have been used for many years. A few methods that can help counter anxiety and depression include: (27, 28, 29, 30, 31)

  • Affirmations
  • Breathing techniques
  • EFT Tapping
  • Engaging with the natural world (companion animals, time outdoors, etc.)
  • Listening to uplifting music
  • Meditation

Nutrition — Eating a balanced diet and drinking enough water are important dietary considerations. But there are other nutritional strategies you can employ to reduce anxiety and depression and improve mood and emotions.

  • Asparagus — Steroidal saponins, the main biologically active constituents of asparagus, have been shown to have anxiety-reducing properties. (32)
  • B vitamins — B vitamins are essential for brain function, so deficiencies are linked to depression. B-complex vitamins may help remove anxiety and depression symptoms. Foods high in B vitamins include almonds, avocados, leafy greens, legumes, and whole grains. (33, 34)
  • Dark chocolate — Flavonoids in cocoa have significant antioxidant properties, and research has shown it provides several beneficial brain actions. Chocolate flavonoids may also improve mood and have a positive effect on cognitive abilities as you age. (35)
  • Magnesium-rich foods — An essential mineral for the body, magnesium is naturally present in many foods, including avocados, leafy greens, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Magnesium significantly contributes to processes that maintain mental health. (36)
  • Omega-3s — When you have low omega-3 fatty acids in the brain, it can cause inflammation and nerve-signaling disruption. These can compromise your mental state. Wild-caught fish like salmon are high in omega-3s. (37)
  • Zinc-rich foods — Low zinc levels in the blood are a biological marker for depression. Zinc has antidepressant and anxiety-reducing effects. You can also increase your intake of zinc-rich foods, including cashews, grass-fed beef and liver, oysters, and pastured eggs. (38)

By finding ways to relax your mind, eating wholesome foods, practicing mindfulness, and detoxing, you can help support and rebuild your limbic system.

What steps are you going to take today to bring your body and emotions back into balance?