Heart Rate Variability as a Measure of Autonomic Function.

Remy

Administrator
Here is an overview of HRV by Ben Greenfield:

The origin of your heartbeat is located in what is called a “node” of your heart, in this case, something called the sino-atrial (SA) node. In your SA node, cells in your heart continuously generate an electrical impulse that spreads throughout your entire heart muscle and causes a contraction (Levy).

Generally, your SA node will generate a certain number of these electrical impulses per minute, which is how many times your heart will beat per minute. Below is a graphic of how your SA node initiates the electrical impulse that causes a contraction to propagate from through the Right Atrium (RA) and Right Ventricle (RV) to the Left Atrium (LA) and Left Ventricle (LV) of your heart.


So where does HRV fit into this equation?

Here’s how: Your SA node activity, heart rate and rhythm are largely under the control of your autonomic nervous system, which is split into two branches, your “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system and your “fight and flight” sympathetic nervous system.

Your parasympathetic nervous system (“rest-and-digest”) influences heart rate via the release of a compound called acetylcholine by your vagus nerve, which can inhibit activation of SA node activity and decrease heart rate variability.

In contrast, your sympathetic nervous system (“fight-and-flight”) influences heart rate by release of epinephrine and norepinephrine, and generally increases activation of the SA node and increases heart rate variability.

If you’re well rested, haven’t been training excessively and aren’t in a state of over-reaching, your parasympathetic nervous system interacts cooperatively with your sympathetic nervous system to produce responses in your heart rate variability to respiration, temperature, blood pressure, stress, etc (Perini). And as a result, you tend to have really nice, consistent and high HRV values, which are typically measured on a 0-100 scale. The higher the HRV, the better your score.

But if you’re not well rested (over-reached or under-recovered), the normally healthy beat-to-beat variation in your heart rhythm begins to diminish. While normal variability would indicate sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system balance, and a proper regulation of your heartbeat by your nervous system, it can certainly be a serious issue if you see abnormal variability – such as consistently low HRV values (e.g. below 60) or HRV values that tend to jump around a lot from day-to-day (70 one day, 90 another day, 60 the next day, etc.).

In other words, these issues would indicate that the delicate see-saw balance of your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system no longer works.

In a strength or speed athlete, or someone who is overdoing things from an intensity standpoint, you typically see more sympathetic nervous system overtraining, and a highly variable HRV (a heart rate variability number that bounces around from day to day).

In contrast, in endurance athletes or people who are overdoing things with too much long, slow, chronic cardio, you typically see more parasympathetic nervous system overtraining, and a consistently low HRV value (Mourot).

In my own case, as I’ve neared the finish of my build to any big triathlon, I’ve noticed consistently low HRV scores – indicating I am nearing an overreached status and my parasympathetic, aerobically trained nervous system is getting “overcooked”. And in the off-season, when I do more weight training and high intensity cardio or sprint sports, I’ve noticed more of the highly variable HRV issues. In either case case, recovery of a taxed nervous system can be fixed by training less, decreasing volume, or decreasing intensity – supercompensation, right?

But wait – we’re not done yet! HRV can get even more complex than simply a 0-100 number.

For example, when using an HRV tracking tool, you can also track your nervous system’s LF (low frequency) and HF (high frequency) power levels. This is important to track for a couple of reasons:

-Higher power in LF and HF represents greater flexibility and a very robust nervous system.
-Sedentary people have numbers in the low 100’s (100-300) or even lower, fit and active people are around 900 – 1800 and so on as fitness and health improve.


Tracking LF and HF together can really illustrate the balance in your nervous system. In general, you want the two to be relatively close. When they are not, it may indicate that the body is in deeply rested state with too much parasympathetic nervous system activation (HF is high) or in a stressed state with too much sympathetic nervous system activation (LF is high). Confused as I was when I first learned about this stuff?

Then listen to this podcast interview I did with a heart rate variability testing company called Sweetbeat. It will really elucidate this whole frequency thing for you.

So how the heck do you test HRV?
When it comes to self quantification, there are a ton of devices out there for tracking HRV (and hours of sleep, heart rate, pulse oximetry, perspiration, respiration, calories burnt, steps taken, distance traveled and more).
Ben Greenfield has several episodes of his podcasts devoted to HRV. Just be careful because he is like the used car salesman of Health and Wellness...


Plus a link to the app and monitor I have:

http://sweetwaterhrv.com/index.shtml
 

Remy

Administrator
Once you're familiar with HRV, it won't take you long to notice that the screenshots I posted of my values are pretty horrible.

So to answer @Upgrayedd's question, I don't really know for sure how to increase HRV because I'm still working on it myself.

I'm deeply afraid that it will turn out to be fixed as a result of *getting well* which of course is quite the dilemma. Especially since having consistently low HRV puts me at a greater risk of dying from a cardiac related event.

But in the meanwhile, some things may help to reverse the sympathetic dominance.

Obviously, the first one is meditation. Dave Asprey talks about using emWave2 to get into a state of high coherence. Unbelievably, I haven't bought this device yet. :) It has somewhat mixed reviews elsewhere.

Pranayama. This one is an offshoot of meditation but deserves special mention of its own. In fact, if I had to choose meditation or pranayama, I'd choose the breathing. This is the book I use.

Alpha GPC. CBD. Probably most adaptogenic herbs for the HPA axis would be somewhat helpful.

Green Tea (l-theanine). Fish oil.

Avoid blue light. Wear blue blockers at night. Get sun on your eyes first thing in the morning whenever possible.

Chiropractic adjustment. Cold thermogenesis a la Kruse.

When I figure it out, I'll be sure to let you all know. ;)
 

Remy

Administrator
[bimg=no-lightbox]http://i0.wp.com/gettingstronger.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Screen-Shot-2014-07-19-at-8.28.54-PM.png[/bimg]

The Sweetbeat app gives RMSSDx20. Actually, it gives both but the RMSSD alone is hidden in the stats...
 

Cort

Founder of Health Rising and Phoenix Rising
Staff member
L
Once you're familiar with HRV, it won't take you long to notice that the screenshots I posted of my values are pretty horrible.

So to answer @Upgrayedd's question, I don't really know for sure how to increase HRV because I'm still working on it myself.

I'm deeply afraid that it will turn out to be fixed as a result of *getting well* which of course is quite the dilemma. Especially since having consistently low HRV puts me at a greater risk of dying from a cardiac related event.

But in the meanwhile, some things may help to reverse the sympathetic dominance.

Obviously, the first one is meditation. Dave Asprey talks about using emWave2 to get into a state of high coherence. Unbelievably, I haven't bought this device yet. :) It has somewhat mixed reviews elsewhere.

Pranayama. This one is an offshoot of meditation but deserves special mention of its own. In fact, if I had to choose meditation or pranayama, I'd choose the breathing. This is the book I use.

Alpha GPC. CBD. Probably most adaptogenic herbs for the HPA axis would be somewhat helpful.

Green Tea (l-theanine). Fish oil.

Avoid blue light. Wear blue blockers at night. Get sun on your eyes first thing in the morning whenever possible.

Chiropractic adjustment. Cold thermogenesis a la Kruse.

When I figure it out, I'll be sure to let you all know. ;)
Let us know! It would be great to have a blog on ways to increase parasympathetic nervous system activity. :)

Really a nice summary...It's interesting that aerobic overtraining cooked his PNS while shorter duration weight training and cardio helped it rebound. I've heard that the best exercise for us is short, intense bursts of exercise....

In my own case, as I’ve neared the finish of my build to any big triathlon, I’ve noticed consistently low HRV scores – indicating I am nearing an overreached status and my parasympathetic, aerobically trained nervous system is getting “overcooked”. And in the off-season, when I do more weight training and high intensity cardio or sprint sports, I’ve noticed more of the highly variable HRV issues. In either case case, recovery of a taxed nervous system can be fixed by training less, decreasing volume, or decreasing intensity – supercompensation, right?
 
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Remy

Administrator
Ben Greenfield's list of things that can help balance the nervous system...

1. Schisandra - helps to regulate heat shock proteins
2. Other adaptogens - rhodiola, eleuthero (ginseng), ashwagandha - works through the release of finalex or triterpenoids or steroidal precursors.
3. His product, Tianchi, which is stupid expensive and full of sugar (though most of it may be in the form of ribose?).
4. CBD
5. Nicotine
6. Cold thermogenesis
7. Neurofeedback
8. Jaw realignment/chiropractic
9. Gratitude practice

https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/2015/12/episode-341-full-transcript/
 

Cort

Founder of Health Rising and Phoenix Rising
Staff member
Ben Greenfield's list of things that can help balance the nervous system...

1. Schisandra - helps to regulate heat shock proteins
2. Other adaptogens - rhodiola, eleuthero (ginseng), ashwagandha - works through the release of finalex or triterpenoids or steroidal precursors.
3. His product, Tianchi, which is stupid expensive and full of sugar (though most of it may be in the form of ribose?).
4. CBD
5. Nicotine
6. Cold thermogenesis
7. Neurofeedback
8. Jaw realignment/chiropractic
9. Gratitude practice

https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/2015/12/episode-341-full-transcript/
Thanks I am going to make a list from these and others and post it as a resource...:)
 

Upgrayedd

Active Member
Thank you @Remy for starting this thread!

I'm a little behind on my HealthRising reading... I've got to review everything above and figure out how to apply it to me. Stay tuned...
 

Onslow

Active Member
Add Heart Rate Monitor to my list post lottery win.
If you have an android phone, you could try the Heartservice app. It measures HRV using the camera and flash on your phone. It seems a little buggy, as it starts measuring in the middle of your heart beat and the graph has a big jump at the beginning, so I'm not sure how accurate it is. Hopefully the developer will update it.

From what I understand (from the recent Japanese research), HRV is abnormal in both CFS patients after any exercise, and in healthy controls after acute fatiguing exercise. In both cases the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system is suppressed. In CFS it happens after a little exercise, whereas in healthy controls it only happens after extreme fatiguing exercise. So it could potentially be a biomarker for fatigue. However I don't think it's possible to change your autonomic nervous system itself...it's likely the same parts of the brain that are suppressing the HPA axis (which is linked to the autonomic nervous system). Still, it might be useful to measure to see if it is a useful biomarker, and whether it correlates with symptoms.
 

Remy

Administrator
However I don't think it's possible to change your autonomic nervous system itself
I think it's totally possible...

I also have an app that uses the flash and I don't find it to be particularly reliable when compared to the chest strap. It's reasonable to get a pulse rate though!
 

Onslow

Active Member
I think it's totally possible...
Why/how? I don't think relaxation and reducing sympathetic will work, as the reason for the sympathetic dominance in CFS appears to be due to lack of parasympathetic activity (according to that Japanese study). Reducing sympathetic activity would only be useful if the reason for the low parasympethetic activation is due to stress increasing sympathetic activity, but that doesn't appear to be the case in CFS. (Stress may be a trigger, but once it develops most patients aren't under undue stress).

The only thing that I think might work is something along the lines of kundalini yoga, as it may work to normalise the suppression that is happening.

I also have an app that uses the flash and I don't find it to be particularly reliable when compared to the chest strap. It's reasonable to get a pulse rate though!
What app is that? I had a look a while ago and didn't see anything other than Heartservice (at least on Android).

I don't think there is any fundamental reason why it should be inaccurate when using the camera. The real-time graph of my heart rate seems pretty accurate, so I think if it just ignored the first partial waveform it should get an accurate result.
 

Remy

Administrator
Why/how? I don't think relaxation and reducing sympathetic will work, as the reason for the sympathetic dominance in CFS appears to be due to lack of parasympathetic activity (according to that Japanese study). Reducing sympathetic activity would only be useful if the reason for the low parasympethetic activation is due to stress increasing sympathetic activity, but that doesn't appear to be the case in CFS. (Stress may be a trigger, but once it develops most patients aren't under undue stress).

The only thing that I think might work is something along the lines of kundalini yoga, as it may work to normalise the suppression that is happening.



What app is that? I had a look a while ago and didn't see anything other than Heartservice (at least on Android).

I don't think there is any fundamental reason why it should be inaccurate when using the camera. The real-time graph of my heart rate seems pretty accurate, so I think if it just ignored the first partial waveform it should get an accurate result.
Increasing vagal tone should also increase parasympathetic activity as well as reducing sympathetic activity.

The camera one I had was on iPhone. It seemed really sensitive to interference. I couldn't use it at all while moving unlike the chest strap. Or in a car. Or really any time except when perfectly still.
 

Sue Stevenson

Active Member
i have been hanging out to get onto using Sweet Beats and playing in the HRV experimental waters.

Bit sad that I'm excited about this, haha. Once i used to get excited about going out and getting stoned. Now, it's this.

I bought a HRM, had issues for 10 days trying to get it to work. Much back and forth with SB support and the monitor support. Much horrid confusion and fog.

Realised finally that they sold me an older model while advertising it as the newer.

Blah. Pain in the bum. Back to square one looking for the cheapest model. I want to play and I'm being made to wait! :sour:
 

Onslow

Active Member
Increasing vagal tone should also increase parasympathetic activity as well as reducing sympathetic activity.
Yes, agreed. However a lot of the techniques (e.g. relaxation) increase vagal tone by decreasing sympathetic activity, which probably won't work for CFS. I think you would need something more active that might plausibly increase vagal tone and basal HPA axis activation.
 

Remy

Administrator
Yes, agreed. However a lot of the techniques (e.g. relaxation) increase vagal tone by decreasing sympathetic activity, which probably won't work for CFS. I think you would need something more active that might plausibly increase vagal tone and basal HPA axis activation.
Gargling and gagging?! ;)
 

Onslow

Active Member
Gargling and gagging?! ;)
No, that will just activate the vagus nerve at best. It won't likely increase basal vagal tone (if that is the correct term :)

I think you would really need to address the blockage in the brain that is causing the problem. As I said, kundalini yoga is about the only thing I've come across that is in any way plausible. (Or other types of meditation/yoga).
 

Remy

Administrator
No, that will just activate the vagus nerve at best. It won't likely increase basal vagal tone (if that is the correct term :)

I think you would really need to address the blockage in the brain that is causing the problem. As I said, kundalini yoga is about the only thing I've come across that is in any way plausible. (Or other types of meditation/yoga).
Well, stimulating the vagus nerve will increase vagal tone (the parasympathetic arm).

Blockage in the brain? Like a physical blockage? Hmmm.

I agree though that yoga, especially pranayama, is a good way to go about this.
 

Onslow

Active Member
Well, stimulating the vagus nerve will increase vagal tone (the parasympathetic arm).
Probably only temporarily, while you're doing it.

Blockage in the brain? Like a physical blockage?
No, not a physical blockage. It's perhaps the central governor or similar areas deliberately suppressing the HPA axis and parasympathetic nervous system, as a protection mechanism against chronic stress, and for some reason it remains suppressed after the stress has been removed. Blockage is just a term used in Chinese medicine to describe when "qi" isn't flowing. I'm not really a fan of Chinese medicine as it is full of pseudoscience, but some of their concepts seem to apply here. They certainly have some understanding about the body's energy system, even if some of their theories and medicines are a bit quacky.
 

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