Heart Rate Variability — The Most Important Diagnostic Test You’ve Never Heard Of

One of the major themes emerg­ing in 21st cen­tu­ry med­i­cine is the mas­ter role your brain plays in health.

Each week we learn more about the intri­cate ways the brain inte­grates data about the immune, endocrine, and chem­i­cal bal­ance of your body.  And the sig­nals it sends out to mod­i­fy the activ­i­ty of your heart, lungs, liv­er, kid­neys, small intes­tine, and all the rest.

Because of the cen­tral role the ner­vous sys­tem plays, your state of health depends on the sig­nals that flow into and out from the brain via the periph­er­al nerves.  That’s why the diag­nos­tic tests that doc­tors of chi­ro­prac­tic per­form have a dual pur­pose: they chart your pain and body move­ment prob­lems while also check­ing brain func­tion.

How Your Doctor of Chiropractic Tests Your Brain

  • A mus­cle strength test gauges the integri­ty of the mus­cle and ten­don fibers.  But it also tests how adept­ly your brain can sig­nal the mus­cle to fire.
  • Since the brain coor­di­nates posi­tion­al feed­back from the spine, arms, and legs, an exam­i­na­tion of the motion and align­ment of these joints is also a test for brain and nerve func­tion.
  • Check­ing for painful spots can reveal the tight zones in your mus­cles and ten­dons, while at the same time it shows if there’s height­ened vig­i­lance or irri­tabil­i­ty of the nerves that serve the area.

Somatic vs. Autonomic Nerves

These impor­tant diag­nos­tic tests pin­point prob­lems in one major branch of the ner­vous sys­tem – the somat­ic nerves.  These are the nerves that reg­u­late pos­ture and move­ment – all the vol­un­tary func­tions.

But there’s a sec­ond impor­tant branch of the ner­vous sys­tem that con­trols the invol­un­tary func­tions of the inter­nal organs – the auto­nom­ic nerves.  The auto­nom­ic nerves are trick­i­er to test.

But doc­tors now have a test for the auto­nom­ic nerves too – heart rate vari­abil­i­ty.

Why Your Heart is Not a Precision Timepiece


A steady heart beat has long been con­sid­ered a hall­mark of health.

And that’s true up to a point.  You don’t want your heart rate drop­ping sud­den­ly, or speed­ing up mad­ly because of an elec­tri­cal con­duc­tion abnor­mal­i­ty of the car­diac mus­cle such as atri­al fib­ril­la­tion.

But on a moment to moment basis, and through­out the day, a healthy heart adapts to changes in your activ­i­ty lev­el, your men­tal and emo­tion­al state, your pos­ture, your state of wake­ful­ness, how hard your intestines are work­ing to digest your food, and a mil­lion oth­er influ­ences.

In fact, car­di­ol­o­gists can pre­dict the like­li­hood of sur­vival after a heart attack by mea­sur­ing heart rate vari­abil­i­ty — HRV.  If a patient’s HRV is low, they’re at high risk.

A Window Into Your Autonomic Nervous System

But mea­sur­ing heart rate vari­abil­i­ty gives insight into lots more than just sur­viv­ing a heart attack.  That’s because it’s the auto­nom­ic ner­vous sys­tem that car­ries the sig­nals that tell the heart how to adjust.  So if your HRV is low, that means you have an imbal­ance or block­age of your auto­nom­ic ner­vous sys­tem.

And if there’s an imbal­ance of your auto­nom­ic nerves, more than your heart is at risk.  You’re sys­tem becomes less adept at reg­u­lat­ing the action of all your inter­nal organs.

That’s why test­ing heart rate vari­abil­i­ty is the best diag­nos­tic tool to mea­sure this impor­tant aspect of your over­all health.



Deepen Your Body of Knowledge

Neu­ro­Tac­tile ™ Ther­a­py and the auto­nom­ic ner­vous sys­tem



About Ronald Lavine, D.C.

Dr. Lavine has more than thirty years' experience helping patients alleviate pain and restore health using diverse, scientifically-based manual therapy and therapeutic exercise and alignment methods.

His website, askdrlavine.com, provides more information about his approach.

Please contact him at drlavine@yourbodyofknowledge.com or at 212-400-9663.

This entry was posted in Brain Health and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.