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What is your HRV? (Heart Rate Variability)

What is your HRV? (Heart Rate Variability)
February 14, 2016 Patrick Nemechek, D.O.

HRV BlogPeople think their blood pressure reading is the biggest indicator of their overall health, but a more important number is their Heart Rate Variability (HRV).

Your HRV is not your blood pressure and it is not your pulse rate.

Technically, HRV is the variation of time between each heartbeat. The average time is one beat per second, although the time between each beat varies with some being more or less than one second apart.

That amount of time between beats sounds tiny, but it is of great importance. HRV tells you how healthy your brain is.

The HRV number is significant because people with low HRV have an increased risk of death from all causes. This is because their brain is so sick it cannot control their organs, blood pressure, immune system and hormone system when under intense stress such as pneumonia, a heart attack, or treatment for cancer.

Reduced HRV is also associated with a wide variety of conditions that includes anxiety, depression, obesity, heart failure, diabetes, MS, or a worsening memory.

Elevated HRV is a common cause of heart arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation (A-fib) and atrial flutter.

Chronic inflammation within the brain (i.e., neuroinflammation) is the most common cause of reduced HRV. Neuroinflammation results from hyperactive white blood cells that surround our brain and can be triggered by intestinal bacteria overgrowth (SIBO), decades of unhealthy food, the toxic effects of drugs and vaccines, tobacco use, and critical omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies. These stressors all cause our brain and nervous system to become fragile to physical and emotional distress.

There are a number of phone apps available that will give you a rough HRV number that may give you the data you need to seek medical help. Playing around on a phone app I surprisingly have found out that some of my “healthy” and physically fit friends actually had serious HRV abnormalities that we needed to fix.

In my office I use sophisticated Autonomic Spectral Analysis testing (a three prong EKG, neurological, and respiratory test) to measure HRV and Autonomic Nervous System function.

What so does a change in the HRV interval mean? A reduction in HRV reflects the brain’s inability to regulate the function of the organs, immune system, and hormonal system via the Autonomic Nervous System’s two branches, the Sympathetic branch and the Parasympathetic branch.

Our brain uses the Autonomic Nervous System to communicate and coordinate the metabolic state of all of the cells in the human body. In simple terms, the Sympathetic branch is responsible for energy expenditure (“fight or flight”) and the Parasympathetic branch is responsible for energy conservation and restoration (“rest and digest”).

When the two Autonomic branches are in balance the body works automatically, a person feels no symptoms, and they have normal HRV. Without proper balance one branch may become withdrawn or the other becomes elevated, which is reflected in abnormal HRV.

When the two Autonomic branches are no longer working automatically, a person may feel symptoms that range from mild to completely debilitating. Autonomic dysfunction also fuels the systemic metabolic inflammation that triggers cellular changes and ignites someone’s disposition for disease.

The Sympathetic branch controls the bodies’ response to stress, pain, and cold. It increases heart rate, increases respiratory rate, and pushes blood from the extremities to core organs and muscles.

Failure of the Sympathetic branch can result in poor blood and oxygen delivery to the brain with resulting poor memory, ADD, poor balance, and slowed reflexes as well as excessive heart muscle stress, and impaired immune function.

When the Sympathetic branch is weak and goes into withdrawal it can cause anxiety, insomnia, chronic fatigue, headaches, neck and shoulder stiffness, numbness and tingling in the face/hands/feet, increased thirst, PMS, and menopause.

These symptoms lead to increased hunger that causes obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart failure, macular degeneration, ALS, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.

When the Sympathetic branch is too dominant it increases the risk of developing hypertension, chronic kidney disease and failure, diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes.

In contrast, the Parasympathetic branch controls the bodies’ resting states after a meal, resting at night, the digestive tract, nutrient storage, immune responses, and healing.

When the Parasympathetic branch is too weak it contributes to heartburn and reflux, constipation, bloating and cramping, abnormal hormone regulation, and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

It also increases inflammation in the brain and joints, the worsening of autoimmune disorders and chronic inflammatory pain, and prevents recovery from concussions, depression, and PTSD.

When the Parasympathetic branch is too dominant it causes sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, non-restorative sleep, headaches, E.D., bladder dysfunction, and hot flashes.

These two opposite Autonomic branches should work together simultaneously and in balance, which is called sympathovagal balance. Sympathovagal balance between the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic branches is not just important for feeling better in the short term; sympathovagal balance is necessary for a long and healthy life.

When the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic branches are not in sympathovagal balance, and if left untreated, this imbalance will result in a loss of heart rate variability (HRV).

My goal as a doctor is to improve and restore Autonomic functioning because it is critical to life expectancy. Improved Autonomic function improves heart rate variability (HRV).

Autonomic recovery is attainable but it takes consistent effort. For most adults Autonomic treatment involves a combination of short term medications, the lowering of metabolic inflammation and neuroinflammation, the elimination of underlying infections or unresolved concussion damage, and chemically cleaner and more nutritious food to maintain recovery and resist relapse and/or recover from new Autonomic injuries.

Sometimes we chase the wrong numbers in our quest to be healthy because we do not understand what the numbers really mean. A high blood pressure reading is like a single tree that is burning, while an abnormal HRV number means the entire forest is on fire.

So if you want to know how healthy you really are, ask your doctor at your next checkup about your HRV.

I am a classically trained internal medicine physician (D.O.) from UCLA and my private office is located in the Phoenix, Arizona area.

My research background has been focused on the Autonomic Nervous System, brain metabolism, and metabolic inflammation.

I am a scientist physician who uses all available scientific and medical tools to induce the nervous system and organs to actually repair themselves by normalizing inflammation control mechanisms, inducing natural stem cell production, and re-activating innate restorative mechanisms.

For more information you may call my office at 623-208-4226 or go to my website www.DrBuckeye.com.

© 2016. Dr. Patrick M. Nemechek and Jean R. Nemechek. All Rights Reserved.

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Aditi Shanbhag
Aditi Shanbhag

Hello Doc, my HRV (calculated as RR interval in an ecg) is 0.6 . Is that normal?

Aditi Shanbhag
Aditi Shanbhag

Thank you. Will look into it.

Sarah
Sarah

I took my 4 yo son to the Dr today for strep throat. He had been on the protocol for 3 1/2 weeks, on oils for longer and we’ve seen some gains already (He is not diagnosed with autism, but he has some red flags for aspergers or adhd possibly). During the appointment, the Dr heard an irregular heartbeat. It sounds like one of the beats is a double beat. I listened with the stethoscope myself. This is our family Dr who delivered him and who has cared for him all his life, we have never heard this type of… Read more »

Peter
Peter

Dr Nemecheck great article but what is low hrv – 20, 30 or 50? , mine is 45 on average and i am very sick. Can you use hrv after eating different foods to heal yourself from any desease?

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