Vagal Tone: At the Intersection of Chiropractic, Nutrition and Emotions

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Because of our unique approach, Dr. Chris Lipat DC's Mind-Body Energy Medicine practice is a referral-based office focused on your true healing needs. If you've benefited from Dr. Chris' intuitive approach, share this e-newsletter with your friends and family and spread the love!


I recently addressed participants of the Behavioral Health TeleEcho Clinic, a virtual learning community for behavioral health professionals in Hawai`i and the Pacific. The talk, entitled, The Intersection of Emotions, Nutrition, Vagal Tone and Organ Health in Holistic Healing was well received! For those who want a more in depth look as to why I do what I do as a holistic doctor, chiropractor and reiki master, read on!

If the body is so intelligent, why is it not healing itself? What are the factors that are blocking healing from occurring?

Firstly, our body judges a situation and decides whether or not it is stressful. This decision is made based on sensory input and processing, and on stored memories. Our brain’s ability to perceive and interpret is key to mounting a proper response to stimuli. Exposure to any kind of stressor or toxin sets off the same sympathetic fight/flight response of the autonomic nervous system.

The sympathetic fight/flight response causes the body to increase its heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate. Muscle tension increases, blood vessels constrict and prioritize blood away from the skin and digestive system to the muscles and brain. Digestion slows, the immune system is on high alert and blood platelets become "sticky" to help blood coagulation. The liver releases sugar into the blood for energy. In the meantime, the mind scans for danger, even heightening threats that may not be serious; emotions become magnified - irritability turns to anger, concern turns to anxiety, fatigue turns to depressed mood.

The vagus nerve is the second largest nerve system after the spinal cord. It is the prime mover of the parasympathetic rest/digest response. From the brainstem, it 'wanders' down into the lower abdomen, touching most major organs, especially the digestive organs, along the way. It brings sensory information on the status of your organs back up to the brain for processing. During the stress response, the sympathetic system overrides the parasympathetic. The ability for the body to bounce back and reset after a stressor is mediated by the health of our vagus nerve, or what they call vagal tone.

A body that is free of nerve interference has more power to heal, think, and metabolize. 90% of the stimulation and nutrition to the brain is generated by movement of the spine.

– Dr. Roger Sperry, Nobel Prize winner for brain research

An overload of toxic stressors causes a neurological imbalance, specifically a neuro-muscular reaction – a tightening of paraspinal muscles, which causes subluxation in the vertebral column. This tightening causes us to become cognitively aware of stress and imbalance, which then prompts us to make changes. Chiropractic patients and other people who are in tune to their bodies can sense when these shifts occur, but for the most part, most modern people are not aware. These paraspinal muscles are like the brain’s “eyes” in the spine because these muscles have a lot of movement sensors. However, altered spinal movement in the long term impacts the brain's ability to properly perceive what is happening in the body. This neurological distortion impacts how it perceives all other sensory information.

Not only does adjusting the spine reset these paraspinal muscles, but also induces cortical neuroplastic change, and changes the way the prefrontal cortex processes information. One of the side effects of chiropractic may be improved prefrontal cortex function, which is responsible for behavior, goal directed tasks, decisionmaking, memory and attention, intelligence, processing of pain and emotional response to it, autonomic function, motor control, eye movements and spatial awareness. The adjustment also calms the sympathetic nervous system and decreases muscle tone and pain intensity.

Today was my first visit with Dr. Chris. I was impressed with her in-depth knowledge of holistic health. I am so very glad I found her and will be coming back for more visits. I feel so much better this evening after my visit. I often suffer from chronic neck pain and stiffness but have increased mobility after my first visit. I am very happy with the holistic healthcare approach from Dr. Chris! BookFresh review

Dr. Candace Pert, PhD, former Chief of Brain Chemistry in Neuroscience at NIH, who coined the term psychoimmunoendocrinology, asserts that the model of chemicals in receptors that we have been taught to embrace by modern psychopharmacology is missing some very key elements. One of the concepts she asserts is that the body is multilingual. The immune, endocrine, and neurochemical systems are all speaking to each other in many cellular languages from chemical to energetic.

Now, as a Reiki master, I can detect energetic imbalances and intertwine the spinal muscle work that I do with energy work as well. My aim is to bring any area that feels energetically stuck, low, or excessive to a state of calm/balance. Often it feels that I am increasing energetic coherence in an area of distress, which then allows the brain to better interpret the healing requirements for that area.

So these two approaches, chiropractic and reiki, treat the myriad effects of stress on the body through balancing the nervous system and energetic flows, and have powerful effects on improving the brain and body’s ability to heal. But this still doesn’t get to root causes. Why is the body creating a defense state?



I definitely see a correlation between pain and an inflammatory diet. Through Nutrition Response Testing and other applied kinesiology approaches, I would tailor patients’ nutrition, advising them to avoid certain foods for a time and to begin decreasing exposure to everyday toxins, like aluminum, mercury, plastics, chlorine, pesticides, etc. I often found that many patients with chronic pain and even depression healed better and quicker particularly when avoiding gluten and sugar and eating healthy nutrient dense foods. And they saw a correlating increase in neck and shoulder tightness, pain, discomfort, mood and energy when they added back the gluten and sugar.

Indeed, a November 2016 study based on data from some 22,000 participants found that 8.2% of controls had depression compared with 3.9% of people with celiac disease and 2.9% of folks who avoid gluten, even after adjustment for various confounding variables (age, sex, race, income, and access to healthcare). In other words, people who avoid gluten less frequently presented with depression compared to controls.

In practice, I found that gluten and sugar (including fruit sugar) are not the only culprits but they are major players. Other main foods include corn, soy, potatoes and tomatoes - staples of the standard American diet. Each person's triggers vary - a customized list supports patients in efficiently implementing an anti-inflammatory diet.

I also see an underdiagnosis of thyroid problems which I believe underlies much of the epidemic of chronic neck and shoulder pain, headaches, migraines, depression and fatigue. I consider symptoms and body temperature to be better indicators for thyroid imbalance than the basic blood labs. One basic tip I give patients is that they know they are doing better when they become less and less prone to cold temperatures and feel less prone to neck and shoulder stiffness. Oftentimes that is correlated to the length of time they are able to avoid gluten and other gluten cross-reactive foods as well as the time it takes to rebalance them nutritionally.

When the gut barrier is compromised due to inflammatory foods, the resulting endotoxins are a potent stimulator of the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis, causing prolonged activation. We know that 90% of serotonin and 50% of dopamine are produced in the gut, along with 30 other neurotransmitters. The gut microbiota regulates production of myelin in the prefrontal cortex, a region important for self-control and executive function and also the maintenance of the blood-brain barrier. Leaky gut, dysbiosis, and a compromised blood-brain barrier can easily lead to neuroinflammation and altered behavior.

So avoiding foods that trigger the immune system and cause inflammation by eating clean nutrient dense foods heals leaky gut and improves the ability of the gut to produce neurotransmitters and heal the brain. It likely contributes to maintaining a healthy vagal tone as well!

INCREDIBLE holistic tune up and profound insight into our bodies' own ability to heal itself. Putting tools into practice; feels amazing to confront, feel and actively contribute and commit to my own unique path of health, vitality and wellbeing. - Facebook Review

My patients still get frustrated. They often ask why they are so sensitive, while their friends can eat/drink whatever they want! This is where I’ve found powerful thinking in the realm of psychology. The longer I’ve been in practice working with patients with chronic pain and autoimmunity issues, I’ve learned that our biography very much influences our biology.
The books, Scared Sick: the Role of Childhood Trauma in Adult Disease, and The Impact of Early Life Trauma on Health and Disease: The Hidden Epidemic, contain cutting edge findings that show how chronic fear experienced in infancy and early childhood lies at the root of chronic diseases as well as contributes to emotional and behavioral pathologies. They explain how early fear triggers disease by dysregulating the HPA axis, activating the vagus nerve, and catalyzing epigenetic mechanisms that facilitate the expression of genetic disease.

One of the vagus nerve’s jobs is to reset the immune system and switch off production of proteins that fuel inflammation. The latest research shows that a high vagal tone (found by measuring heart rate variability) makes your body better at regulating blood glucose levels, reducing the likelihood of diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease. These folks are also socially and psychologically stronger – better able to concentrate and remember things, happier and less likely to be depressed, more empathetic and more likely to have close friendships. Low vagal tone, however, has been associated with chronic inflammation, gut dysbiosis, and other concomitant disease states like diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, epilepsy, chronic fatigue, and PTSD to name a few.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Kevin Tracey has been working on this issue, looking to see how electrically stimulating the vagus nerve could treat people dealing with chronic inflammatory disease. But many are researching natural ways to improve vagal tone.

Christopher Bergland has a great evidence-based series in Psychology Today called “A Vagus Nerve Survival Guide to Combat Fight-or-Flight Urges: 9 vagal maneuvers to optimize heart rate variance and parasympathetic responses.” I recommend you check it out! The short list is here:

  1. Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises
  2. Tonic Levels of Daily Physical Activity
  3. Face-to-Face Social Connectedness
  4. Narrative Expressive Journaling
  5. Gutsy Third Person Self-Talk
  6. Sense of Awe to Promote Small Self
  7. Upward Spiral via Loving-Kindness Meditation
  8. Superfluidity and Secular Transcendent Ecstasy
  9. Volunteering and Altruistic Generativity

Heartmath Institute has been investigating the role of thought and emotion in bioresonance, specifically between the lungs, heart, and brain. They have validated gratitude as the single most powerful emotion for optimizing bodily harmony as measured by heart rate variability. This emotional state, when coupled with the power of breath, can send top-down signals to the rest of the body, sending a message of safety.

So now I have an answer for my chronic pain and auto-immune patients! A patient with a sensitive nervous system (due to early/chronic gut imbalance and/or childhood/life trauma) resulting in low vagal tone and a dysregulated HPA axis, would benefit from a regular regimen of approaches that improve brain function, HPA axis regulation and vagal tone. Certainly, chiropractic, reiki, a clean diet and vagal tone optimizing lifestyle changes including mind/body stress reduction and bodywork therapies would help tremendously in resetting an overworked, overstimulated and/or oversensitive nervous system.

Dr. Paul Epstein, ND and mind-body therapist asks, “Do people have “arthritis,” or do they have repressed grief from childhood? Do people have “irritable bowel syndrome,” or do they have anger and frustration from growing up in an alcoholic home? Do people have “fibromyalgia,” or were they abandoned and neglected as children? Do people have weight issues because of their metabolism, or were they abused sexually? Can autoimmune diseases, migraines, chronic pain, adrenal fatigue, and metabolic syndrome all be seen in light of surviving adverse childhood events? Balancing the immune system and biochemical pathways, though important, may not be addressing the underlying factors which cause many of these chronic ailments. Are corrections we make to functional imbalances truly correcting the cause, or are they perhaps bypassing a larger issue?”

To really get at the root, approaches that release and integrate somatically stored trauma like somatic integration, mindfulness stress based reduction, Emotional Freedom Technique, EMDR, and the techniques I use in practice, NeuroEmotional Technique and Emotional Freedom Technique, in concert with psychotherapy, would greatly benefit a patient of this profile

Who do I need to become,
to no longer have these symptoms? 

- Dr. Chris Lipat DC

NeuroEmotional Technique (NET) practitioners work with the patient to identify and balance unresolved emotional events, combining Chinese medicine concepts correlating emotions to particular organ meridians with use of brain patterns, pathways of speech, kinesiology, breathwork and skin reflex points. It does not require a lot of talking but rather leads the patient to identify the presence of internal stress or conflict and then we address the stress physiology of the psychology to facilitate a resolution.

A Feb 2017 NET research study by Dr. Daniel Monti, psychiatrist and integrative medicine practitioner focused on 23 patients who experienced traumatic stress symptoms that lasted for at least six months as a result of distressing cancer-related events. A select number of patients received NET and the rest were waitlisted to a control group. The treatment group received a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) while listening to the self reported story of their distressing memory before and after NET. After receiving 4-5 sessions of NET, the treated patients saw reduced stimulation in a number of brain structures associated with the perception of emotional trauma, including the parahippocampus, which is known to be activated by various types of traumatic stress, such as post-traumatic stress disorder in war veterans and victims of sexual assault.

To normalize the physiology of unresolved trauma is transformational. Rather than chasing stress symptoms after a triggering episode, we release the trigger, freeing more energy in the body to heal other things.

In working closely with this technique, I’ve been coming to appreciate more and more the Chinese medicine correlation between emotions, organ health and nutrition. There are very extensive charts that have been developed around this in Chinese medicine and applied kinesiology, but the basic correlations are:

Stomach – oversympathetic; spleen/pancreas – low self-esteem; large intestine – dogmatically positioned; lung – grief; bladder – paralyzed will; kidney – fear; gall bladder – resentment; liver – anger; small intestine – lost/vulnerable; heart – frightfully overjoyed; thyroid/adrenals – muddled instability; sex organs/pituitary – non-thinking, non-emotive.

Note that each organ is referring not only to the organ itself but the energetic meridian correlated to that organ, which has corresponding vertebral levels and muscles related to it. This is one way to understand how chiropractic, bodywork, acupuncture and nutrition all intersect and interact.

In using this chart, I’ve seen how patients who heal nutritionally, oftentimes report feeling less prone to challenging emotions that they’ve had in the past. But if in emotionally toxic environments or without proper therapeutic support or in the absence of other fundamental lifestyle changes, these emotions can lead them to straying from their nutritional protocols. And vice versa. Patients trying to heal particular emotions may only get so far if they continue to deal with nutritional stress in the organs involved. It’s very much a circular, rather than linear relationship.

Healing is a process that leads in the direction of cure, toward greater health, vitality and balance. Authentic healing is almost always accompanied by change and growth of consciousness. Illness, therefore, is a synchronistic opportunity to embrace change that can lead to greater health and well being. All healing is, in essence, a sacred endeavor.

– Dr. Larry Malerba, Green Medicine

So what is really at the root cause of disease? Until our society fundamentally values the emotional and physical safety of our children, the cultivation and eating of real, clean food, and healing awe and reverence for the land, I would say that body-mind approaches that fundamentally change the brain’s perception of safety, married with nutrition and regular bodywork and lifestyle habits that support increasing vagal tone, are key and powerful interventions to support and empower our patients to transform and evolve. And through these interventions, we will part of the larger shift to create a better society in the coming generations.

I welcome you all to come check out Niu Health for a New You! at Niu Health Chiropractic and experience a comprehensive, holistic treatment for yourself. Imagine what a regular treatment regimen could do to transform your life for years to come!


E mālama pono!
Dr. Chris Lipat DC

Mind-Body Energy Medicine, Certified Cellular Regeneration Technique Practitioner, Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner, White Light/Karuna Reiki® Master 

Lasting results. Minimal visits.



Are you ready to make a commitment to transforming your health and your life? Dr. Chris Lipat DC's Mind-Body Energy Medicine practice offers a potent, cutting edge, synergistic combination of chiropractic, energetic, emotional and fascial bodywork, along with nutrition and dietary recommendations. 


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Dr. Chris posts cutting edge studies on health regularly on Facebook along with the latest schedule of Reiki classes. Like our page so you can keep up with the latest in holistic health news!

Article highlights include:

12 Shocking Symptoms of Gluten Sensitivity
Emotions in Traditional Chinese Medicine
Vagus Nerve Survival Guide to Combat Fight or Flight Urges
8 Unexpected Benefits of the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol

AIP Medical Study: The Incredible Results are In!
4 Ways to Reprogram Your Subconscious Mind
The Awe-Inspiring Mind-Body Connection
7 Ways To Transform Your Money Mindset
How to Build Resilience in Mid-Life
5 Self-Care Strategies That Aren't Mani-Pedis
Are You a Carbaholic? Why Cutting Carbs is So Tough
Is Gluten Avoidance Linked to a Lower Risk for Depression?

As with all health promoting approaches, one size does not fit all. Niu Health for a New You! provides personalized recommendations that help you rebuild your resilience more effectively and efficiently. Rather than resorting to quick fixes or stimulatory medicines to help you feel better, we set a solid foundation for healing to help you FUNCTION better in the long term. 

Accepting HMSA/Blue Cross PPO & HMAA
Although insurance does not cover a number of the modalities I use during a session (like nutrition, energy work, lifestyle counseling and emotional clearing), some plans will cover the adjustment and a few other components. Check with your carrier to see if they cover chiropractic. I will still be charging an additional co-pay to cover the time and modalities that are not covered by insurance, but at least you can get some reimbursement from your provider. Note, I am not covered under HMSA's Quest/ASH/EUTF Networks. I hope this helps you to get a Deep System Reset more often than you would otherwise! 

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I love my sessions with Dr. Chris! Her approach to healing involves the whole being. She is gifted at assessing my body's imbalances and using a variety of modalities to restore health almost instantly. She is energetically very perceptive and works not only with my physical body but also my mental, emotional and spiritual health. Dr. Chris is gifted, compassionate, unique and a true gem. I highly recommend her! - Linda

Chris Lipat is by far the best chiropractor I have ever gone to ... forever ever ever. I'm a massage therapist and yoga teacher and currently training for a marathon, so I am very much aware of all the kinks and changes happening within my body. I use my body a lot and try to get weekly healing maintenance on my body.

What I love about Dr. Lipat's treatment is the wisdom and knowledge I take from each session. She is holistic ~ she sees the WHOLE human being, and treats your body as a holistic whole pinpointing the energetic, emotional, nutritional, mental and physical kinks out to you in the most gentle and intuitive way I have ever witnessed in a chiropractor.

I used to be sorta anti-chiropractor back in the day because I was running into a lot of bone cracking kine of chiropractors. Chris is the exact opposite. She is so subtle with her work, yet it is felt sooo deeply within all the layers of your being and the work stays with you. Unlike other sessions I have had with other chiropractors, I do not suffer the same aches and pains or injuries after seeing Chris. My body takes to the healing and the healing integrates and gets deeper and deeper until it heals in the root.  It is true healing.

Her amazing depth of knowledge, her intuitive gift, her holistic perspective and practice and her gentle and subtle adjustments are a magical combination for a chiropractor. I recommend her to all of my clients, colleagues and super active and health conscious friends, because she is the complete package.

Check out her toys too! Ask for her amazing crystal wand!  It feels sooo good! Her pelvic adjuster table is wonderful too. You will learn a lot about yourself in many levels after a session with Dr. Lipat.   Mahalo Christine for keeping me super healthy and deepening my connection to my body! - Darshan

Rebalancing Through Nutrition: the Healing Crisis

The body needs a continuous supply of 50 or more nutrients - none of which it can make for itself. Deficiency in any one of these nutrients affects the overall function of the body. Nutrients are raw materials of the body. Chronic deficiency undermines health and promotes degenerative disease...
. Unblocking the Flow: Maximizing Your Healing Potential Fatigue and lower back pain. Chronic neck pain with tingling into the hands. Eczema. Uterine fibroids. Frozen shoulder. Joint pain from pregnancy. Anxiety, depression. Migraines. Brain fog. Stomach pain. Knee pain. Hot flashes. Plantar fasciitis. Fibromyalgia. A broken heart. Many of my patients have a combination of these symptoms!...
The Total Stress Load Concept: why your body may not be healing itself
We talk about root causes in the alternative health community, as though by locating and pointing "it" out to the patient, we can help them eliminate their symptoms. Indeed, when chiropractic was founded in 1895...
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Health is based on our daily habits - how we eat, think and move. Dr. Chris Lipat's DC's Mind-Body Energy Medicine practice provides a synergistic approach (chiropractic, energetic, emotional, fascial and nutritional), for those ready to make significant changes in their lives, moving you towards a state of strengthened immunity, increased vitality and peaceful resilience.



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White Light Reiki Level 1: March 14, 2020
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