AI Meets Medicine: Can ChatGPT Unlock Answers to Your Medical Questions?
By now, you’ve probably heard the buzz around artificial intelligence (AI) and the hottest new thing in ChatGPT. ChatGPT is growing more rapidly than TikTok – currently averaging a user base of 13 million people every day! Talk about a craze, and it got us thinking. The Chronic Pain Partners media team was curious about what the latest AI tool could do related to answers for medical questions or writing tips on helping EDS patients learn more about their disorder. So we put it to the test for this month’s content.
We started with basic questions about the human body focused on how to calm the autonomic nervous systems as a test question. Many of us know that an overactive fight-or-flight response system can negatively impact our well-being. Plus, we assumed it did not know much about the specifics of EDS with so few resources available and didn’t want to challenge its AI abilities with a question perplexing trained doctors. So instead, we asked ChatGPT two questions outlined below and found the answers remarkably interesting, well-spoken like a human blogger, and primarily accurate – despite its pitfalls. Yet, we also learned it can and will “make up” information, so always verify any response it feeds you with reality. So here goes…
Question #1: Can you describe the basics of the autonomic nervous system and ways you can calm it down?
The response was…
“The autonomic nervous system is the part of the nervous system that controls involuntary bodily functions, such as heart rate and digestion. Sometimes, the autonomic nervous system can become overactive, leading to symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, and difficulty breathing.
One way to calm the autonomic nervous system is by using vagus nerve exercises. The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body, and it plays a key role in regulating the autonomic nervous system. By stimulating the vagus nerve, we can help to regulate the activity of the autonomic nervous system and reduce symptoms of overactivity.
One way to stimulate the vagus nerve is through deep breathing exercises. By taking slow, deep breaths and exhaling fully, we can activate the vagus nerve and help to calm the autonomic nervous system.
Another way to stimulate the vagus nerve is through singing or humming. These activities vibrate the vocal cords, which are connected to the vagus nerve. This can help to activate the nerve and calm the autonomic nervous system.
Other vagus nerve exercises include cold water therapy, gargling, and massaging the neck. These activities can also help to stimulate the vagus nerve and calm the autonomic nervous system.
It’s important to note that everyone’s body is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. It’s important to experiment with different vagus nerve exercises and see what works best for you.
In conclusion, the vagus nerve plays a key role in regulating the autonomic nervous system. By using vagus nerve exercises, such as deep breathing, singing or humming, cold water therapy, gargling, and neck massage, we can help to calm the autonomic nervous system and reduce symptoms of overactivity.”
OK, not bad…even intriguing. So we asked ChaptGPT another question to dig deeper. We know there are exercises you can do to stimulate the part of your nervous system that can create calm, called the “rest and digest” part or the parasympathetic nervous system. Stimulating this system often through the vagus nerve (the largest cranial nerve in the human body) can create positive feelings, reduce stress and also strengthen the body’s defenses. The parasympathetic (PNS) wing, evolved along with the sympathetic wing (the part that responds to threats and excitement), allows you to relax once anxiety-inducing situations have passed. The PNS has been with us long before we were even humans and is a crucial part of every animal’s brain for protection from danger and creating sensations to nurture our offspring. By purposefully activating the PNS, you can take advantage of its natural cool-down effects to stop the cycle of chronic stress on the body often associated with dysautonomia and chronic illness. As in all things, care must be taken to balance neurological responses, and remember that stress and anxiety are a way of our bodies telling us there is something wrong. But, here goes…
Question #2: What easy at-home tricks stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system or vagus nerve?
The response was… (it took several prompts for more ideas to generate this extensive list)
“The parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the “rest and digest” system, helps regulate the body’s relaxation response. Here are some simple and easy at-home tricks that can stimulate the vagus nerve and activate the parasympathetic nervous system to calm the autonomic nervous system:
- Deep breathing: Taking slow, deep breaths can stimulate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation. Try inhaling for a count of four, holding your breath for a count of seven, and then exhaling for a count of eight.
- Progressive muscle relaxation: Tense and then relax different muscle groups one at a time, starting from your toes and working your way up to your head.
- Singing or humming: Vocalization, such as singing or humming, can stimulate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation.
- Cold exposure: Taking a cold shower or plunging into a cold bath can stimulate the vagus nerve and activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
- Laughing: Laughter has been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation. Try watching a funny movie or TV show, or spend time with friends who make you laugh.
- Yogic techniques: Certain yoga poses, such as child’s pose or corpse pose, can stimulate the vagus nerve and activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture has been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation.
- Massage: Massage therapy can stimulate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation.
- Meditation: Practicing mindfulness meditation or other forms of meditation can help stimulate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation.
- Gargling: Gargling with warm water has been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve, especially when done for an extended period of time.
- Exercise: Engaging in moderate physical activity, such as walking, yoga, or swimming, can stimulate the vagus nerve and activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
- Spending time in nature: Being in nature, surrounded by plants and animals, has been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation.
- Aromatherapy: Certain scents, such as lavender and vanilla, have been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation.
- Social connection: Spending time with friends and loved ones, or engaging in other forms of social connection, has been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation.
- Music therapy: Listening to calming, relaxing music can stimulate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation.
- Biofeedback: Using biofeedback techniques, such as heart rate variability (HRV) training, can help you learn to control your body’s response to stress and stimulate the vagus nerve.
- Alternate Nostril Breathing: This breathing technique involves alternately closing and opening one nostril while breathing in and out. It is believed to stimulate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation.
- Toning: Toning, or making vowel sounds, has been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation.
- Focused breathing exercises: Focused breathing exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing, can stimulate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation.
- Transcutaneous vagal nerve stimulation (tVNS): tVNS is a non-invasive form of stimulation that uses electrical stimulation to activate the vagus nerve. It is a relatively new treatment that is still being researched, but preliminary studies suggest it may be effective for certain conditions.
It’s essential to remember that these techniques may not work for everyone and that it’s always best to speak to a doctor before trying new methods to stimulate the vagus nerve. Additionally, some of these techniques may have contraindications or interact with other medical conditions, so it’s important to be mindful of your own health and well-being when trying any new techniques.”
Fascinating answers from the AI generator! ChatGPT gave us new ideas to learn more about and potentially try (after the doctor agrees). Could AI be the future of research, gathering resources, writing, and sharing information? Maybe, but it has a few bugs to work out first. For example, when using ChatGPT, keep in mind it’s only pulling data from before 2021 and is not actively searching the internet for real-time information. The ChatGPT website states, “ChatGPT is not connected to the internet, and it can occasionally produce incorrect answers. It has limited knowledge of world and events after 2021 and may also occasionally produce harmful instructions or biased content.” However, we learned that Microsoft is currently beta-testing a new tool with Bing to use AI to search and resolve that issue. Could we have a new verb for search besides “Google it” in the future to “Bing it?” Inquiring minds are watching. Either way, AI is rapidly creating new technological tools that could alter the way we research and communicate about our ever-changing world. By the time this is published, it’s likely to have already changed.
Keep in mind, ChatGPT is not designed to, nor should it replace the advice of a trained medical professional in matters of medical advice. But maybe there’s a potential for patients and providers to access the crowdsourcing features to teach us about what works. This is similar to existing tech crowdsourcing sites like Stuff That Works and Patients Like Me, and Smart Patients, which are growing in popularity for collaborative solutions for health issues.
It’s not always a good idea to trust ‘Dr. Google’ when seeking medical insights and instead rely on medically-proven and/or scientific evidence from credible resources regarding your health. To learn more about where to turn, check out this ebook. Of course, there is value in crowdsourcing your care to learn from others’ experiences and lessons learned, but always discuss any potential changes with a medical professional before considering new or different options for your care, routines, or treatment. Now go see what ChatGPT can answer for you at www.openai.com. You’ve been warned: trained, educated, and problem-solving human brains inside a doctor’s head probably still knows best – at least until AI can catch up.
Chronic Pain Partners Media Team