Date: 21 February 2021
By: Brigitte Nowicki
Did you know that the vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body and has fibers spanning from your brain stem which split into two branches through the head, down the spine, acting like fiber-optic cables that send instructions to monitor and control your organs and their functioning.
‘Vagus’ comes from the Latin word for ‘wandering’, like a vagabond, it wanders from your brain to organs all over your body ie larynx, pharynx, esophagus, tongue, ears, lungs, gut, heart, liver, spleen, gallbladder, kidney, pancreas, intestines, reproductive organs, and ureter.
It signals in both directions and is the command center of your parasympathetic nervous systems which controls your ability to relax and recover from stress. Like a muscle, it can be strengthened by stimulation or weakened by lack thereof. You can have an overactive or underactive vagal response, with a weak vagal nerve tone being associated with depression, heart attacks, loneliness and inflammation.
What does the Vagus Nerve do?
— Emotionally connects the gut to your brain. Your vagus nerve in your GI Tract sends messages to your brain, including those that deal with stress, anxiety and fear, hence the term “gut feeling”, a real phenomenon.
— Stress Management ie The Sympathetic or Fight or Flight Response, releases Cortisol and Adrenalin into your body resulting in increased alertness, energy, blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate. The Vagus nerve is part of the Parasympathetic or Rest and Digest response which brings your body back to a relaxed state ie Reduces heart rate (ie the body’s natural pacemaker), normalizes breathing, stimulates saliva flow and constricts bronchi
— Helps with memory. Studies have shown that stimulating your vagal nerve helps strengthen and consolidate memories.
— Reduces Inflammation: Not the normal inflammation that follows injury or illness, but an overabundance of inflammation that leads to issues like rheumatoid arthritis, allergies, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other inflammatory responses.
— Improves mood, heart rate, digestion and immune response
— Sensory Functions ie:
Ways to stimulate the Vagus nerve
People with a stronger vagus response are more prone to a quicker recovery after stress, injury, or illness. Also, research shows that stimulating the vagus nerve can help with inflammation, depression, loneliness and abnormal heart rhythm and heart attacks. About 60% of your vagal nerve tone is genetic, leaving 40% that you can impact! Here are some ways to do that!
Fainting and Dizziness Caused by Overstimulation
Overstimulation is caused by an overreaction to the below stress triggers, can cause a sudden drop in heart rate and blood pressure resulting in dizziness or fainting.
Signs of a Weak or damaged Vagus Nerve
Vagal nerve signals can become weak or the nerve can become irritated due to heavy metal toxicity, poor posture, hiatal hernia, excess alcohol, stress and brain trauma eg concussion. The following are signs of a weak vagal nerve tone or misregulated firing of the nerve.