So what is all the fuss about the Vagus Nerve?

Brigitte Nowicki

Date: 21 February 2021

By: Brigitte Nowicki

  • Reading time: 30 Mins

A well-toned Vagal Nerve supports Gut Health & Mental Wellbeing

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:

    • -Somatic sensations felt on the skin or in the muscles eg behind the ear and the external part of the ear canal and certain parts of the throat
    • -Visceral sensations felt in the organs eg the larynx, esophagus, lungs, trachea, heart and digestive tract
    • -Special sensory sensation of taste behind the tongue
  • — Motor movement:
    • -Muscles involved in swallowing and speech ie the pharynx, larynx, and the soft palate
    • -Muscles in the heart ie to lower resting heart rate
    • -Involuntary contractions in the digestive tract, including the esophagus, stomach, and most of the intestines, allowing food to move through the tract
  • — Body’s organs:
    • -Gut: improves digestive flow and juice secretion. Stimulates peristalsis movement of the stomach to defecate
    • -Heart: optimizes blood pressure and heart rate
    • -Liver and pancreas: balances blood glucose, releases bile acid
    • -Gallbladder: releases bile
    • -Spleen: lowers inflammation
    • -Bladder: contractions to urinate
    • -Kidneys: releases sodium, increases blood flow, and manages blood glucose
    • -Reproductive organs: assists with fertility and orgasms in women, as it connects the cervix, uterus, and vagina.

 

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!

  • -Yoga and regular physical activity and exercise
  • -Conscious breathing
  • -Singing and humming
  • -Laughing
  • -Massage of carotid sinus on the sides of your neck
  • -Intermittent Fasting or the 5:2 Diet
  • -Loving-kindness & gratitude meditations and prayer
  • -Foot massage or reflexology
  • -Aromatherapy especially lavender and bergamot
  • -Gargling
  • -Holding your breath for six to eight counts, breath out with lips pursed for a count of six (for ten minutes to get the full benefit)
  • -Taking a deep breath and then making a humming or ‘aaaah’ sound on breathing out
  • -Grounding or earthing
  • -Omega 3 supplements and Pro-biotics
  • -Cut down on sugar and eat more plants
  • -Coffee enemas
  • -Coldwater splashed on your face, cold showers etc

 

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.   

  • -exposure to extreme heat
  • -fear of bodily harm
  • -the sight of blood or having blood drawn
  • -straining, including trying to have a bowel movement
  • -standing for a long time

 

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.

  • -Difficulty speaking, loss of voice, hoarse or wheezy voice
  • -Mood issues, Depression and Anxiety
  • -Chronic Fatigue, loss of memory or concentration
  • -Weight gain due to chronic fatigue, depression or anxiety
  • -Inability to relax and Insomnia
  • -Unusual heart rate
  • -Abnormal blood pressure
  • -Decreased production of stomach acid
  • -Heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux
  • -IBS and IBD
  • -Trouble drinking liquids
  • -Loss of the gag reflex
  • -Slow digestion, abdominal bloating or pain
  • -Blood Sugar Imbalances and diabetes
  • -Loss of appetite
  • -Nausea or vomiting especially vomiting undigested food hours after eating
  • -Weight loss due to nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite or feeling full shortly after starting a meal
  • -Chronic Inflammation
  • -Dizziness and Fainting
  • -Involuntary contractions of the digestive system, preventing the stomach from emptying properly
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