Ever wonder – what is the vagus nerve? As it turns out, a well-toned vagus nerve supports gut health and mental wellbeing. It’s what unites the gut and brain. This explains why gut disorders are often connected to depression, anxiety, and more. In this post, Danielle explains simple tips to strengthen your vagus nerve.
What is the vagus nerve?
If you’re here, chances are you’ve heard of this nerve before. It plays a pretty significant role in overall health. And just like a muscle, you can tone the vagus nerve and strengthen its performance.
But first, a little anatomy.
The vagus nerve is a part of the parasympathetic system, dubbed the rest-and-digest system. Although there are numerous other nerves in this system, this one reaches the majority of the body’s organs. It is the longest cranial nerve.
Vagus means “wanderer.” Which is fitting, since this nerve reaches so many of your organs: the brain, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, tongue, ears, lungs, gut, heart, liver, spleen, gallbladder, kidney, pancreas, intestines, reproductive organs, and ureter. It begins at the brain, splits into two branches through the head, down the spine, and to a number of body organs.
What does the vagus nerve do?
Here is how good vagus nerve function affects each of the body’s organs it reaches:
- Brain: relieves depression and anxiety
- Tongue: improves taste and saliva production, swallowing, and speech
- Ears: has shown to ease tinnitus
- Eyes: helps with eye contact
- Gut: improves digestive flow and juice secretion
- Heart: optimizes blood pressure and heart rate
- Liver and pancreas: balances blood glucose
- Gallbladder: releases bile
- Spleen: lowers inflammation
- 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.
But research suggests the vagus nerve does more than just help us physically.
The vagus nerve assists with the mind-body connection as the nerve that connects all major body organs. It affects eye contact, human emotion, detects the nuances of communication. It manages the release of oxytocin, the bonding hormone essential to birth and relationships. Studies have even shown that those with higher vagus nerve function are more altruistic and that vagal activity can be passed down: children of mothers with depression during pregnancy have lower vagus nerve function.
What are the symptoms of vagus nerve damage?
Since your vagus nerve reaches so many body organs, it can affect virtually every part of your body. Below are a number of symptoms that have been linked to low vagus nerve function.
- Depression and anxiety
- Loss of appetite
- Weight gain
- Chronic fatigue
- Forgetfulness and brain issues
- B12 deficiency
- Heart problems
- Nausea and dizziness
- IBS and digestive issues
- Diabetes and imbalanced blood glucose
The vagus nerve is linked to numerous symptoms that are diagnosed as general chronic immune disorders. This includes constant thirst, frequent urination, unexplained ear and neck pain, chest pressure, breathlessness, cold or extreme heat in the extremities, along with fuzzy thoughts and words.
Vagus nerve disorders
Beyond the signs of a vagus nerve imbalance, disorders associated with vagus nerve function include OCD, Alzheimer’s, autism, bulimia, obesity, and eating disorders, heart failure, M.S., addictions, mood and sleeping disorders, leaky gut, IBS, fibromyalgia, and the list continues.
Numerous physicians and scientists have pointed to cranial nerve damage as a result of vaccines.
While there is little research out there, it is likely that the vagus nerve can be damaged by an immune response to vaccines. If you are experiencing poor vagus nerve function following vaccination, seek out a biomedical physician or naturopathic doctor to detox and heal the nerve.
When it comes to genetics, researchers have found that a genetic mutation on rs6330 may indicate a higher likelihood for decreased vagal function and anxiety (you can see if you have this mutation by inputting your 23andme data into Self Decode).
Benefits of vagal stimulation
Want to heal your vagus nerve?
Once you answer the question, “what is the vagus nerve?”, it’s time to strengthen it. Stimulating the vagus nerve can improve the communication between your body’s organs. It’s easy to do. And you can start today.
How to stimulate the vagus nerve
- A cold shower turns off the sympathetic system and on the parasympathetic system. At the end of your shower, try 30 seconds cold, 30 seconds hot. Increase to 60 seconds with 2-3 rounds. (If you can!)
- Deep breathing exercises release relaxing hormones, turning off the fight-or-flight sympathetic system and turning on the vagus nerve and parasympathetic system.
- Prayer, meditation, and chanting turn on the vagus nerve.
- A good, deep laugh or singing revs up the vagal pump, in the same way that coughing or gargling will also get it going.
- Social time with friends stimulates connectedness and higher vagal function.
- Yoga and stretching turn on the vagus nerve and parasympathetic system.
- Laying or sleeping on your right side will turn up the vagus nerve function. This is why some doctors tell pregnant women to not lay on the right side during pregnancy, as to not put too much pressure on the nerve.
- Exercise benefits flow in the stomach, which in turn revs up the vagus nerve function.
- Supplementing probiotics has been shown to improve vagus nerve function as well as gut function. We love these probiotics.
- Improving your electronic and magnetic frequency, such as through PEMF or grounding (connecting your bare feet to the earth) will balance heart rate variability and vagus nerve function.
- Supplementing 5-HTP stimulates the vagus nerve and zinc increases its function. This is a good 5-HTP supplement and we like this zinc.
- Coffee enemas will clear your colon of toxic foodstuffs, and allow for better digestion and vagus nerve function.
Even if you show signs of a weak vagus nerve, some easy home exercises can take you from a vagal nerve slump to a vagal nerve superstar.
Beyond strengthening you gut-brain connection, these exercises are fun to do. And they’ll help you feel peace in the otherwise hectic world that we sometimes find ourselves in.
It’s like mind over matter. Literally.