You have most likely heard of the Gut brain Axis, referring to the bidirectional communication between the central nervous system (brain) and the enteric nervous system (gut), linking emotional and cognitive centres of the brain with peripheral intestinal function. But do you know much about the Vagus nerve that’s responsible for connecting them?
The vagus nerve aka the “wandering nerve” is a multi branched nerve that extends from the cerebellum in the brain down to the lowest viscera of the abdomen, reaching out to the heart and other organs on the way down. It is this nerve that is responsible for the communication between the gut and the brain.
When your brain function is impaired due to inflammation and degeneration, output through the brainstem reduces. Fatigue, IBS, food sensitivities, anxiety, and gut problems can all be linked to reduced vagal activation or poor vagal tone.
Adequate Vagal stimulation is required for all areas of digestion including stomach acid production, enzyme release, motility, and bile excretion. The vagus nerve is also responsible for feelings of hunger and satiety and energy metabolism.
Stimulating the vagus nerve increases the release of histamine in stomach cells, which helps with the release of stomach acid. When we lose communication from the brain to the gut, the vagus nerve stops the release of stomach acid required for the break down of food before it enters the small intestine. Symptoms of low stomach acid production include acid reflux, indigestion and dyspepsia.
Along with reduces stomach acid production, vagal nerve stimulation is required for enzyme and bile production, which are required to further break down food once it has entered the small intestine. Symptoms of poor enzymatic and bile production include bloating, stomach pain, undigested food in stools, nausea after eating fatty meals.
Vagus nerve stimulation also helps to improve function and reduce inflammation in all target organs including the heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, gallbladder spleen & kidneys.
If you can relate to these symptoms you may have poor vagal nerve stimulation.
There are several simple exercises you can use to increase your vagal nerve stimulation and improve your digestion.
Studies have shown that when your body has to adjust to cold temperatures your parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system is activated, which is mediated by the vagus nerve. Activities such as taking a cold shower, a winter plunge in the sea, or putting your face in cold water, all activate this process.
Singing, humming or chanting activates the sympathetic nervous system and vagus nerve by activating the muscles in the throat and neck and lungs.
Deep diaphragm breathing:
The primary role of breathing is to intake oxygen into the body for utilisation by cells and to remove unwanted carbon dioxide. Muscles controlling this movement are the diaphragm and intercostal muscles between the ribs.
When a person is under stress, their breathing pattern changes to short shallow breaths, using their shoulders to move air in and out of the lungs instead of the diaphragm. This breathing pattern not only disrupts the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, it can also prolong feelings of anxiety making stress worse.
Deep breathing calms the nervous system. By practicing long deep breathing you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, activating the vagus nerve, telling your brain its time to rest and digest.
Yoga & exercise:
Yoga and gentle exercise increases vagus nerve activation through the parasympathetic nervous system. Performing particular postrual movements such as sarvangasana and the implementation of deep diaphragm breathing turns off the stress response allowing the body to move back into relaxation.
There is some evidence to suggest particular probiotic strains may influence vagal nerve tone. In clinical studies where animals were supplemented with L.rhamnosus results showed alterations in GABA receptors that were mediated by the vagus nerve.
If you would like to know more on how vagal nerve stimulation may help you, get in contact with us.