The Lowdown On The Vagus Nerve
You may have been seeing or hearing things about the vagus nerve lately. The reason why this nerve is getting some attention is because it is the longest nerve in our body. It extends from the cerebellum and brainstem and wanders all over the body, branching out multiple times to various organs such as the pharynx, larynx, heart, esophagus, stomach, lungs, liver, spleen and pancreas. The vagus nerve is extremely vital to our daily lives, however, if it's not functioning properly can cause some major issues.
The Vagus nerve is an important part of the nervous system, particularly the parasympathedtic nervous system which, when turned on, allows us to rest, digest, and heal. Most people in our modern society are living in the sympathetic nervous system which is known for it's fight or flight response. Both systems are important to live but there should be more of a balance of the two, not one working most of the time and the other barely getting used.
The Vagus nerve helps with speech, taste, swallowing, heart function, digestion, and excretion. If the nerve isn't functioning properly then all of those areas can be affected. Here is a list of vagus nerve's functions...
What The Vagus Nerve Does
Transports messages from the organs to the brain
Controls throat muscles to send food and air down the correct tubes
Resposible for speech muscles
Lowers blood pressure
Controls digestion and resposible for the "full" feeling
Causes fainting when overstimulated
Blood sugar levels
Mood and breathing
What Can Damage The Vagus Nerve
Lack of sleep
Prolonged use of medications
Signs and Symptoms of Vagus Nerve Dysfunction
Increased pain and inflammation
Digestive/gastrointestinal problems such as Crohn's, IBS, and gastroparesis
Diarrhoea and constipation
Headaches and migraines
Anxiety and depression
Nausea and vomiting
Joint and muscle pain
As you can see, it is extremley important to actively try to turn on the parasympathedic nervous system and turn off the fight or flight switch. Good news, you can natrually stimulate the vagus nerve.
Ways to stimulate the Vagus nerve
Humming/singing- Because it's connected to the vocal cords
Gargling liquids- This activates the muscles in the back of the throat. You can gargle with warm salt water to rid bacteria but also activate those muscles
Acupuncture- This can stimulate the nerve and increase the heart rate variability. It also helps to lower inflammation, amung other things.
Omega 3 Fats- Omega 3's increase the HRV (heart rate variability). You can find Omega's in Oily fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts
Deep breathing- Reduces stress and anxiety
Yoga/meditation- Reducess stress
Laughing- Increases HRV which influences the Vagus nerve
Maintain a healthy gut- Think good probiotics
Massage- Even a good foot massage helps...sign me up!
Quick exposure to cold- Splashing cold water on your face, taking a cold shower, or even walking outside in a t-shirt when it's cold can stimulate the nerve
This nerve plays a major role in the way we live our lives. If we are not taking care of this nerve many health issues can start to creep up. The more we can find ways to relax and unwind is key to having a healthy Vagus nerve. Taking care of our Vagus nerve is yet another good reason to slow down and be more present.