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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

  • Energy levels

  • Blood sugar levels

  • Mood and breathing

What Can Damage The Vagus Nerve

  • Infections

  • Stress

  • Lack of sleep

  • Poor diet

  • Prolonged use of medications

  • Inflammation

Signs and Symptoms of Vagus Nerve Dysfunction

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Increased pain and inflammation

  • Weight gain

  • Diabetes

  • Digestive/gastrointestinal problems such as Crohn's, IBS, and gastroparesis

  • Diarrhoea and constipation

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Headaches and migraines

  • Anxiety and depression

  • Reflux

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Memory loss

  • Dizziness

  • Joint and muscle pain

  • Psychosis

  • Insomnia

  • Autoimmune conditions

  • Cardiovascular problems

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!

  • Exercise

  • 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.

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