The Vagus Nerve

vagus nerve vector illustration. labeled anatomical structure and location.
How the vagus nerve connects to the GI tract and other relevant digestive organs.

Could the root of your digestive distress like gas, bloating, heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome be in your nervous system?

How is the gut connected to the brain? Through the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve functions as the body’s two-way, highway carrying information from the brain to the organs of the body and back. In particular, the heart, adrenal glands, gut, pancreas, and lungs. And they all react to chronic stress and trauma through this connection. 

The vagus nerve stimulates these gut functions:

  • The micromovements in your gut that move food through is called peristalsis 
  • The pancreas stimulation to release enzymes for digestion 
  • The release of stomach acid, hydrochloric acid (HCl) 
  • Intestinal permeability (when there is high permeability, it is known as Leaky Gut)
  • The regulation of inflammation

This is important because research has found one of the key controls of inflammation is the vagus nerve.  This means the vagus nerve is part of the process for switching inflammation on and off. It is well known that inflammation is at the root of the majority of chronic diseases. 

The health of your gut depends highly on what kind of bacteria live in your gut. This is called your microbiome. A healthy microbiome will send a happy signal to your brain via this vagus nerve. Alternatively, an unhealthy population of bacteria will send distress signals to your brain. If we pay attention to our mood, we are listening to our microbiome literally speaking to us through the megaphone that is your vagus nerve. We can’t ignore these signals. This is why we cannot ignore the patient’s mood. 

Here are some specific things that you can do daily  for your gut-brain connection:

cute baby with freckles on her face breathes spring fresh air.
You don’t have to stick your nose into nature – but you get the point. Soak in the sights, sounds, smells and feel – activate your senses!
  1. Get outside and start Forest Bathing! Soak up the sights, smells and sounds of a natural setting. Scientific evidence demonstrates that forest bathing reduces our stress response and inflammation. It improves sleep quality and mood, increases energy, accelerates recovery from surgery or illness, lowers heart rate and blood pressure and even reduces stress hormones production.  With these far reaching effects it should be on every treatment plan.
  2. Start every meal breathing!  A  series of 5 slow gentle breaths  activate your vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system to stimulate the release and flow of digestive juices like enzymes and HCl. 
  3. Gargle and hum every day!  Your vagus nerve is toned and stimulated by these actions. Remember the vagus nerve can have a big impact on inflammation. We want to keep it happy and toned.
  4. Cold showers: cold therapy is shown to increase vagus response. A simple way to incorporate this into daily life is finishing every shower with a cold flush to the neck and chest before getting out of the shower. 
  5. Meditation: This is shown to support vagal tone and activate your parasympathetic nervous system. My favorite easy way is HeartMath’s Quick Coherence Technique.  I also like the Insight Timer App for the wide range of mediations available. 
woman face with water drop
Just a few seconds of cold water can do the trick!

Remember how we said the vagus nerve is a two-way street? This means your mood affects your gut and your gut affects your mood.

There is so much more I want to say about gut health that is outside the scope of this blog entry.

I want to direct you to our Gut Quiz – uncover the true state of your gut health! 

This quiz is important because we don’t know what we don’t know about the far-reaching implications your gut has on your current and future health. 

Consider that even your mood could be a symptom of your gut health. Get an early start with Gut Health by exploring the root imbalances in your gut. 74% of the population are struggling with digestive issues but how many are getting the help they need?