TheVagus Nerve, also called the 10th Cranial Nerve, is the longest nerve in the human body.  It starts in the medulla oblongata of the brain and goes down both sides of the neck, left and right branches, past the larynx, pharynx and oesophagus to the heart and lungs and down into the gut.

It controls parasympathetic nervous system function of the heart and lungs and also some sympathetic nervous system function. The parasympathetic nervous system is the one we don’t have to think about, e.g. keeping our heart beating or our lungs breathing in air.

The sympathetic nervous system is activated in response to stress and is often called the “fight or flight” syndrome meaning in a stressful situation our bodies either prepare us to stay and fight or to run away.

Well known alternative doctor Deepak Chopra, says our society is in “sympathetic overdrive”.  Our stress levels are so consistently elevated that we are always in a state of readiness or alert.

This of course negatively affects our health.

Since this rather large nerve pathway starts in the brain and finishes in the gut, it links the brainstem to the heart and gut and shuttles signals back and forth along this pathway.  The Vagus Nerve is critical to our overall health as it stimulates hormone production, heart rate variability, blood pressure, blood sugar and also plays a big part in the diversity of our microbiome in the gut.

We might say we have a “gut feeling” about something and this is the Vagus Nerve sending the stress signal down from the brain to the gut. The Vagus Nerve contains millions of nerve fibres which in turn stimulate muscle contractions via the release of acetylcholine.
These contractions can affect the muscles in our neck leading to headaches and migraine, can affect our voices, can cause contraction of arteries leading to increased blood pressure, can decrease the amount of blood supply to various areas of the body and can be a contributing factor in cancer.

Stress and anxiety as well as bad posture can inflame the Vagus Nerve as can a bad diet and antibiotics. Botox can shut down the Vagus Nerve (some people choose to have botox  injections into the base of their brain as a treatment for migraines) and mercury in vaccinations, tooth fillings etc. can also shut it down due to interfering with acetylcholine production.

Did you realise just how important the Vagus Nerve is and especially how important it is to have a healthy and toned Vagus Nerve?

Deepak Chopra and H. H. Hoffman has done quite a bit of research into the Vagus Nerve.

Here are some tips to increase Vagus Nerve tone:

  1. Slow, deep breathing.
  2. Singing and chanting and singing in unison (i.e. choirs).
  3. Yoga and tai chi.
  4. Meditation.
  5. Positive social interactions and positive thoughts.
  6. Laughter and happiness.
  7. Cold water (showers, swimming, splashing the face, ice packs and drinking ice water).
  8. A high fibre diet of organic plant based foods.
  9. Fasting.
  10. Massage (especially along the sides of the neck and the feet (reflexology points).
  11. Sunlight.
  12. Exercise.
  13. Relaxing music and anything that helps with relaxation.

Zinc and probiotics were also cited as being useful. This is probably because of the affect they have on the microbiome of the gut.  When our gut microbiome is healthy and diverse, more positive messages will be sent to the brain via the Vagus Nerve.

The diversity of the microbiome is now being studied in relation to depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.  The newly released movie by Kale Brock, The Gut Movie, is a must see if you are interested in this topic.

In the meantime, value your Vagus Nerve!

Suzanne Staples ND DBM
Naturopath Herbalist Homoeopath
Email suzestaples@gmail.com                                                                           Copyright Suzanne Staples