Evidence

The Vagus Nerve: A key player in optimal health!

The Vagus Nerve: A key player in optimal health!

 

Overall good health includes having an optimally functioning nervous system. One of the key areas of this system is vagus nerve function.

Vagal nerve health supports the elevation of sensory disorders along with supporting a person on their weight loss or weight control journey. It is central in our ability to transition into a relaxed state as we move in and out of life’s demands.

If you aren’t familiar with the vagus nerve and what it does in the body, you’re not alone! More and more evidence in recent years is helping us understand this lesser-known bodily system and how it controls inflammation, brain and organ function, our body’s perception of stress, and more.

 

What is the Vagus Nerve?

The vagus nerve is one of our primary cranial nerves and is actually a set of nerves in its own right. It is attached to the brain stem and transcends through the body, touching the vital organs, and ends in the gut.

This important nerve transmits information between these organs and plays a part in parasympathetic nervous system function.

 

Why vagal nerve health is important?

The vagus nerve helps to regulate many critical aspects of human physiology, including the heart rate, blood pressure, sweating, digestion, and even speaking. It activates in times of stress when we may experience a response that triggers us to go into ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ mode and will help us to regulate back to a normal functioning state or relaxed state.

When the vagus nerve and gut relationship is not performing optimally then its core purposes will be dysfunctional.

 

The vagus nerves role in appetite

Have you ever wondered why some people feel full after eating a small amount of food and other people are still hungry until they eat a big serving?

The answer might be in the sensitivity of their vagus nerve. As this nerve connects to our gut and brain, depending on the state of the nerve during meal times, may mean if a person is in a stressed state or in a happy and positive state, will alter levels of appetite at that time.

Signals running up the vagus nerve from the gut to the brain affect your perception of hunger and fullness, your mood and stress levels, and the activation of your inflammatory stress response.

 

Interestingly

If you’ve ever had a gut feeling about something, that’s because of your vagus nerve. The vagus nerve connects the brain to the gut and sends information back and forth. This is also called the gut-brain axis. Your gut tells your brain information via electric impulses called “action potentials”.

 

Supporting the vagus nerve to function in our favour

To have a healthy performing vagus nerve, we must have strong vagal tone. Vagal tone refers to the activity of the vagus nerve. Healthy vagal tone is indicated by a slight increase of heart rate when you inhale, and a decrease of heart rate when you exhale.

Vagal tone is a measure of cardiovascular function that facilitates adaptive responses to environmental challenges. Low vagal tone is associated with poor emotional and attentional regulation.

Improving vagal tone

There are several strategies and lifestyle changes a person can implement to improve the way their nervous system is functioning and in particular the functioning of their vagal tone.

Stress reduction

Indeed, recalibrating the vagal nerve to understand how to respond appropriately under times of actual stress in comparison to perceived stress is one way to enhance overall health. Aim to identify your primary stress triggers and action a plan to change the way you react to these along with ensuring you apply frequent self-care and quality time to relax and unwind. Chronic stress will ultimately inhibit your overall health.

Magnesium

As Magnesium is an essential element of circulatory regulation, it most definitely plays a role for the whole body to function and be healthy. If your body is in a stressed state and you are aware of circulatory and nervous system issues then up your magnesium intake through food and supplementation.

Cold water therapy

Expose your body to cold water on a routine basis. This will promote the body’s release from being in fight-or-flight mode and increase rest-and-digest. Cold water activates the vagus nerve to reset and if your wanting to move into a more rested state this is a good strategy.

Eat nutrient dense food

There is no doubt that food will act as medicine when we eat well and if your body is lacking vital nutrients then the entire body suffers. It is worth exploring your nutritional statistics via routine pathology and seeking the assistance from qualified nutritional consultants who can guide you to optimising your health by the way you eat.

Be mindful of gut health

The relationship between the vagus nerve and gut is a powerful one. The vagus nerve is one of the biggest nerves connecting your gut and brain. It sends signals in both directions, so it makes sense that gut health is in order. Work on building healthy gut bacteria by including prebiotics and probiotics in your diet along with paying attention to hydration, intake of dark leafy greens and herbs.

Bottom line

The vagus nerve is a central nerve to the health of our body. If we stop to think about how our body is feeling and behaving and whether or not this is feeling right, then chances are the vagus nerve along with our entire central nervous system needs some work. Making lifestyle changes to reduce stress and eat well are some of the core fundamental aspects of turning things around. But please, always consult a health practitioner before you take on too many significant changes.

 

Information Sources

Basic anatomy of the vagus nerve

Vagus nerve and inflammation

Vagal tone

Appetite regulation and mood

 

This blog was written by one of Nutrition For Life’s Health Coaches, Sarah Tonks. To book a session with Sarah click HERE.

 

Thank you for sharing!