Have you ever heard of the vagus nerve? If you have digestive issues, then you should become very familiar with it. This major nerve serves as a highway from the brain to the gut, so if you’ve heard about the mind-gut connection before, this is it.
Digestion actually begins in the brain via the vagus nerve, wayyy before food ever enters your mouth and begins the breakdown process. It’s the job of the vagus nerve, which starts in the brain, to promote the contraction of smooth contractions along your GI tract, causing secretion of gastric juices in preparation for food to enter your body.
Part of the parasympathetic nervous system, or our “rest and digest state”, it’s designed to help us properly initiate and complete the digestive process.
But the vagus nerve can also be trigged by stress, causing cravings and more frequent feelings of hunger. So if you’re a stress eater like me, this is exactly what’s happening, but this isn’t normal.
The reason why this is SO important is because if our brain is misfiring signals to the vagus nerve, like when we are under chronic stress, the entire digestive process can become compromised. We stop producing proper levels of bile (which are required to break down fats), the smooth muscles along our GI tract don’t start to contract on time, and we don’t properly enter the rest and digest phase.
This can cause hypermotility, or “gastric dumping” (rapid emptying of the bowels), leading to malabsorption and malnutrition, among other more serious issues like autoimmune conditions and IBD.
So, to properly address cravings, changes in hunger, and ensure you’re fully in a rest and digest state before you eat, you need to care for your vagus nerve!
Now you’re probably thinking: “How the heck do I care for a weird nerve inside my body?!”
There are actually some really easy things you can do that will benefit you far beyond just digestion. Because this nerve carries so much blood throughout the body, it also plays a large role in immune function. So those of you with an autoimmune disease like me should listen up! These tips will also help you to better respond to and address stress, which will take a huge load off of your adrenal glands!
How to Properly Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve
Oxytocin, or the “feel good” chemical in our brain, can help to regulate normal vagus nerve activity, keeping digestion in check. Here are a few ways you can boost or stimulate oxytocin production:
- Eat in the moment. Before you take a bit of food, take a few deep breaths, put your phone away, and become present. This will have immediate digestive and stress-relieving benefits.
- Acupuncture. Let’s get that good energy flowing again!
- Meditation. This alone can stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, and you only need to do it for 5-20 minutes a day!
- Laughter. How easy is that?! Calling up a good friend, watching a comedy show, or playing with a child are all bound to result in laughter.
- Exercise. This boosts both oxytocin and serotonin levels.
- Cognitive and relaxation therapies. There are many options here if you want to dig deeper. Ask your local wellness center or massage clinic.
- Good dietary fats: Fish oil, olive oil, EPA and DHA all promote vagus nerve stimulation
You’ll also want to be sure no external factors are hindering oxytocin production and vagus nerve stimulation. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Are you currently exposed to any metals, dusts, molds, chemicals, fumes or radiation?
- Have you been exposed to any toxins in the past?
- Have you ever had food positioning?
- Do you currently have anything unusual occurring in your life that may positively or negatively affect your health status?
- Have you had any major life changes? (e.g. moving, changing jobs, change in relationships, death, etc.)
So, if you’ve been dealing with digestive issues for awhile, it might be time to evaluate if any of the factors above are lacking and think about how you can infuse them more into your life. It’s just as important as understanding what other physiological factors may be hindering gut function (like pathogens, intestinal permeability, cell damage, food sensitivities, and more).
Then, to find out if it actually is pathogens, leaky gut, or food sensitivities, join my next Love Your Gut group program to get this testing done and resolve it naturally and completely so you can regain your digestion and your body.
If you’d like to set up a free 20 minute consult with me to chat about if this program is right for you, book a session here.