How to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve with LifestyleLuke Coutinho
When it comes to the human body and disease we are just scratching the surface when it comes to addressing the root cause of every problem. So, we know that in conventional medicine all we’re looking at are drugs that suppress a symptom and never really address the root cause but also when you look into alternative medicine most of that is being done in some way or the other. You’re either trying to fix the body with nutrition and foods which are good for building immunity or reducing cholesterol or foods that are good for your hair.
When you’re looking at the root cause in the body it can go to very deep levels in the body. Something as simple as the wrong communication between cells or a slight hormonal imbalance can cause so many problems not just in a woman’s ovaries or in PCOD but it could also impact their moods, emotions and the way they feel. Hence it is also very important to look at neurological health of the human body which is the health of your nerves and the central nervous system. This is basically very important when it comes to feelings, touching and pain, signaling messages from your stomach to your brain, from your eyes and ears to your brain and basically converting that more and more into information.
It’s extremely important to understand the connection and function of the Vagus Nerve in the human body and what we can do to keep the vagus nerve activated in the human body. Technically you have twelve cranial nerves and the vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve that connects from your brainstem through your esophagus, lungs, kidney and abdomen into your stomach and gut. This means that this nerve has several functions to do with all of these body parts. The vagus nerve performs the command-and-control involuntary function in the human body. Involuntary function is your eyes blinking. We don’t have to be conscious but yet your body will constantly maintain the blinking of your eyes. The beating of your heart is involuntary. We don’t keep remembering for our heart to beat. It just beats. Breathing is an involuntary action. We may forget to breathe but at some point, we automatically breathe because it’s in an involuntary function.
This nerve is connected with almost every part in the human body. Starting off with the brain. Your vagus nerve is related to depression and anxiety. We can keep popping pills for depression and anxiety. We can keep doing yoga and meditation and all of these things which is only scratching the surface but they work brilliantly. But sometimes it could just be the vagus nerve that has to be stimulated to perform what it is designed to perform.
Then we have the vagus nerve that reaches the gut. This is very important in the stomach to increase the amount of stomach acid. Most people today have a low production of stomach acid which makes them more acidic. This is why they have more gas and bacteria like h pylori or stomach infections and bugs because they don’t have the right stomach acid to break down all the toxins, pathogens, germs and bacterias consumed in the food that we eat and it impacts digestion leading to bloating, flatulence and all the commonalities that we keep talking about.
The vagus nerve is also required to stimulate the production of your digestive enzymes in the gut. So just by stimulating the vagus nerve you can also ensure better digestion in your stomach. Things like jeera, ajwain and all the concoctions that we do definitely help but there’s also the neurological part of the human body that we cannot leave out of the equation of healing.
Then it passes through your gut as well. This means the right amount of good gut bacteria is required for the vagus nerve to be stimulated the right way and there you have a connection between the vagus nerve which transfers all the way from the brainstem to your gut showing you that also most of the serotonin production happens in your gut with the right gut bacteria. This is why when you’re treating anxiety and depression, you have to treat gut health as well because if you have the wrong gut health you will have issues. Normal people will have those feelings of depression and anxiety which cannot be controlled because your body has the wrong gut bacteria that’s not enough to produce the right amount of serotonin that your brain needs.
Then you have something called the intrinsic factor. We can keep popping vitamins, minerals and vitamin b12 but if we don’t have the right intrinsic factor in our intestines, technically which the vagus nerve is also responsible for, we cannot absorb b12 into the human body. It’s not about how much you consume or how well you eat, it’s about how your body assimilates and absorbs everything that you eat and everything you consume. So, the vagus nerve and your gut is also responsible for stimulating the intrinsic factor for the absorption of vitamin b12.
Then it comes right to the heart. The vagus nerve plays an important role in controlling your heartbeat and your blood pressure as well. So, when it comes to controlling your heart function; the health of your heart, the rhythm of your beat and blood pressure, you can bring a positive change by making lifestyle changes and stimulating your vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve also hits your liver and pancreas playing an important role in your blood glucose monitoring and balance as well. It’s not just about sugars and insulin. You have to have the right neurological function for your blood glucose to work the right way. This nerve passes through your liver and your pancreas right to your gall bladder stimulating the release of bile. The function of bile is to break down fat in the human body. You can have the best diet and the best workout program but if you’re not releasing enough of bile, you have an issue with your weight and then you have more toxins in the human body.
Stimulating the vagus nerve has shown to be very beneficial in children and adults who also have epilepsy, to the extent that there are clinics all over the world that also do electric stimulation of your vagus nerve. They pass small currents of electricity to stimulate your vagus nerves to reduce the amount of epileptic and fit attacks that children and adults have.
This nerve moves through your kidneys helping stimulate the right amount of filtration and blood flow. If your kidney has the right blood flow, it’s got great health. Your kidney works like a filter where it’s either storing more all of the poisons and wastes and causing chronic kidney disease or it is filtering out whatever it has to. So, it works like little pump and filter and if you stimulate the vagus nerve you have good kidney function to support the working of your human body.
When it comes to people with GERD which is a form of a gastric disorder and you have all that acid reflux that keeps on coming up your esophagus. This is also partly related to your vagus nerve because that controls the amount of stomach acid that you have and it controls the closure of the valves that throws up that acid into your esophagus.
Hence the vagus nerve is a connection between the mind and the body which is why we constantly say that in holistic health, the mind and a body is connected. You cannot just treat the physical self without taking the mind into the equation of healing nor can you just treat the mind without taking the physical self into the equation. There is a mind-body connection with all these cranial nerves that start from our brain and go through almost every part of the human body. Your thoughts have an impact on your behavior and your feelings and emotions have a direct impact on trillions of cells in your body. This means they impact your organ function and everything to do with your immunity.
When it comes to women there’s a classic example. The life of a woman during pregnancy when she’s holding a child, if she’s constantly angry, anxious and stressed, all of this has the possibility to be passed on to the baby because of the development of the vagus nerve which starts at that stage. This why we tell moms who are carrying babies to try to be calm and not to expose themselves to too much of stress. Take a break from work if your work is stressful. You’re bringing a new child into the world and all what you think, behave and all the issues that you go through while you’re carrying directly impacts the foetus that is in your system.
The last point for women is your vagus nerve controls almost every hormone in the human body. For men, right from testosterone to DHT to estrogen and progesterone in women. So, we can keep trying to balance our hormones doing all these little things but you have to take into consideration that your vagus nerve has everything to do with the stimulation and balance of your hormones at the same time. So, just think of the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is your fight and flight response. So, when you’re in fight and flight; when you’re chronically stressed, angry or when you’re going through stressful situations you’re in the sympathetic nervous system of the human body. When you’re in the parasympathetic nervous system you are in the rest and digest phase. This is the parasympathetic nervous system we should be in when we’re eating our food. So, when we are eating our food, if we’re in rest and digest, we’re assimilating, absorbing and digesting food far better than when we’re in the sympathetic nervous system where digestion gets flawed, you don’t produce the right enzymes and you have indigestion, bloating, flatulence and all of those issues. The body has to be in each of these systems to perform certain functions. You can’t be in the parasympathetic nervous system and be put into a stressful situation. For example, a tiger’s chasing you and you cannot be in rest and digest. You have to be in fight and flight and have your body produce cortisol and adrenaline to help you to fight or help you to run. Our thoughts, behaviors and the situations that we are in puts us in these systems and we got to be very aware of how we can quickly move out of the sympathetic nervous system into the parasympathetic nervous system.
There is something that is very easy for us to move from sympathetic to parasympathetic. It’s inexpensive, free and is one of the easiest things that we can do to move from sympathetic to parasympathetic and also to stimulate the vagus nerve that we’re talking about. We know the importance of the vagus nerve and how it controls different functions in the human body. In order to stimulate it, the easiest thing that you can do is breathing. Oxygen has the ability to move you from sympathetic to the parasympathetic within seconds. It has the ability to stimulate your vagus nerve in seconds.
How we breathe is extremely important. If you’re breathing from your chest it doesn’t stimulate your vagus nerve. Infact it stimulates your sympathetic nervous system. But when you engage in deep belly breathing, your vagus nerve stimulates. This means you put your palm on your belly and take a deep breath through your nostrils. As you inhale your belly should rise first. So, put one hand on your belly and one palm on your chest and now inhale. If your belly rises first and your chest second, that’s the right way to breathe. If you do a couple of deep breaths of belly breathing you can move from sympathetic to parasympathetic nervous system.
Most of us when we get stressed and we’re so unconscious of our breathing, we’re shallow breathing through our chest and that’s why we remain in chronic stress throughout the day and all of that leads to all of the innumerable problems that we have including the inability to lose weight, inflammation, fibromyalgia, digestive issues, hair issues, skin issues, low immunity; everything is connected to this nerve, the way we breathe and technically prana which is the life force. So, we got to be so mindful and to get excellent at belly breathing, we got to practice it. It is very important to practice belly breathing every single day so that after a while your body’s trained and it becomes an involuntary action. Again, your body will automatically start breathing the right way which belly breathing. This is why every one to three hours check in with yourself how you are breathing. It takes you less than a minute to do six deep breaths from your belly and move from sympathetic to parasympathetic, to change the entire system in the human body.
There are other methods also to stimulate the vagus nerve in the human body. One is the practice of having cold baths. When you have a nice cold bath or you have these cold baths in gyms, pools and in different places it is very good for the human body not just for immunity or fat loss and recovery but cold water showers or cold water baths can stimulate your vagus nerve and all these functions that we just spoke about.
Chanting, yoga and deep meditation also stimulates the vagus nerve. That’s the beauty of the human body because when you’re in the parasympathetic nervous system everything works well in your body and every function works like it’s designed to work in your body.
Then we have things like socializing. Socializing truly makes you happy and when you have laughter and good relationships with family members and friends, it stimulates the vagus nerve to work better in the human bodies.
Also, when you do intermittent fasting or dry fasting or water fasting it has the ability to reset and stimulate the vagus nerve almost instantly. Exercise also helps. When it comes to foods which are rich in omega-3; this could be fish, oily fish, fatty fish, it could be flax seeds, walnuts, nuts and foods which are rich in zinc as well. Zinc has a direct impact on your vagus nerve. It’s contained in pumpkin seeds, unsalted almonds, cashew nuts, pistachios and a lot of common foods have zinc and you don’t have to supplement it unless you have a deficiency.
Probiotics also help because if you don’t have the right gut bacteria, it basically impacts everything in the human body because it is true that 75 percent to 85 percent of your immunity starts in your gut. You have your second nervous system and your second brain in your gut called the ENS which is the enteric nervous system. It’s like your second brain as it controls innumerable functions and emotions in the human body. This is why it is so important for you to look at your gut health.
You have inexpensive and free lifestyle changes that you can make right now to stimulate your vagus nerves. So, people who have epilepsy you can start with these changes but don’t get off your medication because this is not a replacement for your medication but it is something that our body is naturally designed to do. We just don’t do it. When we start doing these little things, everything changes in our mind and body.