Vagus Nerve: A Path to Healing
The vagus nerve is actually a a bundle of nerves leading from the gut through the heart and to the brain. It’s the longest cranial nerve and has communication with every organ.
It’s main function is to power the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is part of the autonomic service system known as the “rest and digest” system. It plays a role in heart rate, sexual arousal, digestion, urination, and gastrointestinal activity.
The vagus nerve works tirelessly to control inflammation. It alerts the brain to release neurotransmitters when inflammatory proteins called cytokines are present. These neurotransmitters help the body repair then reduce inflammation.
Another function of the vagus nerve is to trigger the release of acetylcholine which controls muscles, dilates blood vessels, and slows heart rate. It’s safe to say the vagus nerve may be the most important nerve that the majority of people are still unaware of.
Scientists have linked vagus nerve dysfunction to obesity, chronic inflammation, depression, anxiety, seizures, abnormally low heart rate, fainting, and GI issues.
In fact, the research on this nerve has been so promising that vagus nerve stimulators have been implanted in patients and found success even with untreatable depression and epilepsy. The device is surgically implanted under the skin and sends electrical signals to the vagus nerve. Once stimulated, the vagus nerve starts communicating with the rest of the body.
Lucky for us, there’s no need for surgery. Vagal tone can be improved naturally through stimulation with techniques that can be done at home. Working to strengthen your vagal tone will help with mood, digestion, and overall well being.
10 Ways to Improve Vagal Tone
1. Gargling. This is probably the simplest and most accessible way for a person to work on their vagal tone. In the morning gargle some water as hard as you can. You’ll know you’ve stimulated the vagus nerve when you begin to get a tear response in your eyes.
2. Breathwork. Deep slow breaths from the belly will stimulate the vagus nerve. Sit or lay down and breathe in as much as you can. Hold it for a second or two and then release. Repeat this 5-10 times. You’ll feel euphoric and relaxed afterwards.
3. Laughter. Laughter releases a ton of neurotransmitter which improves vagal tone. Laugh hard and often.
4. Fish Oils. EPA and EHA lower heart rate which strengthens vagal tone.
5. Fasting. The vagus nerve is the director of the parasympathetic nervous system known as the rest and digest system. Giving the digestion process a break through intermittent fasting or less snacks throughout the day will also improve vagal tone.
6. Yoga. The breathing and movement of yoga helps with digestion and has been shown to increase GABA levels. Improving GABA levels will stimulate the vagal tone.
7. Singing. Singing works the muscles in the back of the throat which stimulates the vagus nerve. Just be sure to sing at the top of your lungs for this effect to take place. A great place to do this is in the car.
8. Cold Showers. Cold showers are tough at first, but they can greatly improve vagal tone. As you adjust to the cold, the sympathetic nervous system lowers and the parasympathetic system gets stronger directly affecting the vagus nerve.
9. Massage. A massage stimulates the lymphatics and improves vagal tone.
10. Aromatherapy. Essential oils such as lavender and bergamot have shown to increase heart rate variability which improves vagal tone.