Supporting the Brain-Gut axis is one of the most important ways to improve any kind of digestive problem. What If I told you that there were exercises you can start doing right this moment to help improve your Vagus Nerve. What is this Vagus nerve and why is it so important. The vagus nerve connects the brain to the body and its primary function is to activate our parasympathetic nervous system aka (Rest and Digest). Today, I review some of the most effective vagus nerve exercises that can improve digestion and many other areas of your health.
The brain-gut axis refers to the connection between the cognitive and emotional centers of the brains with vagus nerve gut function of the body. It is a bidirectional link that regulates a number of functions within the body and it is intimately connected with your vagus nerve. This link between your brain and your gut is one of the reasons why a problem problems in the gut can affect the brain and vice versa.
Studies are showing that problems with the vagus nerve can lead to the development of depression and anxiety. Another study, published in the same journal, noted that when the vagus nerve therapy was implemented that it was beneficial for those individual who experienced “treatment-resistant depression” and “Post traumatic stress disorder”
Three Easy Ways to Checking the Health of Your Vagus Nerve
When patients are at the doctor and are asked to open their mouth wide to say ‘Ahhh’, they are actually being checked for the condition of their vagus nerve. There is a little fleshy extension at the back of your throat and a soft palate. This structure is known as uvula and when you say ahhh, it should stay in the middle whereas the soft palate should be elevated. If your vagus nerve is experiencing issues, the uvula with be on the side than in the middle and the soft palate will also not elevate equally on both sides.
In order to check this, we advise you don’t look at it yourself but have another person observe the back of your throat. The person should preferably have a flashlight they can use to view the throat clearly.
1. Gag Reflex
Among the numerous things controlled by the vagus nerve, one of them is your gag reflex. If your vagus nerve is affected, it will manifest itself with either a hyperactive or a hypoactive gag reflex. Have a medical practitioner test the reflex or simply use a tongue depressor to check it yourself.
2. Infrequent Bowel Sounds
Another way to diagnose the condition of a gut-brain axis is through the bowel sounds your body makes.
If you’re healthy and have a well-functioning gut-brain axis, you’ll be able to listen to an incessant sound in your bowels with a stethoscope. If the bowel tones are not constant and there is infrequent rumbling sound, then your GI tract is probably affected.
3. Difficulty in swallowing
The nerve activation of the swallowing process is also controlled by the brain-gut axis. A person who suffers from a compromised brain-gut axis will have difficulty in swallowing pills and probably has a poor vagus.
Once it has been diagnosed that your gut is not healthy, it will impact your brain as well. This will lead to a dysfunctional Brain Gut Axis. There are a number of methods to heal one by repairing the other.
Activating the Vagus Nerve- 10 Exercises to Improve Vagal Activity For Better Brain-Gut Function
In order to work properly, the brain needs fuel, oxygen, and stimulation. Just like any other living thing, a brain needs fuel to grow, function, and repair itself. To understand it better, let us take into consideration a broken bone. If you wear a cast for weeks, your body will experience muscle loss after the cast is removed. The muscle not being used during the time you wore a cast is why it loses its function.
1. Gargle vigorously
The vagus nerve is connected to your vocal cords and the muscles at the back of your throat. Singing, humming, chanting and gargling can activate these muscles and stimulate your vagus nerve. And this has been shown to increase heart-rate variability and vagal tone.
When you’re gargling, make sure the process is strong enough to stimulate the muscles otherwise it will be of little use to you. The gargling also needs to be frequent. For reference, you can gargle at least 2 to 3 times throughout the day. The duration of the gargles should be a couple of minutes.
Another way you can activate the vagus nerve is by singing, humming, chanting. This exercise is not only more entertaining but helps take the pressure off your mind. Although singing is not as effective or stimulating as gargling, it is good exercise to add to your morning regime.
Gargling and singing can both be described as manual methods of activating the vagus nerve. The nerve is attached to the muscles at the back of your throat and the vocal chords, therefore both these ways can be supremely helpful to treat an under stimulated vagus. Apart from these exercises, the brain also needs to be strengthened. Another way you can improve the condition of the nerve is through simple gagging exercises. This entails you placing a tongue blade at the back of your tongue to induce the gag reflex. Think of it as pushups for the vague nerve which combined with the rest of the methods we discussed, is going to train the nerve.
During the initial phase of the exercise, it is normal to experience difficulty in being able to gag or gargle. This difficulty is because of the disturbed brain-gut axis. When it starts becoming easier for you to do these exercises, it is indicative of the strength of the neurons and the pathway itself.
2. Coffee Enemas
Coffee enemas can build the strength the nervous signaling in the gut. It also activates the reduction of the gallbladder which helps in the detoxification of the liver. To use coffee enemas effectively, hold them in the colon for 5 to 10 minutes while resisting the urge to excrete. You will notice that the caffeine present in the coffee has the power to stimulate the vagal pathway by acting on the cholinergic receptors of the gut.
3. Managing Microglia
It is extremely difficult to turn off the immune soldiers of the brains once they have been activated. Not only that, they also start to stimulate other microglia and cause inflammation. Some plant compounds can help you manage the condition such as apigenin, resveratrol and rutin.
4. Say Goodbye to Processed Food
Reduce intake of processed food and include more of nutrient dense whole foods. They will help calm the inflammation and increase the vagus nerve activity. Try to remove gluten from your diet too as it is one of the primary drivers behind inflammation of the GI tract.
5. Manage Stress
Since the gut is directly connected to the brain, it is important that you reduce the stress which results in the breakdown of blood brain barrier. The blood brain barrier keeps the immune system strong and prevents toxins from affecting the brain.
6. Keep your body active through exercise
The Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) is a protein that helps maintain neurons and their propagation. Exercise has shown to help in the synthesis of this protein and activate the coordination and balance centers of the brain. It also increases the blood flow to the brain helping reduce conditions like depression and anxiety.
7. Keep your blood-sugar in check
If you feel exhausted after meals and have a strong urge to consume carbohydrates, it is indicative of possible blood sugar issues. Other symptoms of blood sugar dysregulation include trouble concentrating on work, dizziness and frequent urination. If you are experiencing any of these signs, get yourself tested for fasting blood sugar, insulin, C-peptide and hemoglobin A1C to be sure,. Once you’re sure about the issue, proceed with the treatment
8. Managing Thyroid Issues
The vagus motor nuclei in the brain stem responsible for the vagus nerve is full of thyroid receptors. Without enough active thyroid hormone (T3), vagus nerve stimulation to the gut is reduced. This slows down motility and creates the perfect environment for SIBO. If an individual has delayed motility, there’s a chance SIBO will develop. In fact, people with thyroid disease to struggle with gut problems.
If you’re suffering from both SIBO/IBS and Thyroid disease both, then we have compiled 10 steps to support your thyroid naturally.
Another ignored aspect is the use of thyroid medication and the development of SIBO which we have discussed extensively.
9. Ensure Long term health of Colonic Bacteria with FODMAPs
The existence of colonic bacteria is good for your digestion and if you want to ensure their long term health then FODMAPs should be incorporated in your diet. The absence and low involvement of FODMAP or elemental diet can cause food sensitivities, mucosal inflammation and vitamin deficiencies. One of the factors that promote neuro degeneration in the brain is a short chain fatty acid deficiency
The vagal output will also reduce as a result of this and the MMC activity will be compromised. To avoid this, don’t consume too many trigger foods, however do add probiotics once SIBO has cleared. Best Probiotics to take if you have SIBO
10. Take Probiotics
For the small intestine to be healthy, the large intestine should also be healthy. If there is bacteria in the large intestine, it would activate the vagus nerve. The bacteria is not harmful as it is the reason the MMC activity takes place. Probiotics can aid the generation of good bacteria further and constrain pathogenic bacteria as discussed in this probiotic article.
In order to give your body probiotics, it is best if they are sourced from a variety of fermented foods and soil based probiotic supplements. If there is an overabundance of histamine, or you suffer with MCAS, then avoid fermented food products until you’re better.
Performing Vagus Nerve Exercises May Help the Following
- Turn on neurogenesis, helping our brains sprout new brain cells.
- Rapidly turn off the stress, hyper-arousal, and fight/flight via the relaxation response.
- Sharpen our memories.
- Fight inflammatory disease.
- Help you resist high blood pressure.
- Block the hormone cortisol and other oxidizing agents that age and deteriorate the brain and body
- Block systemic (body-wide) inflammation – a major factor behind aging and poor health.
- Help us overcome depression and anxiety.
- Help us sleep better.
- Raise levels of human growth hormone.
- Help us overcome insulin resistance.
- Turn down allergic responses.
- Lower chances of getting stress and tension headaches.
- Help spare and grow our mitochondria- this is a key to maintaining optimal energy levels and not harming our DNA and RNA.
- Affect our overall ability to live longer, healthier, and more energetic lives.