Your brain and your gut are connected. Ever heard of the phrase “gut feeling”? Recent studies have suggested that the health of your gut is intimately intertwined with the health of your brain. The communication route or system between these 2 very important organs in your body is called the gut-brain axis.
What is the Gut-Brain Connection?
Your brain has a very direct effect on your stomach and intestines because your gut and your brains are connected through chemicals called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters such as serotonin, produced by your brain control your feelings and emotions such as feelings of happiness. Coincidentally, your gut cells and microorganisms living there also produce a lot of serotonin in addition to another neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) that controls your feelings of fear and anxiety.
Because your gut produces the same neurotransmitters that control your feelings just like the ones that your brain produces, and they talk, your brain i.e. your feelings and thoughts can affect your gut and vice versa. That is why, for example, the very thought of eating or wanting to eat something can stimulate your body to release stomach juices before the food even gets there. And why some of us eat when we are sad, or anxious or angry, even though we are not hungry.
Research studies have actually been done to show that changing the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut for example through the use of certain probiotics can help improve anxiety and depression-like behavior.
To learn more about the importance of a healthy gut, read my article, Your Gut is Your Everything – What Could Go Wrong?
Why is the Gut-Brain Connection Important for Your Health?
Because your brain and your gut talks to each other (through neurotransmitters that is), it follows that a poor gut can lead to a less than performing brain and vice versa. And it explains why when it comes to your overall well-being and health, integrative treatments may be the way to go in helping you find relief in your digestive ailments.
In other words, there is always more than it meets the eye when it comes to digestive ailments. An integrative approach to solving your digestive ailments that involve the professional guidance of a health professional such as a functional nutritionist can sometimes prove to be more effective.
When exploring the connection between your brain and your gut, it is imperative to know more about the one major nerve that carries these neurotransmitters between your brain and your gut.
What is the Vagus Nerve?
The vagus nerve is one of the largest nerves connecting your gut and your brain. It is also the longest and most complex of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves that emanate from the brain. The vagus nerve works by sending biochemical signals between your gut and your brain. It has 2 bunches of nerve cell bodies and allows the brain to monitor and receive information about several different functions of your body including your digestive system and your gut. [1, 2]
As you can see, the vagus nerve is a very important communication channel in your body. If it breaks down or gets damaged, your body and your health will start to experience a whole host of different problems and challenges.
10 Vagus Nerve Stimulation Techniques
Prevention is better than cure. You do not want to wait until you are diagnosed with a vagus nerve problem before you try to fix it. Below are 10 simple vagus nerve stimulation techniques that you can start trying today, in the comfort of your own home.
Gargling with water can actually help stimulate the muscles of the palate which are fired by the vagus nerve.
2. Singing and chanting
Humming or engaging in an upbeat energetic singing can all increase your heart rate variability and initiate a vagal pump that sends out relaxing waves. Loud singing also helps to activate your vagus nerve by working the muscles in the back of your throat.
3. Taking cold showers or drinking cold water
Studies have shown that when your body is subject to cold temperatures, your fight or flight system declines, and your rest and digest system kicks in and activates your vagus nerve.
4. Engaging in positive social relationships
Studies have shown that positive thoughts about others can lead to an improvement in your vagal function and over time, resulting in a more toned vagus nerve.
Massaging your feet or your neck along the carotid sinus, located along the carotid arteries on either side of your neck, has been shown to be effective in stimulating your vagus nerve. Massages like these can also lower your blood pressure and heart rate. Who doesn’t like a good massage?
Happiness and laughter can always make us feel better, isn’t it? Laughter is a natural immune booster and can also stimulate the vagus nerve by increasing your heart rate variability.
7. Yoga and Tai-Chi
Both these 2 forms of exercises have been shown to increase vagus nerve activity and the health of your digestive system in general. Studies have shown that practicing yoga on a regular basis can increase a calming neurotransmitter in your brain by stimulating your vagal fibers.
8. Deep and slow breathing
Focused breathing exercises such as meditation have been shown to help the neurons in your heart and neck transmit signals to your brain to lower your blood pressure and heart rate. This transmission in itself helps activate your vagus nerve and keep it active and healthy. As a general rule, breathing around 5-6 breaths per minute in the average adult can be very helpful.
You already know exercise is good for you for many reasons. Regular exercise can increase your brain’s growth hormone, support your brain’s mitochondria, and help reverse your cognitive decline. Let us add another reason to exercise. Regular exercise has also been shown to stimulate your vagus nerve and lead to better brain health and better mental health.
Learning how to kick your feet up and chill out may be the number 1 thing you can do to help keep your vagus nerve toned and happy. Well, relaxing does not have to mean sitting on the couch with your feet up. Most relaxing activities i.e. things that you do that make you happy, will stimulate your vagus nerve. 
See, there are a lot of different simple things that you can do to keep your vagus nerve in good health and your overall health in check. Do not wait to start trying some of these techniques.
Symptoms of How the Gut Affects the Brain
What happens if your vagus nerve is not functioning as it should? Vagus nerve dysfunction can lead to a whole host of health issues and challenges such as obesity, low heart rate, difficulty swallowing, various types of gastrointestinal diseases, mood disorders, Vitamin B12 deficiency, chronic inflammation, headaches, and seizures, etc. Below is a quick list of other known conditions that can be caused by vagus nerve dysfunction. [3, 4]
Other vagus nerve dysfunction conditions:
- Anxiety disorder
- Heart disease
- Alcohol addiction
- Leaky gut
- Bad blood circulation
- Some forms of cancer
However, if you are experiencing any of these conditions does not always mean that your vagus nerve is not functioning properly. So how do you know or when should you suspect that maybe your vagus nerve needs some help and tender loving care?
Here is a quick listing of the potential symptoms of a dysfunction vagus nerve:
- Difficulty speaking or loss of voice
- Voice that turns hoarse or wheezy
- Difficulty drinking fluids
- Loss of your gag reflex
- Pain in the ear
- Unusual heart rate
- Abnormal blood pressure
- Decreased production of stomach acid
- Consistent nausea or vomiting
- Persistent abdominal bloating
- Or pain that is not related to any other known causes
Causes of Vagus Nerve Dysfunction
Luckily there are some known causes of vagus nerve dysfunction, and you can work to remove these if possible. Any kind of distress to your gastrointestinal system can put unnecessary pressure on your vagus nerve and irritate it. Other things that can damage your vagus nerve include poor posture along with muscular imbalances, excess alcohol, or spicy foods. Other life stressors such as anxiety and overexposure to general stress and fatigue can also inflame the nerve and cause damage.
Natural Supplements for Brain Function
Besides lifestyle and diet changes, there are also natural supplements available on the market now that you can add to your diet to help support your brain health which includes your all-important vagus nerve. A healthier brain means a healthier vagus nerve and a healthier digestive system and gut.
1. OmegaAvail™ Ultra
Omega-3 fatty acids are known to support brain health. This is a high potency omega-3 product that provides 600mg of EPA and 400mg of DHA in a 2 soft gel serving. OmegaAvail™ Ultra is a blend also includes the digestive enzyme lipase to help reduce and prevent any possible fishy aftertaste.
2. 5-HTP Supreme™
5-HTP Supreme™ is a synergistic formula of 5-hydroxytryptophan and Vitamin B6 that provides the precursors of serotonin to support the overall metabolism of your neurotransmitter. This special blend can be used both day and night to support a healthy mood or appetite during the day and better sleep at night. All these are important for maintaining a healthy brain and a healthier you.
CannabOmega™ is another unique omega-3 blend that combines the EPA and DHA in a 1:1 ratio. It also contains standardized phytocannabinoids found in hemp oil. These ingredients together have been found to promote brain health through their neuroprotective properties. Over time, it will help improve mood and cognition capabilities as well.
DopaBoost™ is a natural supplement is designed to support your body’s natural production of dopamine, which is essential for the normal functioning of your central nervous system. Dopamine impacts your attention, learning, movement, balance, and mood regulation.
Keto-Nootropic™ is a powerful blend of exogenous ketones and ginseng extract in the form of a powdered drink mix. This supplement is designed to support healthy cognitive function, promote sharp focus, and mental acuity. It provides a fuel source for your muscles and your brain. It also contains citric acid and malic acid that can help facilitate your mitochondrial energy generation.
6. Liposomal Neurocalm™
Liposomal NeuroCalm™ promotes the activity of GABA and serotonin in your body which may help support a healthy mood, promote feelings of calmness, satiety, and satisfaction. These are all important for maintaining a healthy vagus nerve and a healthier you.
7. PS 150 (Phosphatidylserine)
PS 150 contains 150mg of non-soy, sunflower-sourced phosphatidylserine (PS) per capsule. There is no known food source for PS, so this supplement is essential to improve your body’s levels of this brain supportive nutrient.
If you would like to learn more about your gut health and how it can be connected to other parts of your body, see also:
Heal your Gut – Remove the Causes
Are You Hosting Unwanted Bugs?
Lower Inflammation to Restore Gut Integrity
Gut Health: Why Diet Alone May Not Be Enough?
Looking for A Functional Nutritionist to Help With Lab Testing for Digestive Issues?
If you are still unsure about how you can go about improving your vagus nerve function for better brain health and gut health, please do not hesitate to CONTACT ME.
My practice offers various health-related lab tests that can better assess and pinpoint the exact cause(s) of your health challenges. I can work with you one-on-one to chart out a course of remedial actions that suit your lifestyle to bring you back to optimal health or simply help you set realistic health goals.
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1. Vagus Nerve and Vagus Nerve Stimulation, a Comprehensive Review: Part II.
2. Wikipedia.org/wiki/Vagus nerve.
3. Vagus Nerve Stimulation and Headache.
4. Cervical non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation (nVNS) for preventive and acute treatment of episodic and chronic migraine and migraine-associated sleep disturbance: a prospective observational cohort study.