How Your Vagus Nerve Affects Your Gut Health

Optimal vagus nerve function drives your digestion, assimilation, and elimination. Let’s discuss all the reasons and benefits as to why optimizing your vagus nerve function will help with your gut health.

We first want to remember that the vagus nerve is 80% of our parasympathetic nervous system. Think of this as our ‘rest and digest system.’ For us to have optimal digestion, we have to be in a calm and safe state.

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As we remember from the anatomy of the vagus nerve, it exits the brainstem, innervates muscles of the face, throat, and branches into the ear. It innervated the SA node of our heart and most importantly, it innervates our entire digestive tract. That is why it is so imperative that when we see gut motility and health issues, we want to look more closely at the vagus nerve.

For example, if someone is experiencing chronic stress or trauma, this may contribute to poor gastric motility and enzyme activity that ultimately leads to gut health issues.

8 Ways Vagus Nerve Is Involved In Your Digestion

We are going to discuss eight different ways that the vagus nerve is involved in your digestion. 

1) Upregulates Breakdown of Solids

The vagus nerve upregulates your mechanical breakdown of solid food. This is important because most of us are eating solid foods of course unless you have some kind of medical condition that warrants you to eat softer foods.

Being able to break down our food before it enters the entire digestive tract is important. Otherwise, we can have a whole host of symptoms from reflux, to bloating, flatulence, and so on. 

2) Stimulates Secretion of Saliva 

When food enters our mouth, that is our first step in the digestive process. We have our salivary glands that release salivary enzymes. This is helping to break down the food before it enters the esophagus. 

3) Stimulates Release of Digestive Enzymes and Bile

It stimulates your digestive enzymes coming from your pancreas as well as bile from your liver. These are very important in breaking down the food appropriately so it can continue to pass from the esophagus to the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine to be ultimately excreted. 

4) Allows for Accommodation of Food in Stomach

Optimal vagal tone allows for the proper accommodation of the food in the stomach. This is where hydrochloric acid and pepsin help to break down the food even further, especially our protein. 

5) Slows Gastric Emptying

This is important because we do not want the food to pass through the system too fast. Slow emptying will make sure we are getting proper absorption of the nutrients from the food that we are eating. 

6) Coordinates Motility of Intestines

When food comes into the small intestine, that is where we are absorbing our nutrients. Then the food has to pass through to the large intestine and ultimately excreted via the rectum.

Our migrating motor complex is very critical in the small intestine, which creates a wave-like action to help move the food through to the large intestine; this is an essential function that is dependent on the vagus nerve.

7) Decreases Inflammation and Intestinal Permeability  

Intestinal permeability is also referred to as leaky gut. When we do not have proper function of the vagus nerve, proper motility, and proper assimilation of the nutrients, these tight junctions in the epithelial lining of the gut lose their integrity.

This allows pathogens, toxins, undigested food, and bacteria to move through the bloodstream igniting the immune system causing an inflammatory response. This can cause a whole host of chronic health conditions. 

8) Increase Satiety

If you have optimal vagus nerve function and tone, you’ll be able to easily recognize when you are hungry and when you are full. When this is disrupted and you have a low vagal tone, often you will see this is difficult to determine. You may eat too much or you may not eat enough. This is a simple, but important, concept in terms of weight loss and overall health and performance. 

As you can see, the vagus nerve has a tremendous impact on our digestive system. It is innervating the entire digestive tract.

If you are experiencing chronic stress, low vagal tone, frustration, anger, worry, anxiety, or you’re in a freeze state, your gut health can be deeply affected. Many gut issues such as the leaky gut, IBS, and SIBO  are linked to some of the above. It is important to think of this from a global, integrated perspective.

In order to improve our gut health, we also have to improve our vagus nerve function. Please make sure you check out all my videos on vagus nerve hacks, so you can begin to regulate your own nervous system. 

Reach out for a 15-minute FREE discovery session to see how we can help you on your journey.

For more content, make sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel here.

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Vagus Nerve Hack | Sphinx

The sphinx, another powerful vagus nerve hack, can improve your cervical range of motion, thereby increasing blood flow to the brainstem and stimulating the vagus nerve. Let’s briefly review the anatomy, how to perform the exercise, and the implications that it will have for you. Please make sure to check out some of our other vagus nerve hack videos on YouTube so you can explore what works best for you.

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Anatomy

In the meantime, let’s review the vagus nerve. Remember, it is the 10th cranial nerve and it is a paired nerve. It originates from the brainstem, exits anteriorly, and innervates muscles of the throat, heart, digestive tract, and is involved in all of our autonomic functions.

If we have forward head posture and limited cervical range of motion, our cranial nerves are going to be impacted since they exit from the brainstem. We need optimal cranial nerve function so that we can be in a state of social engagement. This means that we are connected, joyful, mindful, and/or grounded. It involves muscles of the face or facial expressions. Again, if our range of motion is limited, then that can impact the functionality of these nerves and thereby how we interact with the world.

Before you begin the exercise I would recommend checking your range of motion. You can start by keeping your head in a stacked position over your body and look all the way to the right and left. How does it feel? Is there pain and/or restriction?

You should be able to get your nose over towards your shoulder while keeping your eyes level, so make sure not to side bend when you perform this.

How To Perform

To perform this exercise, start by lying on your stomach and then prop yourself up to your elbows. From here starting with your head centered, lift your pubic bone off the ground, lift your head gently, and then slowly rotate to the left, holding that position for 30 seconds. Next, come back to the center, and then move to the right and hold that for 30 seconds.

Now that you’ve performed the exercise, you can reassess your range of motion to see how that feels. If it feels better, then that exercise was meant to relax or stimulate cranial nerve XI, the accessory nerve. This will relax your SCM muscle as well as your trapezius muscles. If it didn’t, then that means that there is another problem in another one of the cranial nerves. Just know that there are other exercises that may be more appropriate for you.

This is a developmental position, something we did as babies. When we prop up onto our forearms, it ignites a postural reflex. It is also optimal for reflexive stability. This is a great position, movement, and posture to work from, and even exercise from. If you have a stiff neck, or you experience migraines on a regular basis, then this is a powerful exercise to perform. Make sure to do it as often as you need to help with your symptoms.

Reach out for a 15-minute FREE discovery session to see how we can help you on your journey.

For more content, make sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel here.

Other things that may interest you:

How To Assess and Treat Your Scars

Vagus Nerve Hack | Breathing Before Eating

Vagus Nerve Hack | Hand Reflexology