The Little-Known Vagus Nerve for Better Health and Well-Being
Did you know that the vagus nerve helps regulate a wide range of bodily functions, including heart rate, digestion, and immune response?
The longest nerve in the body, the vagus nerve originates in the brain stem and extends down through the neck and into the abdomen. It is known to promote overall health and well-being, and vagus stimulation can help reduce inflammation, promote relaxation, and even improve mental health.
Unfortunately, many people may have damaged their vagus nerve or experience dysfunction due to various factors such as chronic stress, poor diet, lack of physical activity, or certain medical conditions.
Why don’t more people know about the vagus nerve?
The importance of the vagus nerve was not widely recognized until more recently. As research continues to shed light on the importance of the vagus nerve, it is likely that more attention will be paid to this important aspect of the body’s nervous system.
One reason it wasn’t on the forefront was most likely because it is part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is often overshadowed by the sympathetic nervous system in discussions of the body’s stress response.
The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the body’s “fight or flight” response, which is activated in response to stress, danger, or other perceived threats, and is often discussed in the context of stress and anxiety. During “fight or flight,” in response to perceived danger, the body undergoes changes such as increased blood pressure and flow to essential areas, decreased flow to non-essential areas, increased stress hormones and neurotransmitters, and quick glucose release for energy. The parasympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, which includes the vagus nerve, is responsible for the body’s “rest and digest” response, which is often overlooked in discussions of stress and wellness.
Several ways to stimulate the vagus nerve
- Deep breathing exercises: Slow, deep breathing can help to stimulate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation. One way to do this is to inhale slowly through the nose, filling the belly with air, and then exhale slowly through the mouth, pushing all the air out.
- Meditation: Practicing mindfulness meditation has been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve and promote feelings of relaxation and well-being. This involves focusing on the breath and allowing thoughts and sensations to come and go without judgment.
- Yoga: Yoga poses, particularly those that involve deep breathing and twisting, can help to stimulate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation. Some specific poses that are beneficial for vagus nerve stimulation include downward dog, fish pose, and child’s pose.
- Cold exposure: Exposing the body to cold temperatures, such as taking a cold shower or plunging into cold water, can help to stimulate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation. This is thought to be due to the release of hormones that help to reduce inflammation and promote feelings of well-being.
- Singing and chanting: Singing or chanting can help to stimulate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation. This is thought to be due to the vibrations produced by the vocal cords, which can stimulate the nerve.
- Massage: Massage, particularly on the neck and back, can help to stimulate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation. This is thought to be due to the pressure applied to the nerve, which can help to activate it.
- Probiotics: Taking probiotics, particularly those that contain strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, can help to stimulate the vagus nerve and promote overall health and well-being. These strains of bacteria are thought to be particularly beneficial for gut health, which is closely linked to vagus nerve function.
Incorporating simple practices like deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and massage into daily routines can help stimulate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation, reducing inflammation and improving overall health and well-being. As awareness of the vagus nerve continues to grow, it is important to prioritize its care and recognize its crucial role in regulating bodily functions.
What to know about vagus nerve stimulation (Medical News Today)
Everything you need to know about the vagus nerve (Medical News Today)
Understanding the stress response (Harvard Health)
Ease anxiety and stress: Take a (belly) breather (Harvard Health)