Tuesday, October 24, 2023

The Vagus Nerve Part 1

The Vagus Nerve Part 1: By Wendy Hayden

We have talked about the vagus nerve and the gut brain connection in multiple blogs and books throughout the past year. This book will explain that connection a bit more as it relates to symptoms in your body and how to help strengthen the vagus nerve. Feeling safe is the most important part of this healing journey. There is no right or wrong way to go through your healing process. One wonderful thing about the vagus nerve is that there are a lot of ways to stimulate it. If you notice an increase in gut symptoms while doing any of the techniques outlined in this blog, stop and try to figure out what is causing the symptoms. Are you feeling an increase in anxiety? Have you had stressful memories pop up? Are you feeling stressed out from trying to implement too many techniques at once? Once you figure out what is going on, you can develop a program that works for you and helps you to improve your gut and your mental health. The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in our body and connects our brain to all of our major organs. It is the gut-brain connection. The vagus nerve allows the brain to send and receive messages from our facial muscles, throat, heart, lungs, and digestive tract. Signals travel in both directions along the vagus nerve. 80% of the signals travel to the brain from the organs in the body. Sensory functions of the vagus nerve are as follows: Producing somatic sensation information for the skin behind the ear, the external part of the ear canal, and specific parts of the throat, Providing visceral sensation information for the larynx, esophagus, lungs, trachea, heart, and most of the digestive tract, Performing a minor role in the sensation of taste near the root of the tongue. Motor functions of the vagus nerve involve: Stimulating the muscles present in the pharynx, larynx, and the soft palate, which is the fleshy area near the back of the roof of the mouth. Stimulating muscles in the heart, where it assists to lower resting heart rate. Stimulating involuntary contractions in the digestive tract, including the esophagus, stomach, and most of the intestines, which enable food to move through the tract. The vagus nerve controls the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system regulates our automatic or unconscious actions such as our heart beating, the digestion of our food, blood pressure, body temperature, our metabolism, sexual response, or breathing. The parasympathetic nervous system handles the “rest and digest” or “feed and breed” activities. The parasympathetic nervous system works with the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system handles our fight, flight, freeze reactions. These two nervous systems work in opposition to each other. When one is turned on, it turns the other off. Your body can’t be in a parasympathetic state while it is a sympathetic state. If you are in a stressed state, your body cannot heal, rest, or digest your food properly. When we are in a sympathetic state for a lengthy period, our vagus nerve weakens or loses tone. Vagal tone is basically how healthy our vagus nerve is. The higher our vagal tone, the easier it is for us to switch into a relaxed, rest and digest state. The autonomic nervous system's job is to keep us alive. It prioritizes stress over all other systems, including the digestive and immune system. It decides where to put our energy and resources. If we are in a life-threatening situation, our autonomic nervous system shuts down our parasympathetic nervous system and puts all of our energy into saving our life with our sympathetic nervous system taking the lead. If we were being chased by a wild animal, our sympathetic nervous system would give our body the signal to fight, run or freeze, depending on what would be the most beneficial to us in that situation. A body stuck in the sympathetic fight-or-flight response cannot heal. The problem with modern living is that our autonomic nervous system has a tough time telling the difference between a physical threat and an emotional threat. When we are stressed because of work, school, family relationships, or trauma, our autonomic nervous system can put us in a fight, flight, or freeze mode for an extended period. While a stressful job or a toxic relationship will not kill us immediately, our autonomic nervous system can’t tell the difference between an actual physical threat to our lives and an emotional threat. Besides stress, pathogens, bacteria, parasites or diseases can also attack our vagus nerve. Because our vagus nerve protects us, invaders can target it. When our vagus nerve loses tone, we can develop issues such as autoimmune diseases, inflammation, depression, anxiety, heart palpitations, headaches, tinnitus, problems swallowing, fatigue, seizures, blood pressure issues, constipation, weight issues, leaky gut, and IBS symptoms, parasites, pathogens, mold, spores, chemical toxins, parasites, bacteria, infections, and blood-borne illnesses. The vagus nerve detects something bad and signals the body to send in inflammatory cytokines to destroy the foreign intruder. If the vagus nerve is damaged or has “low tone”, then it can’t turn off the cytokines when the threat is no longer indicated.