Tuesday, December 5, 2023

The Vagus Nerve Part 7

 The Vagus Nerve Part 7: by Wendy Hayden

If our bodies aren't getting enough nutrition in our food, we can enter a sympathetic nervous system response. What we eat becomes the building blocks of the cells in our body. We now have cupboards and refrigerators full of food, but the food is often processed and devoid of the nutrition that our body needs to make healthy cells. You can eat calories but still starve your body of the nutrients it needs to be healthy. Some foods to include: wild caught fish, grass fed meat, organ meats, greens, sulfur rich foods such as garlic, onions, cabbage, and mushrooms, foods with bright colors, and seaweed. These foods can supply your body with the micronutrients it needs to heal your myelin sheath and feed your brain. Healthy fats stimulate the vagus nerve and regulate the activation of our innate immune system, and mast cells in our guts. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet can help reduce inflammation in the body, which can help keep the vagus nerve functioning properly. Foods like fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and healthy fats can all help reduce inflammation. Magnesium helps to maintain the proper balance of nerve cells, as well as their ability to communicate with each other. Without enough magnesium the nerve may become overstimulated, leading to fatigue, indigestion, and mood swings. Zinc is also important for healthy vagus nerve functioning. Zinc helps to regulate the neurotransmitters that control the activity of the nerve. Without enough zinc, the nerve may become overstimulated. Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for proper vagus nerve functioning. Omega 3s help to reduce inflammation in the body, which can help to reduce the stress on the vagus nerve. In addition, omega 3s help to maintain the health of the nerve cells and their ability to communicate with each other. If you are deficient in potassium, your vagus nerve will not work as it should. Potassium rich foods include sweet potato, avocado, beets, wild salmon, coconut water, beans, dried apricots, pomegranate, cooked tomatoes, watermelon, spinach,and pumpkin. Vitamin B1, or thiamine, is especially important for proper vagus nerve functioning. B1 helps to regulate the neurotransmitters that control the activity of the vagus nerve. Vitamin B6 helps to maintain the health of the nerve cells and their ability to communicate with each other. Without enough B6, the nerve may become overstimulated and cause a variety of symptoms. B12 is very important to the making and maintaining of the myelin sheath on nerves. B12 is critical for the synthesis of neurotransmitters like acetylcholine. B12 deficiency can lead to neurological and psychiatric problems. If you are B12 deficient long term, you can experience neuropathy, cognitive problems, and Alzheimer's later in life. B vitamin-rich food includes grass fed animal products including clams, liver, fish, crab, low fat beef and dairy, fortified cereal and tofu, cheese, nutritional yeast, and eggs. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can promote the health of your digestive system, including the vagus nerve. Examples include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha. Eating these foods can help to increase the beneficial bacteria in your digestive system, which can help keep the vagus nerve healthy. Even the best nutrition or supplements are not strong enough to overcome a brain and nervous system that is stressed, but they can help to support your nervous system as you heal your vagus nerve. The vagus nerve releases cytokines that regulate mast cells and reduce inflammation. Mast cells can be activated by many types of irritants, viruses, and stressors. When our mast cells are activated, we have increased inflammation. When you have a mast cell reaction, you can have itching, flushing of the skin, swelling, difficulty breathing, hives, low blood pressure, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and heart palpitations. When we activate our vagus nerve, we can reduce mast cell activation. Eating can become a source of worry and dread, as we worry about how much we’re eating, what we’re eating, and how it’s affecting our bodies. That's why it is so important to take the time to cultivate calming rituals around eating, you can reduce anxiety while still enjoying your food. Rituals around meals like eating together as a family, or sitting at the table when you eat, signal our digestive system that food is coming. Our digestive system prepares for the meal by releasing digestive enzymes that help us digest our food. Mindful eating and a routine that signals you will eat can help with digestion issues you may be having.

Here are a few calming rituals that you can incorporate into your mealtimes: 

  1. Take a few deep breaths before eating. 

  2. Make sure you are eating in a calm environment where you feel safe

  3. Eat slowly and mindfully

  4. Don't skip meals

  5. Listen to your body and pay attention to your hunger and fullness cues

  6. Avoid negative self talk, don't judge yourself for what you're eating or how much