What is the vagus nerve?
Spanning from brain stem to gut, the vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the human body. Its branches extend from the brain to the heart and most major organs above and below the diaphragm and its function is vital to all of these organs and much, much more.
The vagus nerve controls the parasympathetic nervous system, which oversees a vast array of crucial bodily functions, including control of mood, immune response, digestion, and heart rate. It is essentially the switch between the “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system and the activation of the “fight, flight or freeze” response of the sympathetic nervous system.
Although we need the quick action of the sympathetic nervous system to protect us from danger, we are finding that when not supported properly, the vagus nerve can get inhibited, causing sympathetic nervous system overdrive, or excessive “fight or flight." When in fight or flight, the body has difficulty regulating a healthy digestive response, blood pressure and/or a calm mood.
Our brains and bodies depend on our vagus nerve to regulate things like:
While a poorly functioning vagus nerve is linked to poor health outcomes and chronic disease, research is showing a well functioning vagus nerve is essential for achieving optimal health and recovering from chronic illness.
Dysfunctions of the vagus nerve also contribute to chronic inflammation, which is implicated in many chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and dementia as well as mental health conditions like PTSD trauma, anxiety, and depression. Chronic viral, bacterial and parasitic infections and toxic exposures to mold and other environmental toxins are also linked to vagus nerve dysfunction.
Finding ways to address vagus nerve dysfunction may help to improve resilience, recovering our innate ability to bounce back after stress.
Many of the symptoms experienced by people suffering from chronic illness, infections and toxic exposure stem from too much inflammation in the body. A well functioning Vagus nerve is important because it helps to regulate inflammation in the body and restores our ability to shift back into homeostasis and healing.
So how can you help restore the function of your vagus nerve naturally?
Other supportive measures for optimum vagus nerve function:
Vagus nerve stimulation practices you can do at home:
Supplements for an Irritable Bowel
One of the most common recommendations for people dealing with gas, bloating, or other irritable bowel issues is to follow a low-FODMAP diet.
We agree that dietary changes are powerful for gut health!
While we work on sorting out food triggers and dietary changes, we can also support the gut with supplements. None of this should be taken as medical advice, and it’s always best to work with a healthcare professional. These are simply some of the supplements we’ve seen to be most helpful for gut healing.
🌱 Peppermint Oil
Enteric-coated peppermint is one of the most researched supplements for an irritable bowel. It contains essential oils that ease muscular spasms and intestinal pain.
🌱 Chamomile, Fennel, and Star anise herbal preparations
Carminative herbs are great options that may help with the gas and bloating associated with an irritable bowel and can help soothe the digestive tract. Carminative herbs include chamomile, fennel, anise, thyme, peppermint and more.
🌱 Digestive Enzymes
Digestive enzymes can be supplemented to help process difficult to digest foods and reduce gas and bloating.
Probiotics are complicated. They can aggravate digestive issues if there is underlying SIBO, and different strains have different effects. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium may offer some benefit to those with an irritable bowel.
Aside from getting enough fiber through vegetable intake (low-FODMAP advised), there are many powdered fiber supplements that may provide relief to those with an irritable bowel. Psyllium is a source of soluble fiber that might benefit irritable bowel issues and can be a good choice for one who is starting to improve their fiber intake.
Everyone is different! Please keep in mind that a fiber supplement that helped one individual may not be the best choice for the next individual. Trying several different types of fiber supplements may be advised. As always, having a naturopathic doctor test for underlying causes and create a customized treatment plan is typically the best option for each individual.
Want to work together? Learn about becoming a patient by clicking through to our website or calling Sonoma Roots (707) 996-4656.
ReferencesBlack CJ, Yuan Y, Selinger CP et al. Efficacy of soluble fiber, antispasmodic drugs, and gut-brain neuromodulators in irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review and network meta-analysis. Lancet Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2020; 5: 117-131. [link]
These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose or treat disease.
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