rest & digest: healing the vagus nerve
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:
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