It’s a fact that there is a direct link between the gut and brain. Anxiety can increase stomach problems and vice versa. The feeling of butterflies in your stomach when you’re nervous is in fact a real thing. The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is sensitive to emotions, including stress, sadness, anxiety, anger, and joy. All of these feelings and more can trigger reactions or symptoms in the gut.
Because of the the gut-brain connection, health experts found that poor digestive health influences several neurological disorders. Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, migraines, and epilepsy have gastrointestinal manifestations, some of which include constipation, diarrhea, and indigestion. According to research studies, there is a deeper connection and communication between the brain and gut. The communication pathway is the vagus nerve.
What Is The Vagus Nerve?
The vagus nerve is the primary component of the parasympathetic nervous system. This system supervises bodily functions including immune response, digestion, heart rate, and mood. The parasympathetic nervous system is the “rest and digest” system, opposing the sympathetic nervous system, which activates the “fight or flight” response.
Think of the vagus nerve as a communication highway that carries information that influences the brain and internal organs. Despite the fact that people refer to the vagus nerve as singular, it is a pair of nerves. They emerge from the medulla oblongata area of the brain stem and signals constantly travel from the brain to the gut and back via the vagus nerve.
How To Stimulate The Vagus Nerve
There is some evidence that points to the fact that vagus nerve stimulation may treat or balance several psychiatric and digestive disorders. Some of these disorders include inflammatory bowel disease, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more. Stimulating the vagus nerve may inhibit cytokine production while increasing vagal tone. Both of these mechanisms maintain resiliency in the body. Additionally, stimulating vagal afferent fibers in the gut can influence monoaminergic brain systems. Those systems play large roles in numerous mood and anxiety disorders. The thought is that a person can influence vagal tone via breathing techniques, yoga, and meditation. Continue reading to learn more about vagal nerve stimulation.
Take A Cold Shower
Wim Hof, a.k.a. “The Iceman,” may be the largest promoter of ice baths and cold showers. Cold water therapy helps to activate the vagus nerve, in addition to other neurons that travel on the vagus nerve highway. In doing so, this activation kickstarts the parasympathetic nervous system. All you have to do is remain in cold water for one minute. The final minute of your hot shower can be cold. Don’t be afraid of the chill!
You don’t have to gargle with salt water like you do when you want to combat a sore throat. Use filtered water and gargle like you mean it. There’s no elegant way to gargle, so gargle with purpose, even if it makes you sound like a monster. When your eyes start to water, you’ll know that you’ve gargled hard enough. The ensuing laughter will also stimulate the vagus nerve. Additionally, laughter increases the production of beta-endorphins and nitric oxide, which benefit the vascular system.
The gut microbiome can influence immune system and nervous system function. Improving the overall function of these systems may lead to improvement of conditions like depression and anxiety. There is growing research on the fact that increasing probiotic intake may positively impact vagus nerve activity. By interacting with gut microbiota, probiotics work to mediate the effects that drugs, gluten, and antibiotics can have on the brain. Probiotics may also increase GABA production, which promotes healthier sleep. Lastly, probiotics may help reduce stress and anxiety.
Scale Back On Animal Protein Consumption
Several dietary studies found that people who consume a lot of animal protein have a higher risk of inflammation and cardiovascular diseases. Eggs and red meat, for example, contain choline, which can be harmful when consumed in excess. Too much choline gets converted to trimethlyamine N-oxide (TMAO), which increases inflammatory markers. By reducing animal protein consumption, you can decrease inflammation and activate better vagal nerve function. This allows the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems to better regulate bodily vitals.
Try Deep Breathing Or Meditation
It seems that deep breathing, especially diaphragmatic breathing, is the most efficient and simplest way to stimulate the vagus nerve. Breathe from the diaphragm, as opposed to breathing shallowly from the lungs. Ideally, these deep breaths stimulate and tone the vagus nerve. This activates the parasympathetic nervous system, creating a calmer feeling. You can accompany deep breathing exercises with meditation, which may help to improve sleep, reduce pain, and decrease anxiety levels. Practice for 5-10 minutes a day and make sure you take big belly breaths.