We all know and have experienced gut feelings. So, have you ever wondered what connects the gut to the brain? It is the vagus nerve that not only connects the gut, but also other vital organs like lungs and the heart, to the brain. The word ‘vagus’ in Latin means ‘wandering’.The vagus nerve is historically cited as the pneumogastric nerve. It is also called the tenth cranial nerve or CNX. It exists in pairs.
More About The Vagus Nerve:
The vagus nerve has two bunches of nerve cell bodies. It belongs to the circuit that links the brain stem to different organs of the body like lungs, heart, and the abdomen. It is the longest nerve of the autonomic nervous system.
What Does The Vagus Nerve Do?
This nerve performs multiple functions .
- The vagus nerve performs sensory functions for organs like the abdomen and lungs. It also governs motor functions for the muscles in the neck. These muscles are responsible for swallowing and speech.
- This nerve is involved in decreasing alertness, blood pressure, and heart rate, and helps with calmness, relaxation, and digestion. It also governs defecation, urination, and sexual arousal.
- It helps in healing inflammation in the body.
- This nerve supports communication between the gut and the brain. The signals send information related to emotions like anxiety and fear. So, it forms an important member of the body’s crisis management team.
- The vagus nerve communicates with the diaphragm. We all know how deep breathing relaxes us. This nerve plays a very important role.
Vagus Nerve Stimulation
This stimulation method is a medical procedure that treats different medical conditions. This treatment can be done manually or through electrical pulses.
The United States Food and Drug Administration(FDA) has approved its use to treat conditions like epilepsy and depression. For epilepsy, a small, electrical device like a pacemaker is inserted in the chest. The electric impulses send by this device to brain using vagus nerve reduce the severity of conditions and can even control seizures. This method has also been found helpful in disorders like alzeihmer, bipolar etc.
How Can We Keep Our Vagus Nerve Healthy?
A healthy vagus nerve keeps us disease-free and maintains physiological balance in our body. The nerve’s activity level is termed as vagal tone.
There are few methods which if incorporated in our daily life style can improve vagal tone.
- Researches show that yoga, including pranayama help in maintaining healthy levels of vagal tone. Pranayama exercises like nadi shodhan as well as ujjayi breathing are very effective in releasing stress from the body. Also, Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) a powerful breathing technique that helps stimulate the vagus nerve.
- Foods rich in potassium like banana, curd, spinach, avocado, coconut water, potato, and nuts like almond help release dopamine or the “feel good hormone”.
- Splashing your face with cold water.
- Keeping stress at bay and following a happy lifestyle will go a long way in maintaining high vagal tone.
Such simple and inexpensive changes will bring about significant improvement in our vagal tone and keep us away from diseases.