One of the first signs of a poorly functioning brain is poor digestion.
Difficulty digesting foods, constant episodes of bloating and gas, or alternating constipation and diarrhea generally happen long before poor memory, inability to find words or difficulty learning new things.
You can chalk all that up to signs of aging, but I know you can think of at least one elderly person in your life who is still “sharp as a tack”.
What if your vagus nerve is to blame for your poor brain and digestive function? Or even for your moods?
The Vagus Nerve
Your digestive system is sometimes known as your ‘second brain’. That’s because the digestive system has its own nervous system called the enteric nervous system. The brain communicates with the enteric nervous system through a large meandering nerve called the Vagus Nerve.
The vagus nerve connects the brainstem to all the organs of the body including the digestive system organs.
Here’s what can go wrong when the vagus nerve is impaired:
- Lack of sufficient output from the brainstem can impair the vagus nerve, which may result in constipation.
- Constipation leads to fermentation of food in the gut and the overgrowth of intestinal bacteria and yeast. Whenever someone suffers from chronic constipation, particularly if they have a healthy diet, the gut-brain axis (via the vagus nerve) must be considered.
- The vagus nerve also activates the release of stomach acid, which allows for protein digestion. People with low stomach acid may notice they can no longer digest meat because it feels like a brick in their stomach (that would be me).
- Or they develop burning from putrefying proteins in the stomach, which may be diagnosed as acid reflux.
- The gut-brain axis also assists in gallbladder function, responsible for the release of bile to digest fats. When the vagus is not functioning optimally, fat doesn’t get digested and the bile in the gallbladder becomes stagnant.
It doesn’t stop there. After digestive ability is impaired, then bowel and bladder control degenerates. The ramifications of a poor gut-brain axis are profound.
Maybe you’re not getting old. Maybe your vagus nerve needs a jumpstart.
Mood Disorders and the Vagus Nerve
“About 90 percent of the fibers in the vagus nerve carry information from the gut to the brain and not the other way around“, says Dr. Sarah Ballentyne, The Paleo Mom.
There is scientific evidence to suggest that the gut can have a direct impact on emotions and moods via the nervous system.
When the gut becomes leaky and inflamed, inflammatory cytokines (chemical signals of inflammation) are produced in the gut that travel through the blood to the brain. These inflammatory cytokines cross the blood-brain barrier and activate the immune cells of your brain, the microglial cells. This means that an inflamed gut causes an inflamed brain.
And to make matters worse, an inflamed brain can manifest as stress, depression and/or anxiety.
How to Identify an Impaired Vagus Nerve
There are several ways to tell if your vagus nerve is impaired.
- Open wide and say “ahhh”. That tissue hanging down in the back of your throat that looks like a punching bag is known as the uvula. Your doctor is looking for it to rise when you say “ahhh”. When your uvula doesn’t rise, your vagus nerve is not working well. Go find a mirror and a flashlight right now.
- A practitioner should also be able to hear rumbling in your stomach with a stethoscope. Since the vagus is responsible for bowel motility, it is common to hear very little rumbling when the vagus is impaired.
- The gag reflex is not very responsive when the vagus nerve is impaired. That’s why doctors use a tongue blade to check your gag reflex. I never knew why they did that!
How to Jumpstart your Vagus Nerve
The vagus is a nerve and like all neurons, needs constant stimulation to remain active. Exercises for your vagus nerve are easy to do:
- Gargle vigorously–Gargle with water several times a day. You need to drink water anyway, right? So instead of spitting it out, just swallow with each gargle. You need to gargle deep and vigorously to have effect. The vagus nerve activates the muscles in the back of the throat that allow you to gargle. Do this exercise for several weeks.
- Sing loudly–When you are in your car, the shower or just by yourself, sing as loudly as you can. Singing works the muscles in the back of the throat to activate the vagus.
- Gag yourself–Purchase a box of tongue depressors to stimulate your gag reflex. Don’t injure yourself, just lay the blade on top of your tongue and push down. You will need to do this throughout the day for several weeks.
- Coffee enemas–Distending the intestines with an enema activates the vagus. The caffeine in the coffee stimulates intestinal mobility. This is especially beneficial for those who struggle with regular bowel movements. Coffee enemas should be done daily until bowel function improves. Even if you don’t have significant constipation, these are still a good idea to build vagal tone. Dr. Lawrence Willson’s coffee enema protocol is recommended. For other detoxifying protocols, see my post.
What other exercises do you know of to stimulate your vagus nerve? What happens in Vagus should not stay in Vagus!
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Joli Tripp and Mind Blowing Wellness are not medical doctors nor licensed medical professionals. No comment or recommendation should be construed as being a medical diagnosis. If you suffer from a medical or pathological condition, you should consult an appropriate healthcare provider.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.
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Why Isn’t My Brain Working?, Dr. Datis Kharrazian, DHsc, DC, MS, 2013