Posted on by Paula Gallagher
Many people have never heard of the vagus nerve, but it plays a huge role in our health. The vagus nerve is one of the longest nerves in the body and basically acts as a superhighway to transport information between the brain and tissues and organs everywhere else in the body.
The vagus nerve is responsible for certain sensory activities and motor information for movement within the body. Essentially, it is part of a circuit that links the neck, heart, lungs, and the abdomen to the brain. Most of the vagus nerve's fibers are afferent (sensory), traveling from organs like the heart, stomach and lungs to the brain.
This long nerve is also an essential part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps calm our organs and deal with the aftermath of a fight-or-flight, adrenaline-response situation. It can also be behind chronic inflammation and pain.
If your vagus nerve is functioning at its best, your body can relax faster after sensing danger, whether it be real or perceived. But if it's suffering from low tone, it has a harder time regulating inflammation – and that can end up causing damage to organs and blood vessels, if it persists. If you experience fatigue, anxiety, digestive issues, food sensitivities, depression, brain fog, or a sense of despondency, the vagus nerve is always affected.
This is why the "tone" of your vagus nerve is important. Vagal tone is an internal biological process that represents the activity of the vagus nerve. Increasing your vagal tone activates the parasympathetic nervous system, and having higher vagal tone means that your body can relax faster after stress – which is a good thing!
Increasing Your Vagal Tone
The vagus nerve can be activated in a number of ways, including humming, cold exposure, breathing exercises, gut health and many more.
Humming is a great way to activate the vagus nerve because it’s simple, easy, and fun. It can be done anywhere, at any time, with no equipment needed. All you need is enough breath to produce a sound. Humming has been shown to have some great benefits. It can help to regulate blood pressure and heart rate, calm the mind and nervous system, improve digestion, and increase energy levels. Humming also helps to open up the throat and vocal cords for better singing or speaking.
Humming has many benefits for adults. It can help you relax and focus, and it has been shown to improve cognitive function and memory. Humming also has a positive effect on mood, reducing stress and anxiety. Additionally, humming has been found to boost the immune system and improve overall health.
Singing, chanting and gargling also have positive effects on vagal tone.
Researchers have also found that exposing yourself to cold on a regular basis can lower your sympathetic “fight or flight” response and increase parasympathetic activity through the vagus nerve. This can be done by taking cold showers or just turning the taps to cold in the last 30 seconds of your shower. Even dipping your face in cold water can help.
Deep, slow breathing stimulates the vagus nerve and lowers the heart rate, and this can be amplified through the rhythmic rising and falling of the belly during abdominal breathing. Try making your exhalations longer than your inhalations.
There is plenty of research to indicate that gut bacteria can improve brain function by affecting the vagus nerve. Gut microbiota has significant influence over the activity of the vagus nerve, working through neuroendocrine and metabolic mechanisms. Various studies have focused on the effect of specific probiotic strains for the purpose of improving mood and psychiatric conditions.
The probiotic Lactobacillus Rhamnosus has been shown to have positive effects on the GABA receptors in the brain, effecting a reduction in stress hormones, and less depression and anxiety-like behavior. The researchers also concluded that these beneficial changes between the gut and the brain were made by the vagus nerve. Another study found that the probiotic Bifidobacterium Longum normalized anxiety-like behavior by acting through the vagus nerve.
Humanized Health - NEW!
Learn about personalized health from top experts! Check out our fascinating new shows every week, available as videos, podcasts and transcripts.:
Paula is a highly qualified and experienced nutrition counselor on the staff at Village Green.
Margo's impressive knowledge base is the result of a unique blend of educational and professional experience.
Dr. Neal Barnard
Dr. Barnard leads programs advocating for preventive medicine, good nutrition, and higher ethical standards in research.
Dr. Joseph Pizzorno
Dr. Joseph Pizzorno, ND is a pioneer of integrative medicine and a leading authority on science-based natural medicine.
Debi is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition, a personal trainer, and whole health coach.
Teri is a is a Certified Coach Practitioner with extensive certifications and experience in holistic medicinal practices.
Dr. Rav Ivker
Dr. Rav Ivker is a holistic family physician, health educator, and best-selling author.
Susan writes about the connection between plant-based diets and a reduced risk of chronic diseases.
Dr. Rob Brown
Dr. Brown's blended perspective of healthcare includes a deeply rooted passion for wellness and spiritual exploration.