At a glance:
The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve and travels from your brain to your gut.
The vagus nerve supplies the stomach with nerves and is a major means by which the stomach communicates with the brain.
Taking a probiotic helps improve communication between the gut and brain via the vagus nerve.
Have you heard of the vagus nerve? It’s one of the 12 cranial nerves in the human body, and while it’s not super well known or talked about, it represents a very important function – linking your brain to the rest of your body.
According to holistic health consultant Jordan Trinagel, “The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve and travels from your brain to your gut. In fact, it’s name is derived from the Latin word ‘vagus’ meaning to travel.”
There’s a reason more and more wellness seekers are turning to the vagus nerve to address a variety of mental and physical concerns.
“If there is a dysfunction with the vagus nerve, it impacts the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems,” says Trinagel. “This means it could affect appetite, digestion, stress, mood, and more.”
Because the vagus nerve is so important and serves so many functions, we decided to get in touch with our team of wellness experts to find out what it’s all about, how it works with our systems, and ways to optimize it.
Here’s what they said:
What is the vagus nerve?
The vagus nerve is the “master controller”of our sensory system and our emotional regulation system. It plays an essential role in how we demonstrate self regulation and our internal feelings of safety and security in all aspects of our life.
Quiara Smith, Occupational Therapist and Owner/CEO, Aloha Integrative Therapy
What does the vagus nerve do?
The vagus nerve supplies the stomach with nerves (known as “innervating”) and is a major means by which the stomach communicates with the brain.
Signals travel both ways between the stomach and the brain, which is important in regulating digestion. For example, when your stomach stretches in response to food, a signal travels through the vagus to the brain. Then the brain responds by signaling the stomach (through the vagus nerve) to stimulate secretion of stomach acid and enzymes necessary to break down food.
The primary function of the vagus nerve is to cause a “rest and digest” effect. It’s responsible for triggering your sensation of fullness via a hormone called leptin, which is released in the gut as part of digestion. The opposite of leptin, a hormone called ghrelin, stimulates appetite by turning off the vagus nerve.Sally Stevens, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, FastPeopleSearch.io
What are a few ways to stimulate the vagus nerve?
Focus on breathing
One of the best ways to send a signal to your vagus nerve is to audibly exhale, hum, sing, or even chant.
The vagus nerve runs from the neck all the way down to the abdomen and connects the brain to the body. It's associated with a variety of physical functions, like swallowing, taste, digestion, and heart rate.
Activating this nerve basically tells your brain that it can rest and return to a state of calm. The body can then trust it’s in a state of health and well-being and move toward digestion (physical and emotional), disease prevention, and immune-building responses.
Here's how it works: your voice box is connected to your vagus nerve. So, when you hum or sing, you naturally stimulate it. There are many practices in yoga, such as “Bhramari Pranayama” or “Bumblebee Breath” (where on the exhale you buzz like a bee) that work to stimulate the vagus nerve. Repeating a mantra and chanting “OM” can have a similar effect. The sound, coupled with slower exhalations, can have a positive effect for calming and activating the vagus nerve.
Kelly Heath, Yoga teacher
A very easy way to stimulate the vagus nerve is to opt for bitter flavors.
The vagus (the 10th cranial nerve) and the glossopharyngeal (the 9th cranial nerve) are responsible for taste in the back third of your tongue, which is where bitter taste lives.
By tasting or chewing on bitter flavors, these nerves become stimulated. Once the nerves are stimulated, you reap the benefits of the vagus nerve activation.
Some popular bitter foods for stimulating the vagus nerve include: ginger, turmeric, and citrus.
Demetris Elia, Doctor of Chiropractic and Functional Medicine, PEAKiropractic
Looking to get vagus nerve-stimulating turmeric and citrus in one place? Our Vitality combines turmeric with lemon juice for a bitter punch that can help activate your digestive system. You can also find the energizing and bitter flavor of ginger in our Wellness nutritional boost.
Probiotics can help.
Taking a probiotic helps improve the health of your gut bacteria, which can reduce gut inflammation and improve the communication between the gut and brain via the vagus nerve.
Heather Hanks, Nutritionist, USA RX
Looking for an easy-to-stomach probiotic to help reduce gut inflammation and boost communication between your gut and your brain?
Our Gut Check combines 1 billion CFU probiotics with “all mighty” apple cider vinegar (+ the mother) for a refreshing way to optimize your digestion.
Nourish your gut-brain axis with KOR!