You’ve probably heard the phrase, “all disease begins the gut”. This statement is very accurate,and I’m certainly not going to argue with it. If your gut isn’t in optimal shape, then your immune system and your health will suffer.
However, sometimes we have to look beyond the gut to help fix the problem. The gut is connected to every other system and organ in the body in some way. What happens in the gut can affect your skin, hormones, brain, etc.
Often times, the reverse is true too; especially when we’re talking about the brain. The brain and the gut are incredibly linked. In fact, the gut has it’s own nervous system and is considered the second brain.
In order for your digestive system to function properly, it has to communicate with a properly functioning brain. The health of your brain affects your digestive system, and the health of your gut impacts your brain.
So, if you’ve been struggling with digestive problems like IBS and haven’t seen any improvement with diet or supplements, then you may want to consider the health of your brain; specifically, a very important nerve call the vagus nerve.
I recently read the book, Why Isn’t My Brain Working, by Dr. Datis Kharrazian, and he spends a lot of time talking about the function of the vagus nerve. I highly reading his book; it’s fantastic and full of wonderful information.
Vagus nerve coordinates communication between the brain and the gut.
Your brain stem contains a group of nerve bundles called the vagal nuclei, which branch out into the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve then branches out from your brainstem to your intestines.
As previously mentioned, your gut has it’s own nervous system called the enteric nervous system, and your brain communicates with the enteric nervous system through the vagus nerve.
It does this by activating the vagus nerve and the vagus nerve then activates the enteric nervous system. Your enteric nervous system then stimulates motility in the intestinal tract.
When your vagus nerve is working properly, you have good bowel movements, good enzyme production and overall good digestion.
When your brain function suffers due to degeneration and inflammation, output through the brainstem lowers. This decreases the firing rate of the vagus nerve, which can cause poor digestion, constipation, and food intolerances.
Does this sound like you?
Lack of sufficient output through the brainstem can impair the vagus nerve, which can result in poor digestive motility and constipation.
Many symptoms can occur when the vagus nerve is not functioning efficiently due to poor brain function.
As the gut-brain axis loses efficiency in communication, the vagus nerve loses the ability to activate the release of stomach acid, which helps digest protein.
Therefore, you may notice you can no longer digest protein like meat and eggs without feeling like you have a brick in your stomach. Or you may develop acid reflux. Both conditions are a sign of low stomach acid production.
If your gut-brain communication is poor, then you may experience poor enzyme and bile production. These functions are needed to digest fiber, starches, and fats. At this point, you may experience the inability to digest fiber-rich foods or fatty foods.
An impaired vagus nerve also leads to leaky gut, or intestinal permeability. Other consequences of impaired vagal function include bacterial and yeast overgrowth.
If any of this sounds like you, then you may have poor vagus nerve function. You can actually strengthen your vagus nerve by performing a few different exercises.
Neurons are like muscles. They need constant stimulation to be healthy. So, there are exercises you can do to make it stronger. Vagal exercises are easy to perform at home.
Try These 4 Techniques to Improve Vagus Nerve Function
One exercise is to gargle with water several times a day. The vagus nerve activates the muscles in the back of your throat that allow you to gargle. Gargling contracts these muscles, activating the vagus nerve and stimulating the GI tract.
Be sure to gargle long and deep enough to make it challenging.
This can be a lot of fun. You can do this at home or in the car. If you’re like me, it’s probably best to do it when you’re alone, so you don’t annoy those around you. (I was not blessed with a nice singing voice.)
Singing loudly works the muscles in the back of the throat to activate the vagus nerve.
This one may seem strange and even dangerous, but hear me out. You basically just want to stimulate the gag reflex, but don’t hurt yourself. You can purchase a box of tongue blades or use a spoon. Just lay it on the back of your tongue and push down to stimulate the gag reflex.
Gag reflexes are like doing push ups for the vagus nerve while gargling and singing are like doing sprints.
You will need to do these exercises consistently for several weeks to produce change.
If you are having significant difficulty with regular bowel movements, then you may try coffee enemas. Dr. Kahrrazian suggests doing them daily, but you could try weekly or whatever is comfortable for you.
Distending the intestines with an enema activates the vagus nerve. Additionally, the caffeine in the coffee stimulates intestinal motility. Many people notice their bowel movements improve over time, and they can start weaning off the enemas.
So, now that you have a few easy techniques to try, start incorporating them into your daily routine. Gargle as you sip your water throughout the day. Sing out loud in the car. Do a couple of gag reflexes before bed.
Over time, you may notice that your digestion is improving.
Why Isn’t My Brain Working, Dr. Datis Kharrazian