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The Power of the Vagus Nerve

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

Functions of the Vagus Nerve

The vagus nerve, also known as the tenth cranial nerve or CN X, is one of the most important nerves in the human body. It is a paired nerve that extends from the brainstem to various organs in the chest and abdomen. The vagus nerve plays a crucial role in the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the body’s rest and digest response. It is responsible for regulating many vital functions such as heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, and even emotional responses. And if you're trying to heal from any acute or chronic symptoms, it is imperative to make sure the vagus nerve is working for you!

The vagus nerve is a complex network of fibers that innervates multiple organs, including the heart, lungs, stomach, liver, and intestines. It serves as a communication highway between the brain and these organs, relaying information back and forth. Through its extensive connections, the vagus nerve helps maintain homeostasis in the body by modulating various physiological processes. It influences heart rate by transmitting signals that can either speed up or slow down the heartbeat, depending on the body's needs.

Beyond its role in regulating basic bodily functions, the vagus nerve also plays a significant role in the mind-body connection. It is involved in the communication between the brain and the gut, known as the gut-brain axis or gut-brain connection. This bidirectional pathway allows the gut to send signals to the brain, influencing mood, digestion, emotions, and even cognitive function. For example, when the brain perceives a threat or stress, it can trigger changes in gut function, such as decreased blood flow to the intestines and increased intestinal permeability. Conversely, changes in gut function, such as inflammation or imbalances in gut bacteria, can affect the brain and contribute to changes in mood and behavior.

Testing for Vagus Nerve Function (Vagal Function)

1. Heart rate variability (HRV) analysis: HRV analysis is the gold standard for testing vagal function. This measures the variation in time intervals between heartbeats, reflecting the activity of the vagus nerve. This can be assessed through electrocardiogram (ECG) recordings.

2. At-home tests for Vagal Function: At-home tests for vagal function include saying “ahh” while looking in a mirror and seeing if your uvula (the flap of tissue hanging down at the back of your mouth) pulls to one side or another or goes straight back. If it pulls to one side or the other this indicates an issue with vagal function. Another at-home test for vagal function is the pupil dilation test. This requires a flashlight in a dark room with a mirror. When the flashlight is shone at an oblique angle into one eye, the pupil should constrict for at least 10 seconds before dilating. If it constricts and dilates in less than 10 seconds or fails to constrict it could be a sign of poor vagal tone.

At-Home Interventions to Reset the Nervous System and Improve Vagal Tone

1. Deep breathing exercises: Slow, deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is associated with relaxation. You can try techniques like diaphragmatic breathing, where you focus on deep, slow breaths into your belly, to potentially enhance vagal activity.

2. Cold water face immersion: Briefly immersing your face in cold water, such as splashing cold water on your face or holding a cold pack against your forehead, can potentially activate the diving reflex. This reflex involves vagal stimulation and can help promote a relaxation response in the body.

3. Singing or chanting: Activities that involve controlled vocalization, such as singing or chanting, may activate the vagus nerve and help regulate heart rate and promote relaxation.

Book a call here to discuss your specific situation and get personalized guidance to ensure you're harnessing the power of your vagus nerve!

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