How the Vagus Nerve Affects your Health
What is it?
If you have not heard of the vagus nerve you are in good company. Understanding what it is and how you can positively affect its function is important to your overall health. The vagus nerve is the longest of the cranial nerves (sometimes referred to as the 10th cranial nerve). It begins in the brain and branches out to all of your organs. The name comes from the Latin, meaning vagabond because this nerve meanders all over the body.
What is its purpose?
The vagus nerve relays critical information to and from our organs and our brain. Sensory (afferent) and motor (efferent) neurons process and actively regulate many bodily functions.
What does it do?
The vagus nerve in coordination with the brain releases neurotransmitters and hormones that help quiet your body, reduce inflammation, informing your immune system and assisting with memory and mood function. These processes are occurring while your brain is monitoring function of all your organs.
What are some symptoms of a weak vagus nerve response?
Intestinal issues are a common health concern and have been the subject of much discussion. One example of the importance of good intestinal function to your body is the sheer number of branches (one hundred million neurons) in the digestive tract alone. Slow digestion with possible side effects like: acid reflux, GERD, bloating and constipation could be influenced by weak or fatigued nerve response from a poor diet and/or the repercussions of a diet that is not suited to your body's particular needs. Consider the brain's response to years of poor intestinal health and the possibility that there may be a connection to sadness, anxiety, overwhelm or lack of motivation.
How can my vagus nerve be stimulated naturally?
The soft spot area behind your ear is the only place where the vagus nerve can be palpated. To positively affect the vagus nerve, try:
Strengthening exercises for the jaw and the structure around the ear
Deep-Breathing with slow, full and long exhales
Relaxation techniques including gently sliding your jaw away from your ear
Playing wind instruments
Auricular Therapy (Gently massaging the ears and the area around the ears)
Luchau, Til, Massage and Bodywork, November 2017, Working with the Vagus Nerve, p. 94