Our Gut-Brain Axis: Intro to the Vagus Nerve
Our parasympathetic nervous system oversees the body's resting functions like digestion, immunity, and mood. It's mainly composed of the vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve, running from the brainstem, branching through the body, and rooted to our gut and major organs.
The bi-directional communication that happens between our gut microbiome and our brain flows through the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is being studied for its role in regulating hormones, the release of oxytocin, anxiety, depression, and how it guides our "gut instincts".
Eating fiber and mushrooms encourages the release of hormones that make it easier for the gut to send fullness cues to the brain via the vagus nerve.
Nurturing relationships breeds closeness, and feeling close to others is associated with a healthy vagus nerve.
Laughing activates the parasympathetic nervous system's "tend and befriend" response, which is linked to healthy vagal tone.
Exposing the skin to a safe amount of UVA light can produce a hormone that improves vagus nerve function.
Probiotics optimize gut-health. In particular, Lactobacillus rhamnosus may help the vagus nerve maintain GABA levels that have a calming and stress-relieving effect on our mood.
Meditation, prayer, and chanting can stimulate the vagus nerve and its branches to improve vagal tone.
The vagus nerve branches out through the soil of our body to collect information from our microbiome and ferry it to the brain, in much the same way a tree's roots reach into the soil of the earth to gather water, nutrients, and messages from bacteria, fungi, and other organisms.
A healthy vagus nerve is associated with lower inflammation, positive emotions, improved physical health, and better social connections. Stimulating the vagus nerve is easy—it can be as simple as getting some sunshine, meditating, laughing, or spending time with loved ones.
Save this post to remember ways to nurture and activate your own hyper-localized internet, for optimal communication between your brain, gut, and the microflora that make up your "Second Self".
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- S. Breit et al Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2018
- R. Howland Curr Behav Neurosci Rep. 2014
- R. Johnson & C. Wilson J Inflamm Res. 2018
- B. Kok et al Psychological Science 2018