Do you struggle with chronic digestive complaints such as:
- Indigestion or acid reflux
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Burping and gas
- Bloating and gut pain
- Irritable bowel disorders
Although these are all gut complaints, they could signal problems with your brain and how it communicates with the gut.
The vagus nerve is key for healthy brain-gut communication
The gut and the brain communicate closely with each other via a large, meandering nerve called the vagus. The job of the vagus nerve is to pass messages between the brain and the rest of the body. This communication goes both ways; it is called the brain-gut axis or the gut-brain axis, and it lies at the root of many common gut – and brain – health issues.
In the case of the digestive tract, the brain tells the gut via the vagus nerve to digest food, repair and regenerate the gut lining, and push food through the intestines (motility).
But when brain function declines due to chronic inflammation or head injury, vagus nerve function suffers, and the gut doesn’t get enough input. As a result, constipation, leaky gut, food sensitivities, irritable bowel disorders, and other problems can arise.
When patients don’t know the problem stems from the brain and try to fix the symptoms with only gut-based protocols, they continue to suffer in frustration and discomfort.
The good news is you can work on activating the vagus nerve at home with some very simple daily activities. By doing these exercises, you can improve your vagus nerve tone and improve your gut function. Improving vagus function can also help to improve brain function, since the gut-brain axis goes both ways.
Four simple exercises to increase vagal tone:
Gargle a glass of water vigorously several times a day. Gargling contracts the back of the throat, which activates the vagus nerve. Gargle vigorously and for a good length of time, ideally until your eyes tear (it may take a while to build up to that).
Sing loudly. If you are alone at home or in the car, spend some time singing as loudly as you can. This also activates the back of the throat and hence the vagus.
Gag. Using a tongue depressor, which you can buy on Amazon, gently press on the back of your tongue to make yourself gag. Please do not poke the back of your throat. Do this several times a day, ideally until your eyes tear up. Gargling and singing are like sprints for the vagus nerve, whereas gagging is strength training.
Coffee enemas. The vagus nerve is activated by holding an enema. That, together with compounds in coffee that stimulate nerve receptors, will help activate the vagus nerve. Hold the enema solution as long as you can, until you’re shaking from the effort. Please Google instructions for doing a coffee enema safely and effectively.