The Gut-Brain Axis, a term familiar to many, refers to the two-way communication between the central nervous system (brain) and the enteric nervous system (gut). However, did you know that the vital connector between them is none other than the vagus nerve?
What is the Vagus Nerve?
The vagus nerve, named after the Latin word “vagus” meaning wandering, is the longest of all nerves. It not only establishes a connection between the brain and the entire digestive system but also links the brain to the heart and lungs. As part of the autonomic nervous system, it plays a crucial role in controlling various bodily functions beyond our conscious direction, such as heart rate, breathing, digestion, and blinking.
The significant role of the vagus nerve in the digestive system
The first abdominal branch of the vagus nerve reaches the stomach, where its fibers signal the production and secretion of hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes like pepsin and gastrin. Additionally, the nerve sends signals to the smooth muscle cells of the stomach, aiding the physical churning and movement of food into the small intestines.
The second abdominal branch extends to the liver, influencing hunger sensations and desires for specific types of food. From the liver, the vagus nerve transmits information to the brain regarding blood sugar balance and fat intake. It also communicates the amount of bile needed for fat digestion and plays a role in bile and bile salts production, eventually stored in the gallbladder.
The gallbladder, under the vagus nerve’s guidance, releases bile into the duodenum as needed during digestion.
Continuing its journey, the vagus nerve branches out to the pancreas, responsible for producing and secreting digestive enzymes, insulin, and glucagon to regulate blood sugar levels. Furthermore, the vagus nerve reaches the spleen, an organ linked to inflammatory pathways.
In the small intestine, the vagus nerve plays a major role in further breaking down food using pancreatic digestive enzymes and bile, as well as absorbing most macronutrients. It also manages gut motor function, activating smooth muscles to propel food along the small intestine to the colon.
Notably, signals from gut bacteria are sent to the brain via the vagus nerve, adding an intriguing layer of complexity to this domain.
The role of the vagus nerve in regulating multiple organs is pivotal to overall well-being, provided it functions optimally.
Various practices can activate the vagus nerve for optimum health. Breathing exercises, cold exposure, humming or chanting, gag reflex activation, gargling, yoga, mindfulness, meditation, sunlight exposure, and exercise are some effective methods.
By activating your vagus nerve, you can activate your health!
If you wish to delve deeper into the fascinating subject of the vagus nerve, consider exploring these insightful books:
- “Activate Your Vagus Nerve” by Dr. Navaz Habib
- “The Psychobiotic Revolution” by Scott Anderson, John Cryan, and Ted Dinan.
Stay curious and empowered on your journey to understanding and nurturing your vagus nerve for overall well-being.