SHIFT IN HEALTH BY: Dr. Wendy Henrichs
The vagus nerve is one of the longest nerves in the body and it plays a crucial role in regulating the body’s internal organs, including the heart, lungs, and digestive system. The vagus nerve is responsible for controlling your heart rate, digestion, and breathing. It is a part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the “rest and digest” response in the body. When you hear or read about “the gut-brain connection”, they are referring to the vagus nerve. It helps to maintain homeostasis in the body by regulating the body’s response to stress and maintaining a balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The vagus nerve ultimately enables you to respond to stress more effectively which over time will improve your level of health and well-being.
If you have any of the following symptoms, you may have a decrease in your vagus nerve function also known as vagal tone.
1. Digestive problems: including constipation, bloating, nausea, and vomiting.
2. Cardiovascular problems: including low blood pressure, slow heart rate, and fainting.
3. Respiratory problems: including shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and chronic cough.
4. Voice and speech problems: including hoarseness, difficulty speaking, and changes in voice tone.
5. Vision problems: including blurred vision, sensitivity to light, and difficulty focusing.
6. Anxiety and depression: including mood swings, irritability, and feelings of sadness or hopelessness.
7. Sleep disturbances: including insomnia, nightmares, and sleep apnea.
8. Chronic pain: including headaches, migraines, and joint pain.
9. Fatigue and weakness: including muscle weakness, chronic fatigue, and difficulty concentrating.
Heart rate variability (HRV) is one of the ways you can measure your vagal tone and can be a great indicator of overall health and ability to heal. When your heart rate has a higher level of variability, you have a better functioning vagus nerve or a higher level of vagal tone. Stimulating the vagus nerve will down regulate (lower) your Cortisol which is your stress hormone. Remember that Cortisol causes an increase in your blood pressure, your blood sugar, your blood calcium, your cholesterol, your fat storage, and will decrease your short term memory. There are a number of ways to improve your vagus nerve function or increase your vagal tone.
1. Deep breathing exercises: Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve and helps to reduce stress and anxiety. Take a deep breathing time out throughout your day or any time you feel stressed or anxious.
2. Meditation: Meditation has been shown to improve vagus nerve function and reduce stress. Quieting your mind, even for 10 minutes a day is effective especially when done regularly. Sit or lay quietly with your eyes closed, set a timer for 10 minutes and take a few deep breaths to begin. Focus on your breathing and if you catch yourself thinking about your grocery list or tasks you want to accomplish, just go back to your breathing. Quieting your mind takes practice.
3. Exercise: Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise, can help improve vagus nerve function. Regular exercise increases heart rate variability (HRV) which in turn improves vagal tone or function. Going for a walk, strength training, biking, skiing, snow shoeing, or kayaking, are just a few options. It does not matter what exercise you do, just be consistent in getting 30 or minutes of movement daily.
4. Laughter: Laughter has been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve and improve overall health and healing ability. Adults do not belly laugh on a regular basis like children do. Get in touch with your inner child and belly laugh at least once a day.
5. Cold exposure: Exposure to cold water or cold showers is an effective way to stimulate the vagus nerve and improve its function. Finish your morning shower with a 30-60 second cold blast of water on your head and heart to stimulate your vagus nerve.
6. Cold laser therapy: Cold laser therapy is a non-invasive and effective therapy, with no negative side-effects, that increases your body’s ability to heal by: increasing energy production, blood flow, enzymatic activity, collagen production, and oxygenation; along with a decreasing inflammation. Research shows that cold laser therapy has the ability to heal damaged nerve tissue over time, including the vagus nerve.
Your default program is health and vitality, not illness and disease. Improving your vagus nerve function is one of the keys to unlock your body’s natural ability to heal itself from within. Use one or more of these strategies to improve your vagus nerve function and activate your body’s natural healing potential. Remember, it is never too late to make a Shift in Health.
Dr. Wendy Henrichs of Timber Land Chiropractic provides comprehensive chiropractic care among other services including pregnancy, newborn and pediatric care, post-concussion and sports performance, FX 635/405 Cold Laser, Zerona fat loss laser, nutrition counseling and wellness services. Dr. Wendy Henrichs is a board-certified Chiropractic Pediatrician and Nutrition Counselor. Timber Land Chiropractic is located at 1 E. Courtney Street in Rhinelander. For more information, call 715-362-4852 or visit www.timberlandchiropractic.com Instagram @drwendyhenrichs, LinkedIn, and Facebook.