What is the Vagus Nerve?
The Vagus Nerve, also known as the wandering nerve, directly connects the brain and gut to form the brain and gut axis and enteric nervous system. Over history, much investigation on this nerve also found that it connects intricately with many vital organs in the body in order to assist in communication pathways. It wanders its little feelers around every organ except the adrenal glands and thyroid.
Throughout history and discovery of the nerve, much research has been done into its sole purpose, many arguments have stemmed about the role it plays primarily, but one conclusion can be made and this is that it in fact plays multiple crucial roles within the body:
- Communication to the amygdala controlling secretion of nor-epinephrine for the purpose of memory creation and recall.
⁃ Acetylcholine production to stimulate the lungs for the purpose of breathing.
⁃ Controls the inflammatory response and calming cascade to keep the body in a state of homeostasis when faced with any inflammatory mediators such as adipokines and cytokines and does this via the communication to anti-inflammatory neurotransmitters.
Just to name a few!
Interestingly, with all of the roles that this vital nerve contributes to in the body, during the first discovery period, scientific theory suggested that if it played a role in the purpose of digestion and excretion of stomach acids, stimulation of the pancreas and large intestine then it would be the sole contributor to digestion dis-ease such as irritable bowel, Peptic ulcers, H.Pylori, reflux and more. The method for fixing these digestive issues...sever the vagus nerve! While this proved their theory correct, and it did help with the mentioned digestion issues, it in turn made matters far worse for the newly operated on patient that would make you want to dial back the clock….
What would happen if we disabled the Vagus Nerve?
Vagotomy has been around for a very long time and this coincides with the severing of the Vagus nerve, though the research has come out now suggesting to only implement this as a last resort due to the importance of other contributing factors in the body, some of which areas affected are:
- Heart rate irregularities.
- Induced excessive sweating and perspiration.
- Deregulation of satiety in the body due to no gut brain axis communication.
- Severing of the nerve would no longer mean the body could regulate inflammation response and as such heightens inflammation throughout the body.
- Impact and disable the process of Neurogenesis which is the constant birth and formation of Neurons in areas of the brain formed from Neural stem cells.
- Erratic activity and poor insulin and glucose control within the body leading to insulin disorders.
More research is still being compiled into the negative affects of severing or disabling the Vagus Nerve, so far though it looks as if the Cons outweigh the pros in effect.
Signs of a Dysfunctional Vagus Nerve
- Insulin disorders, obesity and unexplainable weight gain. Because the Vagus Nerve directly impacts insulin secretion and glucose balance within the body, a common symptom of an unstimulated and dysfunction Vagus Nerve is poor insulin homeostasis. There is also some vast study done that may indicate the Vagus Nerve directly impacts the function of the thyroid too.(3)
- Anxiety, Depression and mood irregularities. Because the Vagus Nerve works so closely with the gut microbiome, both factors need to be taken into account when looking into Gut as a possible causative factor in Anxiety, Depression and unexplained Poor Mood. Often in Treatment resistant forms of depression and anxiety, patients go without relief for their unexplained symptoms that cannot be healed with Pharmaceutical ailments.(7)
The Feedback that is provided back to the brain from the gut Microbiome colonisation has a lot to do with the chemicals being released and may make it easier to understand how to colonise the gut to help our mental health. For instance, in many studies linking the gut brain axis, Bifidobacterium and lactobacillus are used alongside famously known anti-depressants and shown to be equally if not more effective in treatments for depression and anxiety - test subjects showed far more motivation, were able to adapt to stress far better and their anxiety and overdrive of fight-or-flight response became levelled.
This takes the commonly used terminologies of “Gut Feeling” “Gut instinct” and ‘Nervous” to a whole new level…
Ever been stressing about an event, meeting, confrontation, driving test or interview and felt like you either needed to vomit or run to the loo because all of a sudden, your bowels have informed you that you need to go pronto even if you went an hour ago?
This is often what we call nerves or jitters, and we have all had that churning feeling in our gut that we can describe as feeling ill right before a huge important matter was about to take place. Or perhaps had that odd, ‘gut feeling’ that something was about to happen or wasn’t quite right?
For many of the population suffering with IBS, also now known to be a Gut-Brain axis disorder, even everyday stress sets this feeling off and you need to evacuate the bowels in a hurry! (21)
What is this internal Conversation that our Guts and Brains have autonomously where they decide that we need to feel this way? This conversation happens via the Vagus Nerve Highway and the central, sympathetic, parasympathetic and autonomic nervous systems all interconnect to communicate, this all happens just as quickly as cars on a highway, The Neurotransmitters firing, the chemicals rushing…everything! The stress response is picked up by the Vagus nerve and it sets all of these crazy things into action as a survival mechanism. This is most likely why the Enteric nervous system is known as the second brain, all of this constant feedback to the brain shuttling back and forth constantly and altering everything to adapt; its amazing how quickly things are set into motion in order to survive whatever this stress is.
How to Balance and Stimulate the Vagus Nerve
There are many compounds that are easily accessible in everyday diets that can balance and correct a dysfunctional Vagus Nerve, that interestingly also impact the gut microbiome status… Year of the gut like we have been saying, it’s a whole world down there waiting to be discovered!
As mentioned in many previous podcast and content, Polyphenols play a huge role in not only balancing the colonies of our gut but they also directly stimulate the vagus nerve to enhance digestion, pancreatic function, correct insulin response and are now being hugely studied as a cure for obesity, Nature really does know best, that’s why she put the polyphenols in the skins of fruits and vegetables, grains and seeds occurring organically like they should. Over the years, our taste receptors and our sugar loving bugs have made us prefer and seek out only the delicious sugary content of the Fruits, sugarcane, juices and sweeter sections of plants to please our tongue and bugs. Not knowing that the seeds and peel of these delicious fruits of nature may also help to control; these sugar loving bugs so they don’t overpopulate, leading to gut dysbiosis, diabetes, Candida overgrowth and much more!
Polyhenols can be found in all sorts of foods, herbs and spices…. Here is a few you may have in your pantry at home that you can throw together in order to kickstart some great gut and mind health!
Herbs: Cloves, Star anise, Cinnamon, cumin, ginger, rosemary, thyme, basil, peppermint and oregano.
Teas: Black tea and Green tea.
Berries: Black berries, Blueberries, cherries, strawberries, Raspberries, Black Grapes with the thicker skin and seeds.
Seeds: Cumin Seeds, Flax, Celery, apple seeds.
Nuts: Many skins contained on the nut are beneficial especially present in Walnuts and hazelnuts.
Fruits: Most, but more potently found in Apricot, blood orange and pomegranates.
Bitter Taste receptors on the tongue stimulate the Vagus Nerve: Much study has been done into taste recpetors on the tongue and how they impact metabolic and digestive processes in the gut for the purpose of acid secretion, insulin secretion from beta cells of the pancreas increasing total Glucose uptake from the gut and peptide Ghrelin which is has loads of appetite inducing properties, this can be found when inducing Carbohydrates and Glutamate rich foods, of which Glutamates are well known Neurotransmitter irritants.
To combat this; research is now being done into the purpose of Bitter Taste receptors known as the T2R Receptors. What is coming of this is that they actually contribute to the release of cholcystokinin (CCK) which actually reduces gut motility and slows down digestion, increasing the satiety effects. Intakes of Toxins from food that activate the T2R Pathway of receptors for example: Polyphenols, contributes to satiety most likely as a survival mechanism to decrease any further intake of these natural toxins. (22)
Punicic Acid, found in Pomegranate seed residue is loaded in polyphenols, Sterols and loaded with antioxidants has been shown to suppress the Vagus Nerve and increase the feeling of Satiety temporarily, this is why we suggest using it as a potent appetite suppressant if you are wanting to use this as a 'say goodbye to the craving of sweets' campaign or control over eating. It's also a rich source of Omega 5 fatty acids which is amazing for skin and excellent anti-oxidative properties meaning it can be beneficial in the prevention of Cancer cells and is also excellent for mediating insulin control.
The Gut Brain axis is one of the most amazing and understudied systems of the body, and with modern technology we may find that this allows us to finally treat the individual as the individual instead of an umbrella approach, being that the gut is so diverse and unique to the person. This is extremely exciting for the future of both natural and pharmaceutical medicine!
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2. Carnethon MR, Jacobs DR, Jr, Sidney S, Liu K. Influence of autonomic nervous system dysfunction on the development of type 2 diabetes: the CARDIA study. Diabetes Care. 2003;26:3035–3041. ↩
3. Chapter 6 Neurogenesis in the Adult and Aging Brain. David R. Riddle and Robin J. Lichtenwalner.
4. The Gut-Brain Axis: The Missing Link in Depression Alper Evrensel and Mehmet Emin Ceylan
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9. Taste isn't just for taste buds anymore Thomas E. Finger1 and Sue C. Kinnamon2
10. Phenolic Compounds as natural and Multi-functional anti-obesity agents: a ReviewCelia Rodriguez-Perez, Antonia Segura -Carretero & Maria Del Mar Contreras
11: Bitters: Time for a new Paradigm Michael K. Mcmullen. 2015 May
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13. Bitter Tate of Brassica Vegetables: The role of genetic factors, receptors, isothiocyanates, Glucosinolates and flavour context. Martyna N. Wieczorek, Michal Walczak. 2017
14. Curcumin attenuates collagen-induced inflammatory response through the "gut brain axis" Journal of Neuroinflammation. Dou y. Jan 6, 2018
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