What happens in the vagus nerve, doesn’t stay in the vagus nerve…
::ba da bum::
If you’re like most people, you probably are unaware of the vagus nerve, better yet, you may have never heard of the vagus nerve.
What is the Vagus Nerve?
The vagus nerve is the tenth cranial nerve. Cranial nerves?
Cranial nerves generally begin in the brain and brain stem and relay information between the brain and body; mostly the head and neck.
But the vagus nerve might just be the most interesting of all the nerves in your body.
Reason being is that the vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve and so named because it “wanders” like a vagabond, sending out fibers from your brainstem to all the organs of your body.
The vagus nerve’s primary role is to captain your inner nerve center – the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is one of the three divisions of the autonomic nervous system, the others being the sympathetic nervous system and enteric nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is responsible for regulating the body’s involuntary functions.
The parasympathetic nervous system operates as a complement to the sympathetic nervous system (stress reaction).
Fight or Flight
Speed Up Heart Rate
Slows down digestion
Immune System Suppression
Rest and Digest
Slows Down Heart Rate
Turns up Digestion
Supports Immune System Function
In order for our bodies to be healthy, we need both of the systems to be working cooperatively. Our sympathetic nerve system helps us to flee from danger and perform ridiculous feats of athleticism when properly activated.
On the other hand, the parasympathetic nervous system helps us to prepare for sleep and improve digestion and absorb vital nutrients.
Achieving a balance between these two subsystems of the nerve system is what we should be striving for. Yet, it is very common to find ourselves being “stressed out” creating a dominance in our sympathetic nerve system. This dominance is what can contribute to why many people suffer from high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, and other chronic inflammatory illnesses.
Although we cannot always control the environment around us that contributes to our elevated stress levels, there are things we can do on a daily basis to activate our vagus nerve and stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system.
Sorry, I got a little side tracked…back to talking about the importance of the vagus nerve.So, the vagus nerve has many responsibilities…but we are going to only address the primary functions.
The vagus nerve utilizes 75% of its function to send information to the brain from the organs that it controls.
THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!
If the brain cannot interpret the information coming in, the brain will not know how to fix any problems going on.
So what organs does the vagus nerve supply?
As we discussed earlier, the vagus nerve is included in that autonomic (involuntary) nervous system. Thus, the vagus is primarily responsible for voluntary muscles in the larynx and esophagus, supplying autonomic fibers to the heart, and contributing to the stomach and intestines (gastrointestinal tract). For our intents and purposes, we will focus on the heart and gastrointestinal tract.
The vagus nerve is intimately involved with your heart.
The heart has a normal heart beat, right around 72 beats per minutes.
How do we maintain that specific heart rate?
Yup…the vagus nerve.
The way doctors determine the “tone” or “strength” of your vagus nerve (and your cardiac health) is by measuring the time between your individual heart beats, and then plotting this on a chart over time (ie. heart rate variability – HRV)
Along with heart rate, the vagus nerve plays a vital role in blood pressure. The blood pressure regulated just like heart rate.
The vagus nerve translates between your gut and your brain.
Your gut utilizes the vagus nerve like a “walkie-talkie” to tell your brain how you’re feeling via electric impulses called “action potentials”.
Needless to say, don’t second guess your gut instincts…they are very real!
Let’s try and bring it back full circle…
There are numerous people in our society that suffer from a chronic disease associated with sympathetic dominance (high blood pressure, IBS, etc..).
The vagus nerve could be the missing link.
When the nerve is inhibited and not working properly, the signals get challenged. The figure below shows the location of the nerve (nervus vagus) at the upper cervical spine – the green bone is C1 or the atlas.
The visual is to demonstrate how if there is a measurable displacement of the atlas or shift in the upper cervical spine, it could lead to signal interference in the vagus nerve.
Assuming that a person has low vagal tone (a measurable decrease in the activity of the vagus nerve), what can be done?
There are some medical procedures that are currently being trailed involving implanting an electric stimulator on the nerve. This applies constant stimulation to the nerve to correct the low vagal activity.OR…A NeuroStructural chiropractor, like myself, can look for, measure and correct the measurable atlas displacement or shifts in the spine.
The possibilities that NeuroStructural chiropractic care can assist with regulating blood pressure and digestive issues is high. In fact, there are many case studies suggesting the benefits of chiropractic care in relation to these issues.
Ultimately, you need to determine what the best option is for you and a NeuroStructural correction is not for everyone. But I encourage you to evaluate all your options before undergoing any type of procedure or care.