August 2016 \\ Category: The Vagus Nerve
Did you know that 90% of information goes from the gut to the brain?
The direct connection between the gut and the brain is the biggest nerve in the human nervous system. This super-highway is called the vagus nerve, or the 10th cranial nerve.
Vagus means "wandering" in Latin, as it wanders around in the body, (see picture). It has multiple branches that diverge from the brainstem and wander to the heart and most major organs along the way. It goes all the way down, into the belly, spreading tens of thousands of nerve fibers to the lungs, heart, stomach, intestines, pancreas and nearly every other organ in the gut area. It produces anti-stress enzymes and hormones and influence digestion and immunity and detects inflammations or infections in the body.
The vagus nerve acts as a "data-bus" that brings impulses going in two directions. Even without medical background it is easy to understand the importance of this nerve when it "wanders" into so many vital organs in our body. But in a recent study, scientists were quite surprised to find out where most of the signals come from: the gut sends 90% of the information to the brain - and only 10% of information is coming from the brain to the gut.
The vagus nerve acts as a "data-bus" that brings impulses going in two directions. 90% of the impulses go from the gut to the brain. Only 10% the signals goes from the brain to the gut
Knowledge of the vagus nerve completely flips the idea that the brain is in charge of the rest of your body. The expression “gut feeling” is therefore more correct than you might think as it is real nervous signals from the gut. Via the vagus nerve our brain is informed about the status of our gut. The gut is therefore sometimes referred to as “the second brain” because so much information is perceived and transmitted from here.
The vagus nerve is by far the most important nerve in the nervous system, because it has the most far-reaching effects. Our nervous system needs to be able to activate and to relax. If the parasympatic nervous system can't relax we get stressed. The information the brain receives from the organs via the vagus nerve, helps to regulate the nervous system and keep our parasympatic nervous system active, which enables us to control our stress. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for regulating the body's unconscious actions. The tone (which means the ability to activate or perform functions) of the vagus nerve is key to activating the parasympathetic nervous system and hence our ability to relax. If the tone in the vagus nerve is weak we receive insufficient signals from all the organs it reaches - the gut is only one of them. Insufficient signals can cause inflammation in the tissues, stress, anxiety, depression and eating/digestive disorders (e.g. obesity, anorexia, and bulimia), to name a few. When the vagus nerve is stressed it is hard to relax as our nervous system will be aroused.
A good way to increase the tone and stimulate the vagus nerve is to eat whole, healthy and-inflammatory food which can balance the guts microbiome. The presence of healthy bacteria in the gut creates a positive feedback loop through the vagus nerve, increasing its tone.
Another way to increase the tone is to practise relaxation techniques (meditation, slow rhythmic breathing) or cranio sacral therapy, where you relax the vagus nerve directly which can be very beneficial. A more invasive method to activate the vagus nerve is via electrostimulation which has proven beneficial for people with severe headaches and epilepsy (http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/vagus-nerve-stimulation/home/ovc-20167755)
SUPER-HIGHWAY The vagus nerve runs from the brain stem down the neck and into the abdomen, reaching a slew of organs in the process.