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Exercise your vagus nerve for better gut health

Are you following the right diet and taking all the right supplements yet still struggling with irresolvable gut problems? The problem could be in your head, or more exactly, in the large nerve that runs between your brain and your digestive system.

Called the vagus nerve, this large nerve sends communication back and forth between the brain and the organs, including the digestive organs. If your gut problems are accompanied by poor memory, brain fog, problems with cognition, or other brain symptoms, then you know you might have a sluggish vagus nerve.

Indigestion, acid reflux, constipation, burping, gas, bloating, diarrhea, pain, and irritable bowel disorders are some of the common problems that result from an insufficiently active vagus nerve. A problematic vagus nerve is also evidence that your brain is degenerating, or aging, too quickly.

The brain delivers commands to the gut via the vagus nerve. This function executes digestion, gut repair and regeneration, moves food through the intestines (motility), secretes digestive enzymes and juices, triggers digestive hormones, and more.

When brain function deteriorates or the brain degenerations, the vagus nerve does not receive sufficient communication from the brain to deliver to the gut. This poor communication between the gut and the brain causes constipation, leaky gut, food sensitivities, irritable bowel disorders, and other gut problems.

This is one reason gut problems are common among people with brain injuries, the elderly, or people struggling with poor brain function.

Exercise the vagus nerve to improve gut function

A functional neurologist conducts a thorough exam of your brain health and function and then customizes a rehabilitation program unique to your brain. This rehabilitation may include activating your vagus nerve to improve your gut function.

The good news is you can also activate your vagus nerve on your own at home with some simple exercises.

How to exercise and improve your vagus nerve

First, how do you know if you need vagus nerve activation?

  • Look at the back of your throat in the mirror when you say “ahhhh.” If the uvula (the little punching bag at the back of your throat) does not rise much, that’s an indication of a sluggish vagus nerve.
  • You don’t have much of a gag reflex; you can test this by pressing on the back of your tongue with a tongue depressor. It should make you gag.
  • If possible, listen to your abdomen with a stethoscope. You should hear intermittent rumbling noises. If you hear virtually nothing, this indicates sluggish bowel and vagal activity.

So, it looks like you have a sluggish vagus nerve, now what? Here are some exercises to activate the vagus nerve, taken from Dr. Kharrazian’s book, Why Isn’t My Brain Working?. You can also contact my office regarding some other methods of activation. It is a growing field with many innovations.

Robustly gargle several times a day. Gargle each sip of a glass of water several times a day hard enough to make your eyes tear up.

Sing loudly. Sing as loudly as you can several times a day if you are in a place where you can do this, like the car.

Gag. Use a tongue depressor to gently press on the back of your tongue and make yourself gag several times a day until your eyes tear. This is one of the stronger approaches; just be careful not to poke the back of your throat.

Coffee enemas. Google coffee enemas and hold the enema solution as long as you can.

This is a very simple summary of how to activate the vagus nerve. For more advice unique to your brain’s needs, please contact my office.

Meet the Author

Kristien Boyle DOM, AP (FL), LAc (SC)
Kristien Boyle DOM, AP (FL), LAc (SC)

Dr. Boyle D.O.M. (FL) is the founder of the Holistic Wellness Center of the Carolinas where he is the Director of Functional Medicine. He holds a Diplomate in Oriental Medicine and is acupuncture physician and primary care physician in the state of Florida. His post-graduate focus has been in the fields of functional neurology, functional immunology, and functional endocrinology.

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