The Vagus Nerve

Recently, we were visited by Ashley Anderson from ‘Move Fully Nourished’ at our Professional Development Meeting (Lunch & Learn) to talk about nutrition and the vagus nerve. You are probably thinking, “What is the vagus nerve?”.

The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body and serves as a communication pathway between the gut and the brain. The vagus nerve is a part of the parasympathetic nervous system that is responsible for a calming response that regulates heart rate, digestion, and mood. It helps counteract the stress response of the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for the fight or flight response. Learning how to activate this nerve can have a positive impact on children’s (and everyone’s) ability to calm their nervous system. Activating the vagus nerve is an exciting mind-body tool to enhance your child’s mental health toolbox and improving vagal tone has been associated with improvement in gastrointestinal illnesses, mental health, anxiety, cardiovascular function and autoimmune conditions.

Why Tone The Vagus Nerve?

By enhancing vagal tone and the mind-body connection, children can experience improved mood regulation, reduced anxiety levels, greater cognitive function, and better stress management skills. We can all gain better health and wellness by activating our vagus nerve. Try it with your child; activate the vagus nerve to calm your nervous system and improve health.

How Can I Tone The Vagus Nerve?

  • Cold Exposure: Exposing your skin to acute cold, such as a cold shower or splashing your face with cold water will increase stimulation of the vagus nerve.
  • Physical Activity and Play: Engaging in regular physical activity and playful movement not only promotes physical health but also activates the vagus nerve. Exercise like yoga, dancing, and outdoor play stimulates the vagus nerve by enhancing blood flow, oxygenation, and overall well-being. Endurance training is associated with increased heart rate variability and doing so will tone the vagus nerve.
  • Deep Breathing Techniques: Encourage your child to take slow, deep, belly breaths. The focus should be on expanding the belly while inhaling deeply through the nose and exhaling slowly through the mouth.
  • Vocal Chord Vibration, Sing or Hum: A few minutes of singing or humming calms the nervous system by activating the vagus nerve because of the vibration of the larynx (voice box).
  • Gargle with Water: Yes, gargling with water for as long as possible really does activate the vagus nerve. Your eyes may tear; that is a sign that it is working. Making vocal vibrations will increase heart rate variability leading to vagus nerve stimulations.
  • Laughing: Laughing with friends, having positive relationships, and enjoying the company of others activates the vagus nerve.
  • Eat More Fiber: Fiber slows down the digestive process, thus activating the calming response of the body.
  • Meditate: Having a meditation practice, such as tensing and relaxing muscles or visualization exercises, activates the vagus nerve by relaxing the nervous system because of the slower breathing used during meditation.

What Nutrients Help Tone The Vagus Nerve?

  • Probiotics In Fermented Foods
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids In Sustainable, Wild-Caught Seafood
  • Fiber