The brainstem contains a group of nerve bundles called the vagal nuclei, which branch out into the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve then branches out like roots of a plant from your brainstem to your intestines.
Why does it need to be functioning well?
When the vagus is working well at its job of transmitting information from the brain, a person has good bowel movements, good enzyme output from the pancreas so their food is properly broken down, and overall good digestion. Flip the coin and when the brain functions poorly due to degeneration and inflammation, output through the brain stem lowers. This decreases the firing rate of the vagus nerve. When this happens people can suffer from poor digestion, constipation and inability to tolerate certain foods as they are unable to digest them.
In a clinical setting it is easy to identify an impaired vagus nerve and gut-brain axis through examination. E.g the vagus is responsible for bowel motility, as a practitioner we should be able to hear rumbling in the abdomen with a stethoscope. When the gut-brain axis is impaired, it is common to hear very little rumbling.
Dr Kharrazian speaks about improving the vagus nerve through exercises. He highlights like muscles neurons need constant stimulation in order to be healthy.
Here are a few of the exercises:
Gargle with water a number of times a day. Gargling contracts these muscles, which activate the vagus nerve and stimulates the gastrointestinal tract. You should gargle long enough, deep enough so it feels uncomfortable. It needs to feel challenging – a bit like lifting weights – push yourself – do this for a couple of weeks.
Sing as loud as you can while in your car – this may annoy your passengers esp if you re tone deaf – so probably best to do this one when you re travelling on your own. The action of singing loudly works the muscles in the back of the throat to activate the vagus. Start singing.
Why not join a choir.
Stimulate our gag reflex. Gag reflexes are like doing push ups for the vagus while gargling and singing are like doing sprints
In patients with brain degeneration who have trouble with regular bowel movements, Dr K encourages daily coffee enemas. Most people will notice bowel function improves over time and they can slowly wean off the coffee enemas.
The cholinergic stimulation from coffee will cause gallbladder to contract, helping release liver metabolism end products into your bowel for elimination.
Remember to replace electrolytes after doing a coffee enema. Fresh, raw vegetable juices help replenish electrolytes and man other nutrients.
Its always a good idea to strengthen vagal tone – loss of vagal tone is secondary to poor brain function