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The Vagus Nerve Stimulates The GI Tract

The vagus nerve, historically cited as the pneumogastric nerve, is the tenth cranial nerve or CN X, and interfaces with parasympathetic control of the heart, lungs, and digestive tract. It is the longest nerve of the autonomic nervous system in the human body. The vagus nerve also has a sympathetic function via the peripheral chemoreceptors.

The vagus nerve supplies motor parasympathetic fibers to all the organs (except the adrenal glands), from the neck down to the second segment of the transverse colon. The vagus also controls a few skeletal muscles, including:

  • Cricothyroid muscle
  • Levator veli palatine muscle
  • Salpingopharyngeus muscle
  • Palatoglossus muscle
  • Palatopharyngeus muscleVagus Nerve
  • Superior, middle and inferior pharyngeal constrictors
  • Muscles of the larynx (speech)

This means that the vagus nerve is responsible for such varied tasks as heart rate, gastrointestinal peristalsis, sweating, and quite a few muscle movements in the mouth, including speech (via the recurrent laryngeal nerve). It also has some afferent fibers that innervate the inner (canal) portion of the outer ear (via the auricular branch, also known as Alderman’s nerve) and part of the menigies. This explains why a person may cough when tickled on the ear, such as when trying to remove ear wax with a cotton swab.

Efferent vagus nerve fibers innervating the pharynx and back of the throat are responsible for the gag reflex. In addition, 5-HT3 receptor -mediated afferent vagus stimulation in the gut due to gastroenteritis is a cause of vomiting. Stimulation of the vagus nerve in the cervix uteri (as in some medical procedures) can lead to a vasovagal response.

The vagus nerve also plays a role in satiation following food consumption. Knocking out vagal nerve receptors has been shown to cause hyperphagia (greatly increased food intake).

There are plenty of ways to help stimulate the vagus nerve. Listed below are a few of the following ways:

Cold Showers

Any acute cold exposure will increase vagus nerve stimulation. Studies have shown that when your body adjusts to cold, your fight or flight (sympathetic) system declines and your rest and digest (parasympathetic) system increases, which is mediated by the vagus nerve.  

Gargling

Gargling with a glass of water each morning will help to contract the muscles in the back of your throat. This in turn helps to activate the Vagus nerve and also stimulates the digestive tract. Keep a glass next to your sink in the washroom as a daily reminder to perform this exercise. You will know you are doing it properly if you gargle to the point of tearing in the eyes (another vagus nerve response).

Fasting

Intermittent fasting helps to increase high frequency heart rate variability in animals, which is a marker of vagal tone. When you fast, part of the decrease in metabolism is mediated by the vagus nerve as it detects a decline in blood glucose levels and a decrease of mechanical and chemical stimuli from the gut.

There are many other ways to help stimulate the vagus nerve, but these are some of the most common ways to help your nerve.

If you have any questions, send us a message via email or call our Lansdale office at 215.368.771 and we would be more than happy to back to you as soon as possible.

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