How to Tone Your Vagus Nerve for Better Health in Delaware

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The vagus nerve (Latin for “wanderer”) extends from the brain to the throat, heart, lungs, liver and stomach, and is key to our “rest and digest,” or parasympathetic, nervous system function.

The more researchers discover about the vagus nerve’s influence on well-being (mood, emotion, heart rate, the immune system, digestion, detoxification and mental health), the more intriguing it becomes.

For the past two decades, researchers have studied more closely the connection between the vagus nerve and mental health and have found that individuals with a “toned” vagus nerve are better able to calm their bodies after stressful situations, explains Kim Furtado, N.D., a naturopath in Lewes.

A poorly functioning vagus nerve can lead to anxiety and depression by keeping the body and mind in a heightened stress state. “If it’s constantly getting messaging that it needs to run fight-or-flight signals, then it will do that,” Furtado explains. “Your body needs to reestablish a rhythm in which the nerves are firing predominantly in a parasympathetic state.”

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Fortunately, we often have what it takes within us to make the shift. “It’s not really a thinking process. It’s more of a being process, and it’s often rooted to breathwork,” Furtado says.

You can “tone” this nerve simply with deep, slow breathing. Other ways to stimulate the vagus nerve include singing, humming, chanting and laughing. Such activities as tai chi, (sound) meditation and exercise can also help, as can consumption of probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids. Massage and cold-water plunges—even just a splash on your face, Furtado says—also show benefits.

Additionally, Furtado recommends tasting bitter herbs 10 minutes before eating to stimulate digestion. “Emerging research shows that the microbiome is actually communicating from the gut to the brain through the vagus nerve,” she says. “We’re just beginning to understand why that plays such a role with anxiety and depression. … That’s why vagus nerve retraining is so powerful—it [takes] people out of their head.”

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