Thanksgiving is fast approaching! Along with the food, family, and fun during these festivities, it can also result in a lot of gastric discomfort for many people. But today, we're going to share some food hacks to boost your vagus nerve function during Thanksgiving to help you feel your best.
Did you know food poisoning and over-eating are two leading causes of ER visits over Thanksgiving? While it might not be possible to prevent food poisoning or over-eating by boosting your vagus nerve function, there are still good reasons to place an additional focus on this over the holidays.
Not only can vagus nerve stimulation boost your mood and promote your well-being, but it also plays an important role in what's known as the gut-brain axis. So, whether you're trying to deal with the added stress of the holidays or the digestive issues you might experience, there are ways to hack your vagus nerve and help you feel better. And we're going to share them in today's post!
What is the Vagus Nerve?
As always, let's begin with a recap of the vagus nerve. It's the longest cranial nerve in the body, also known as the body's "super highway." It begins near the brain, extends behind the ear, and into virtually every major system in the body. As such, it plays a powerful role in many of the body's functions.
Understanding Vagus Nerve Function
Because the vagus nerve extends to the major systems in the body, it's no surprise it plays a role in many of the body's major functions. For example, it carries signals to and from the digestive system (and other organs) to the brain.
This nerve is the sensory network that tells the brain what’s going on in our organs, most specially the digestive tract (stomach and intestines), lungs and heart, spleen, liver and kidneys, not to mention a range of other nerves that are involved in everything from talking to eye contact to facial expressions and even your ability to tune in to other people’s voices. It's made of thousands upon thousands of fibers, operating far below the level of our conscious mind. It plays a vital role in sustaining overall wellness. It is an essential part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for calming organs after the stressed “fight-or-flight” adrenaline response to danger.
Now, let's talk more about one of the specific functions of the vagus nerve: its role in digestion.
Vagus Nerve Function and Digestion
For starters, it's helpful to note two big roles the vagus nerve plays in the digestive system: smooth muscle contraction and glandular secretions. Considering how much of your digestive system relies on muscle contraction and those glandular secretions, it's no surprise optimal vagus nerve function is so important:
"The vagus nerve provides parasympathetic innervation to the majority of the abdominal organs. It sends branches to the oesophagus, stomach and most of the intestinal tract – up to the splenic flexure of the large colon. The function of the vagus nerve is to stimulate smooth muscle contraction and glandular secretions in these organs. For example, in the stomach, the vagus nerve increases the rate of gastric emptying, and stimulates acid production."
Now you can imagine the pain and discomfort that can come from low stomach acid or slow gastric emptying. In fact, low stomach acid (or hypochlorhydria) is often one of the culprits behind a number of conditions.
To name a few:
- Upset stomach and diarrhea
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Intestinal infections
- Autoimmune disorders
As for slow gastric emptying, that can come with its own set of uncomfortable symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, pain, blood sugar issues, and nutritional deficiencies.
Of course, poor vagal tone (AKA a vagus nerve that isn't functioning optimally) isn't the only cause for these conditions. However, stimulating this nerve and improving vagal tone can often be the key to alleviating these symptoms, as well as many others.
Food Hacks to Boost Vagus Nerve Function
Now, we know you're here for vagus nerve function hacks and we're about to deliver.
The Omega-3 connection
When it comes to food and the vagus nerve, we have to start by mentioning omega-3s. These fatty acids are found in food or supplements, and our bodies do not produce them naturally. Because this ingredient is so beneficial for many of the body's systems, it's important to include it in your diet. For example, omega-3s can help you fight depression and anxiety, promote brain health, improve risk factors for heart disease, fight autoimmune disorders, and much more.
Now, let's talk about omega-3s and the vagus nerve and their unique connection. Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids can increase heart rate variability (this is a positive thing) and stimulate vagus nerve function.
Keeping in mind that fish is one of the best sources for omega-3 fatty acids, consider the findings of this 2011 study:
"From the sub analyses of HRV it was suggested that a high fish consumption was associated with an enhanced vagal activity and parasympathetic predominance. Thus, this population-based study seemed to confirm that omega-3 PUFA supplementation can modulate cardiac autonomic function in a favorable way."
That's where hacking your vagus nerve function this Thanksgiving comes in! Look for any opportunities you can to increase omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Not only is this helpful during the stressful holiday season, but it's a hack that can benefit you all year long.
Here are some foods high in omega-3 acids to help inspire your Thanksgiving menu:
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
- Omega-enriched eggs
- Brussels sprouts (a common Thanksgiving side dish!)
- Fish and seafood, particularly salmon, mackerel, sardines, caviar, and anchovies
Other Vagus Nerve Hacks
Increasing omega-3 fatty acids in your diet is a great starting point if you're interested in improving vagus nerve function. But what about other hacks you can start today?
(We have an entire post on what makes the vagus nerve the #1 secret for brain hacking in this post)
There are several ways to stimulate the vagus nerve and thus improve its tone and how it functions.
- Chanting and humming
- Cold exposure (for example, cold water plunges)
- Breath practices
- Vagus nerve stimulating headphones
Did that last hack catch your eye? Let's talk more about it.
Vagus nerve stimulating headphones
If you're new to the concept, vagus nerve stimulating headphones might sound too good to be true. But ask anyone who has tried Xen by Neuvana headphones and they'll tell you it's true.
These headphones were invented by a leading cardiac surgeon and they're backed by science. Xen uses a revolutionary platform to deliver a mild electrical signal via patented earbuds, targeting a branch of the vagus nerve in the ear. The first-of-its-kind, Xen syncs vagus nerve stimulation with your music and lifestyle as it fuses into your routine. As you go about your day listening to music, sounds, or silence with your Xen by Neuvana headphones plugged in and turned on, you can begin to experience a number of benefits by improving vagus nerve function.
So, whether you're hoping to get through this holiday season with less stress and more ease, wanting to get better sleep, improve your mood, boost your tranquility, or reap any other rewards of vagus nerve stimulation—don't wait another day! Click here to shop Xen by Neuvana.
Did you learn a lot in this post?
Here are three more posts you won't want to miss next:
- Boost Your Cognitive Health With These Biohacks
- The Mind and Mental Health: How Stress Affects the Brain
- Improve Memory and Focus: Hacks for Better Studying