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November 04, 2021 6 min read

Chances are, the vagus nerve and digestion are two things you don't often think of in connection with one another. But what if we told you they do connect in a few ways? Further, that these connections could result in digestive improvements and a number of other benefits!

What is the Vagus Nerve?

It's true, the vagus nerve and digestion are connected and in today's post, we'll tell you how. We'll also tell you how these connections work, and what it can mean for you.

First, let's start with a recap of the vagus nerve. As the longest cranial nerve in the body, it "wanders" through virtually every system in the body. As such, it gets its name from the Latin word for wandering. The nerve begins at the brain, travels behind the ear, and then extends to just about every system in your body.

But what exactly is its function?

For starters, it controls the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Unlike the "fight or flight" response that kicks in as a result of sympathetic nervous system function, the PNS is responsible for what's known as the "rest and digest" response.

As we explain in this post:

"It tells your body it's okay to slow down, to take deep breaths, and to relax. This response allows your cortisol levels to fall. It tells your body to conserve energy, to slow the heart rate, and to increase intestinal and gland activity. It even relaxes the sphincter muscles in the gastrointestinal tract.

Essentially, all of your body's functions that require the most energy and effort are slowed or stopped when the parasympathetic system kicks in. You can finally "rest and digest."

Now, as for the vagus nerve and digestion? Consider for a moment what we said about the muscles in the gastrointestinal tract, for starters! This gives you a glimpse into how this nerve and your digestive system connect, but let's explore these connections in greater detail now.

The Vagus Nerve and Digestion: How Are They Connected?

The vagus nerve plays a big role in the speed of digestion. At the same time, it transmits signals from your gut to your brain.

As such, it might come as no surprise that stimulating the vagus nerve can help with a number of digestion-related illnesses, including inflammatory bowel disease. More on that in a moment, but first, let's consider the specific tasks the vagus nerve controls in relation to digestion.

Stomach

The vagus nerve tells the stomach to churn the food within it, as well as to produce stomach acid that's necessary for digesting that food and a number of other things. That's why a damaged or under-active vagus nerve often results in low stomach acid levels and low enzyme production. In turn, this means digestion is ineffective.

At the same time, your stomach needs adequate acid levels to defend against bacteria, viruses, and even parasites.

Liver

Next, let's look at the liver in relation to the vagus nerve and digestion. A properly functioning vagus nerve tells your liver to function as it is meant to. This includes producing bile that is then transported to your gallbladder, and next to the small intestine where it helps digest fat.

Another important function of the liver your vagus nerve promotes is glucose production which is necessary for maintaining your blood sugar levels. Of course, the liver (and in turn, the vagus nerve) is also responsible for processing toxins in the body.

Pancreas

Your pancreas is an incredibly important part of the digestive system. It's responsible for producing the enzymes (including protease, amylase, and lipase) your body needs to digest protein, carbs, and fat. The pancreas also plays a critical role in balancing your blood sugar by producing insulin and glucagon.

Intestines

And of course, we can't talk about the vagus nerve and digestion without mentioning your intestines! Both the large and small intestine are controlled by the vagus nerve. For example, the vagus nerve tells your intestine muscle to work to push food and waste through your digestive system. It's also where the pathway known as the gut microbiome is located. This takes us right back to that connection between the vagus nerve and the gut!

We talk more about what's known as the Gut-Brain Axis in this post, including how, "Your digestive system and brain are essentially connected physically and chemically in your body. Inside of your gut, you have microbiota, which is a community of about 1,000 types of bacteria. Some of the bacteria are healthy and help us fight disease and improve your gut health, while other bacteria can be harmful, fostering disease and unhealthy cravings."

The Vagus Nerve and Digestion Issues

Now that you know more about the vagus nerve and how it controls the digestive response and organs, it will come as no surprise that there are several digestive conditions associated with poor vagal tone or function.

To name a few:

  • Acid reflux, heartburn, or GERD
  • IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (primarily ulcerative colitis or Crohn's)
  • Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)

But it isn't only digestive issues that are associated with poor vagal tone. Notably, a heightened stress response as a result of poor vagal function is often seen. This results in a number of mental health challenges, including depression and anxiety. It can also result in other challenges, including trouble sleeping, food sensitivities, brain fog, irritability, and more.

Now, we know what your next question is: if improving the tone and strength of the vagus nerve could be the key to improving digestion, how do I experience this for myself?

This is where vagus nerve stimulation comes in!

What is Vagus Nerve Stimulation

We've already covered what the vagus nerve is, but now let's talk about stimulating it, AKA: vagus nerve stimulation or VNS. By stimulating the nerve, it helps improve its tone and function. Then, many of the symptoms and conditions associated with poor vagal tone could improve as a result.

What's incredibly interesting about this nerve is that there are ways to stimulate it yourself. In some cases, this requires the surgical implantation of a device behind the ear. This is a common option for patients with epilepsy, for example.

But what about for people who want to try vagus nerve stimulation for digestive issues, improving their mood, or boosting their well-being in general? Luckily, there are far less invasive ways to do so—no surgery required. In fact, a number of methods for VNS have been used for centuries.

Each of these practices (in addition to other benefits) can help improve vagal tone and function:

  • Cold water exposure
  • Meditation
  • Chanting and humming
  • Breath practices (we share calming breath practices for stressful situations in this post)

These are all wonderful options that can improve the lives, health, and well-being of the people who use them. The problem is, it isn't always possible to practice yoga in the middle of the day or take a cold water plunge. And that's where vagus nerve stimulating headphones come in!

Xen by Neuvana

Xen by Neuvana is a revolutionary handheld device that connects to your smartphone. Then, you simply place the vagus nerve stimulating headphones into your ears, turn on the machine, and begin to experience the effects of VNS for yourself. These effects include feeling alert, centered, and energized as waveforms send pockets of energy to your vagus nerve.

The first-of-its-kind, Xen syncs VNS with your music and lifestyle. It fuses into your routine, improving balance and relief while commuting, working, watching TV, or hanging with pals. No cold water plunges necessary! This product was made to be convenient, so you can relax without the strain.

But it isn't only relaxation you can expect.

As we've highlighted in this post, other benefits can include managing digestive disorders and their symptoms. At the same time, VNS can help improve your sleep, increase your HRV, boost your mood, and much more.

Don't wait another day! Explore the power of vagus nerve stimulation for improving digestion and much more by learning more right here.

Did you learn a lot about the vagus nerve and digestion in this post?

Here are three more posts to read next: