I know how frustrating it is to feel like you’re doing all of the ‘right’ things such as following a gluten free + dairy free/paleo/gluten-free/anti-inflammatory diet of sorts, have ruled out or are treating gut bugs, you’re taking probiotics, prebiotics, l-glutamine, digestive enzymes, bone broth, gut-healing powders and specific gut- nutrients, but you’re still suffering from gut issues or hormone imbalances, andhaven’t noticed a drastic improvement in your mental health and overall well-being.
Just taking digestive enzymes and gut-healing nutrients will not resolve the spectrum of underlying causes unless you address the brain-gut dysfunction – our brain is what makes us produce digestive enzymes in the first place and directs blood flow to the gut!
One of the key things that would highlight an issue, with the functioning of your vagus nerve is if you have issues with gut motility – i.e. if you have constipation, have to drink coffee to have a bowel movement, rely on magnesium or laxatives for bowel movements, if you have chronic & unresolved bloating…
If there is no gut motility or production of digestive enzymes due to dysfunction in the brain, this is what will cause intestinal hyperpermeability (“leaky gut”) and then a range of downstream effects that drive chronic inflammation and an overactive immune system that can develop into an autoimmune condition, so we may need to take a step back and approach chronic gut conditions from the brain down! This can’t be done with a supplement – sure, they may help relieve symptoms, but it will not ultimately treat the underlying cause. In this case, we must develop plasticity and new neural connections so that:
Neurons fire into each other which causes the brain firing to the vagus nerve then the vagus nerve fires into the gut nervous system causing the migrating motor complex to function properly (which means gut motility will be functioning optimally).
So let’s get down to some of the key tools for firing up your vagus nerve and working from the brain down to ensure we are preventing and properly treating gut, mental health, autoimmune and neuro-degeneration!
Here are some of my favorite tips, a lot of which Dr. Datis Kharrazian has spoken frequently about:
- Gargling –Take water, put it into the back of your throat and gargle to the point of tearing up. You must really work it out and gargle aggressively enough so that it makes your eyes tear, since the vagus is right next to an area called the superior salivatory nucleus, which causes you to tear. If this area of the brain isn’t functioning well, you may have a hard time gargling, only being able to gargle for 3 or 4 second before having to spit it out. Build it up over time until you can do it for several minutes and you’re tearing consistently. This is how you activate it! Make this a daily routine.
- Inducing Your Gag Reflex –Buy a box of tongue blades and use one to push down on the back of your tongue until you gag, which will make your eyes start to tear. Doing this activates the pathway, developing neural connections and getting plasticity going. Just be careful not to push it on the back of your throat which could cause injury.
- Coffee Enemas– NOT for ‘detox’ reasons, this tool is useful due to the caffeine which stimulates gastrointestinal nicotinic cholinergic receptors, which makes the gut move along. The key here is to get enough coffee so that you have to force yourself to actually suppress the urge to have a bowel movement – lay on your side and do the enema, and when you have an urge to have a bowel movement hang out there as long as you can, suppressing the urge.
Some other techniques you can use to ensure you’re promoting your parasympathetic, “rest & digest” nervous system, is to ensure optimal digestion & adequate blood flow to your digestive organs:
- Deep breathing
- Yoga & Meditation
- Massages (yes please)
- Mindful Eating (chewing slowly)
It might not seem like a typical ‘prescription,’ but please focus on incorporating these vagus nerve stimulating techniques if you have unresolved gut, autoimmune and mental health conditions (which may be overlapping), to ensure the brain-gut axis is working both ways. Continually doing these can build endurance and start to retrain your brain-gut axis!