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Stress, sleep, digestion:the vagus nerve, a key player in our well-being

Stress, sleep, digestion:the vagus nerve, a key player in our well-being Unknown to the general public, this "miracle" nerve is the rising star in health and well-being . Learn how to pamper it to act directly on stress, inflammation, digestion, sleep and other autoimmune diseases.

We all know "vaguely" this strategic nerve, responsible for the famous vagal discomfort. Tamed for centuries by Eastern medicines, the body's first information highway, the vagus nerve (VN), is just beginning to invade the Western media scene, in particular via numerous books published across the Atlantic.

Discreet but oh so influential, the mass communication agent works in silence for the proper functioning of our autonomic nervous system. Translation:it acts decisively on our automatic functions of adaptation.

“Also called the pneumogastric nerve, it also regulates heart rate, digestion and even certain hormonal secretions,” describes Dr. Rania Ouddane. Sleep, immune system, blood sugar, mood, microbiota, detoxification of the body... Nothing escapes this Swiss army knife of medicine whose extraordinary potential captures the attention of researchers.

The pneumogastric nerve, the royal way from the brain to the viscera

This cranial nerve starts from the head and penetrates a large part of the body, crossing the soft palate, the throat, the thorax and the viscera. It connects the brain with the heart, makes the link between lungs, stomach, liver, spleen, intestines. The secret agent is also a double agent since we actually have two vagus nerves; one on the right, the other on the left. Information leaves the brain via one and returns to it via the other.

"It's a bit like a telephone exchange wired from all sides. Our brain regulates bodily functions and connects them to each other via the spinal cord, peripheral nerves and this super communication highway that is the vagus nerve (VN)" , described by Dr. Navaz Habib in the remarkable book Activate Your Vagus Nerve (Editions Thierry Souccar). Breathing, regenerating, repairing, duplicating, regulating... "It orchestrates the harmonious functioning of nearly 60 trillion cells, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week", specifies the expert. Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, epilepsy, depression... If the circulation on these two-way axes is dysfunctional, a cascade of more or less serious symptoms and pathologies can be triggered or worsen.

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The delicate harmonization of the nervous system

The autonomic nervous system manages two distinct and specific branches.

On the one hand, the sympathetic nervous system alerts us to internal stressors or external dangers. It then increases heart and respiratory rates, decreases the amplitude of breathing, diverts blood flow to the muscles of the arms and legs and away from the liver and digestive tract, dilates the pupils of the eyes. The organism is thus in the state called "fight or flight response."

Conversely, the parasympathetic nervous system allows us to relax and recover. It slows heart and respiratory rates, promotes deep and ample breathing, directs blood flow to our internal organs, which promotes rest and sleep. The injunctions of these two systems pass through the two vagus nerves.

The problem:in a situation of chronic stress or anxiety, the sympathetic system abnormally takes over, and does so continuously. Accelerated heart rate, sluggish digestion, negative emotions... Nothing is going right.

How to stimulate the vagus nerve?

To restore balance, it is necessary to ensure that the vagus nerve is stimulated in the right way:neither too much nor too little.

Electric machines - electrode stimulation - are just beginning to be used for this purpose in certain hospital departments. If it's a safe bet that one day, we will prescribe "a prescription for nerve stimulation" to regain quality vagal tone - and the state of relaxation that goes with it, there are natural techniques within everyone's reach. to upgrade the autonomic system via adequate activation of the vagus nerve.

  • Increase vagal tone through abdominal breathing

The breath is the window to our autonomic nervous system. Learning to tame it is the most effective way to influence NV. At the opposite of rapid and superficial breathing, a sign of stress, slow and deep abdominal breathing emits a sign of relaxation which activates the vagus nerve. Like great athletes, it is a question of training to keep an optimal breath, by controlling our level of stress. A slow, calm and comfortable breathing cycle improves heart rate variability (HRV).

Thus, a study has proven that by slowing our pace to six full breaths (inhale-exhale) per minute for five minutes, we increase our HRV immediately and effectively. Allowing yourself a few minutes a day to practice this magical breathing, ideally through your nose, is a major lever for improving vagal tone.

  • The powers of the great cold

Periodic exposure to cold is another effective way to cure a dysfunctional vagus nerve. A deep dive into a pool of frozen water or a cryotherapy session activates the parasympathetic nervous system over the long term. "Cryotherapy in particular forces us to regulate our breathing, which positively stimulates the vagus nerve and induces an anti-inflammatory reaction all over the body", describes Dr. Navaz Habib.

His advice:finish your shower with a jet of cold water to run over the head and neck for one minute – you can start with thirty seconds and gradually lengthen the duration, while simultaneously adopting deep abdominal breathing.

  • Activate the muscles of the pharynx

Singing or vibrating certain sounds such as the Indian "ooom" or the Christian "amen" in the back of the throat stimulates the muscles of the larynx and the vocal cords, both of which are motor fibers of the vagus nerve. These vagal impulses then affect the digestive tract and other visceral organs. Moreover, chanting these mantras long enough and powerfully slows the rate of our thoughts, controls the breath, improves digestion and lowers levels of inflammation.

Other ways to activate the pharyngeal muscles:vigorous gargling twice a day or light brushing of the tongue with a toothbrush.

  • Betting on physical activity and alternative medicine

Daily physical activity that elevates heart rate for a short duration improves vagus nerve activity. During the post-exercise recovery phase, the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems are activated in concert.

Same benefit for exposure to sunlight or intermittent fasting. Still according to Dr. Navaz Habib, a "green, clean and lean" diet and the intake of food supplements adapted to each person ensures that our cells receive the micronutrients - and therefore the neurological signals - that they need. .

Top:probiotics, omega 3 EPA and DHA, 5-http (or tryptophan, a precursor of serotonin). In addition to these regular actions, it is possible to stimulate the vagus nerve through so-called "passive" treatments such as auriculotherapy, therapeutic massages, reflexology or even visceral mobilization (manipulation by osteopaths, naturopaths and other health professionals). alternative health).

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