The Vagus Nerve and Gut-Brain Connection (+Interesting Facts about the Gut)

  Reviewed

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 by Dr. Steve Hruby, D.C.
Reviewed by Dr. Steve Hruby, D.C.

SuperHumans are the toughest, fittest, healthiest and happiest human beings on this planet. My mission is to help you realize your superhuman potential and learn how to live a long, happy and healthy life.

  Fact Checked
 by Rhealyn Tropia, RMT
Reviewed by Rhealyn Tropia, RMT

I’m a content organizer, fact-checker and super mom who ensures content is medically-reviewed, highly accurate, and engaging. My passion is organizing information and ensuring the facts are presented in a manner that is interesting and easy to understand.

vagus nerve gut-brain connection

Have you ever wondered why your stomach churns whenever you feel anxious or afraid? Plus, where does the “butterflies” feeling come from? This complicated connection of moods and physical feelings validate the simple notion; our brain and our guts are connected!

Every part of your body is linked to the brain through a nerve pathway. This highway of connection allows the brain to send and receive information across your entire body.

Being one of the largest nerves in the body, the vagus nerve connects the brain to the gut through what scientists call the “gut-brain axis”. This is the very connection that branches our brains to our guts. Whatever is inside our gut could potentially influence our emotions and affect our brain, so it’s important to feed our hunger and our minds accordingly.

Every meal, drink, and supplement that we consume impacts our health and overall well-being. A healthy vagus nerve gut-brain connection is a vital indicator of a long and stable life. 

How Are the Gut and the Brain Connected?

The gut-brain axis consists of multiple systems that allow bi-directional communication between the gut and the brain. It includes not only the vagus nerve but also the neurotransmitters, hormones, immune system, and microorganisms or microbiota found in the gut. This is why the vagus nerve gut-brain connection is so important. 

The vagus nerve begins in the lower part of the brain and extends from the chest to the abdomen. It communicates to your brain about the status of your internal organs. Is everything functioning correctly? Your vagus nerve knows the answer.

Neurotransmitters

Neurotransmitters, also known as chemical messengers, include serotonin, dopamine, and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric-acid). These chemicals assist the brain and the gut to coordinate messages.

The majority of serotonin and almost 50 percent of dopamine in our body are produced by the microbiota in the gut. The neurotransmitters and their functions are as follows:

  • Serotonin – allows us to experience the feeling of happiness and controls our appetite, sleep, and feeling of well-being.
  • Dopamine – makes us feel satisfied and motivated.
  • GABA – reduces our level of stress and anxiety. 
three friends jumping happily

Included in the brain-and-gut connection through the vagus nerve is the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA). The HPA’s main responsibility is to release hormones produced in the hypothalamus, pituitary gland (brain), and the adrenal gland (kidneys).

Hormones

Similar to neurotransmitters, hormones also act as chemical messengers helping the brain and gut communicate efficiently.  Cortisol and adrenaline are two types of hormones that are released internally to help us cope with stress.

The microbiota in the gut has been observed to affect the activities of these hormones, therefore reflecting that our gut plays a big part in how we respond to stressful stimuli. Recent studies have found that the vast array of microorganisms in our gut affect how nutrients are digested and absorbed, as well as how our immune system develops and functions.

Gut microorganisms have been shown to regulate the immune cells in the gut as well as in the brain. Gut microbiota is very active when the brain is inflamed, such as during an injury. Scientists are currently investigating how probiotics and other good bacteria in the gut can be used to help treat psychiatric disorders and enhance brain development.

The Vagus Nerve and the Nervous System

Role and Functions of the Vagus Nerve

The vagus nerve is responsible for a majority of our body’s functionality. It originates at the lower part of the brain and stretches to the neck, to regulate swallowing and speech; then to the chest, to regulate our heart and respiratory rate; and down to the gut to control digestion.

Relationship Between the Gut and Nervous System

The vagus nerve provides extensive information about the state of our internal organs, via the gut-brain axis. This system flows similarly to a checks and balances routine. The brain checks the gut activity to better understand how to police the gut microorganisms inhabiting it.

happy woman raising her both hands

It goes both ways. Whatever happens in the gut also affects how we feel, think, and understand information. Our body’s communication is a two-way, nerve-filled street.

The vagus nerve takes information about food absorption, storage, and energy consumption to let the brain know what nutrients our body is lacking. Then, the brain picks up all this information and helps us control what food intake we choose next.

Importance of the Mental Health

Still, that’s not all this nervous powerhouse does for us. The vagus nerve helps our brain regulate our emotions. It does so by interacting with gut-based neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, to influence our feelings. It can prompt happiness, pleasure, satisfaction, and more.

Scientists are now studying how hormones, neurotransmitters, and stimulation of the vagus nerve could help treat disorders such as depression and anxiety. Wouldn’t that be an incredible medical advancement?

Your Gut and Stress

The HPA axis consists of a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland found at the base of the brain, and the adrenal gland located atop the kidneys. These parts regulate hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, that are key factors for stress response.

Stress Hormones

The two main stress hormones are: 

1. Cortisol – also called the “stress hormone” is released to slow down non-essential functions during stressful situations such as slowing digestion and redirecting the blood flow to our muscles to prepare us for the fight or flight response.

stress student biting a pencil

2. Adrenaline – also called epinephrine, is triggered during stress to boost functionality. It increases the heart rate and respiratory rate as well as blood flow to the muscles.

Pain Response

When you are in pain for an extended period of time, you are considered to be under “prolonged stress” or “chronic stress”. This means that your body is always on high alert and is constantly producing and releasing cortisol and adrenaline resulting in the following:

  • Increased blood sugar levels.
  • Decreased level of insulin (responsible for the removal of excess sugar) 
  • Increased fat 
  • The increased appetite (an innate response to possible famine)

The microbiota sends and receives signals to the brain through the vagus nerve and the HPA axis. This, in turn, regulates the release of hormones and neurotransmitters that affect our emotions and how we deal with stress. Keeping your gut happy, means keeping your stress levels low.

How to Support Vagus Nerve Function

Poor vagus nerve function has been linked to anxiety, depression, and insomnia1. Other health complications, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, have also been linked to poor functionality of the gut-brain axis.

Since the gut-brain connection through the vagus nerve is the bridge that allows the gut and the brain to communicate, it is essential to maintain its health. Here are a few surefire ways to keep your vagus nerve healthier than ever: 

1. Taking Probiotics and Prebiotics 

Probiotics are live microorganisms that, in proper amounts, provide a lot of health benefits and are considered “good bacteria”. Whereas, prebiotics are special fibers that serve as food for the good bacteria in the gut.

Digesting foods that lead to a healthier gut and taking gut health supplements rich in probiotics and prebiotics help keep the microbiota in our gut healthy, which in turn, helps support the gut-brain axis as a whole. Data has proven that specific probiotic strains can help individuals manage stress and symptoms of anxiety and depression.

2. Singing

The vagus nerve has fibers that send signals to the muscles of the neck and tongue. Singing and vocalization increase the activity and directly stimulate the vagus nerve which helps maintain its tone. 

woman singing a microphone

3. Meditation

 Vagus nerve activation is needed to regulate breathing and heart rate. Meditation incorporates breathing exercises that could help lower rapid breathing, reduce heart rate, and lessen the cortisol level in the blood.

4. Craniosacral Therapy

Craniosacral therapy uses light touch to promote the movement of fluids in the brain, lessening the tension and improving overall well-being. It directly stimulates the cranial nerves, like the vagus nerve, that regulates the fight or flight body response. Additional effects include a pain decrease, and stress reduction.

5. Chiropractic Yoga

Yoga and chiropractic are both excellent ways to increase the support you give your vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that provides sensory and motor functions for the heart, lungs, stomach, and intestines. It also stimulates salivation and sweating.

The vagus nerve helps regulate the heart rate, breathing, digestion, speech production (including swallowing), and other functions of the upper body. It works with other nerves to control your heartbeat and breathing rate and rhythm.

Yoga is a physical practice that combines controlled breathing with poses or postures that stretch muscles to improve flexibility and balance. Yoga can help keep your body healthy by increasing circulation to all parts of your body while improving muscle tone in key areas like your core or abdomen.

Chiropractors use manual adjustments on joints of the spine to relieve pressure on nerves that control functions in other parts of the body such as digestion or respiration. 

This can help improve symptoms related to anxiety or depression by reducing stress on those nerves which can improve communication between brain regions involved in controlling emotions such as fearfulness or sadness.”

6. Breathing

Doing breathing exercises increases the support to the vagus nerve function, which is associated with the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for regulating heart rate, digestion, and other involuntary actions in the body.

breathing exercise

When you breathe deeply, it’s because your body is trying to increase oxygen and decrease carbon dioxide levels in your blood. This is why taking deep breaths can help you calm down when you’re feeling anxious or stressed out.

When you breathe deeply, you’re sending signals to your parasympathetic nervous system to relax—which is exactly what we want when we’re stressed out. This means that breathing exercises are great for reducing stress-related health issues like hypertension (high blood pressure), tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), and insomnia.

Foods That Can Help the Gut-Brain Connection

Gut problems have been linked to various mental health problems including depression and anxiety. Many of these individuals also experience indigestion, heartburn, and acid reflux. 

Having a nutritious meal like mushrooms for digestive health and well-balanced diet helps keep our gut healthy which could, in turn, manage symptoms. Here are some foods that can help nourish that gut brain connection, including the vagus nerve:

1.    High-fiber Foods

Beans, whole grains, apples, berries, and nuts are examples of fiber-rich foods. Eating foods with high fiber content increases the number of good bacteria in the gut. This assists with bowel movements, your immune system, and overall health.

2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are components that the body is unable to produce organically.

DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid, enriches the diversity of the gut’s microbiota. A diverse microbiota pays off by lowering inflammation and decreasing the risk of obesity. 

3. Fermented Foods

Kimchi, yogurt, sourdoughs, pickles, and kefir are naturally rich in probiotics. Hello gut-bacteria variety! Fermented food is directly linked to overall immunity upcycling, and decreased inflammation.

4. Tryptophan-rich Foods

Tryptophan is an amino acid that produces niacin; vital for the production of serotonin. It can be found in chicken meat, eggs, cheese, tofu, soy, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds. The right amount of tryptophan in the body improves quality of sleep, minimizes depression and anxiety, and enhances well-being.

bowl of eggs

5. Supplements Similar to Optima

We’re all human, and sometimes we crave processed snack foods. Relax, it’s normal. If you cheat on your health goals, make sure to help your body out with a supplement or two. Optima is a good choice. 

It consists of billions of probiotics and ingredients that keep the gut healthy. Studies have shown that probiotics lead to a healthier gut. Taking supplements with probiotics could: 

  • improve the immune system
  • lower stress levels
  • prevent indigestion and constipation
  • assist in weight loss and waste elimination

In Summary

Because of its connection to the brain, the gut is often referred to as humankind’s “second brain.” It’s rightfully so since it affects so many functions in the body.

From the regulation of emotions and moods to immunity and brain communication, the gut-brain connection works diligently. The common link to negative mental health, anxiety and depression can be traced back to the gut’s health. 

Do you see how important it is to stay on top of our gut-brain balance? Keeping a healthy gut through a balanced diet leads to better overall well-being, stronger immunity, and lowered risk for chronic stress. Who doesn’t want, or deserve better health?

Stay on top of your good days and bad days with a health-packed supplement like Optima. It delivers all the digestive enzymes, ingredients, and physical boost your body needs.

Not to mention, 25 billion probiotics are ready for standby to keep your gut feeling its best. Six different strands of probiotics ensure your gut has a variety of bacteria to produce optimal physical results. 

Let’s review!

Cleanse your gut? Check. 

Support gut microbiota? Check.

Promotes healthy gut-brain connection, leading to more energy and less fatigue? Check. 

It even improves your stamina and your mood. Worth a shot, wouldn’t you say?

Use Optima by Superhmn and begin your journey to a healthier gut and a happier life.

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