The link between your vagus nerve, gut health, mental wellbeing...and 'poop doping'

The Vagus Nerve is one of the most talked about discoveries in the human body over the last few years due to its ability to influence so many areas of human health.

The nerve originates in our brain stem and flows down to most of our vital organs, helping to regulate most of our autonomic functions (sub conscious activities like digestion).

One of the main reasons the VN has been talked about so much is because of the role it plays in controlling inflammation. It is actually the bodies major inflammatory control system, and its influence far reaching into health and disease. As the VN is connected to our organs, it plays a crucial link between our gut and our brain which is vital for our mental health as we will explain later.

 

Inflammation

The reason our bodies create inflammation is to keep us safe from bacterial and viral invaders or anything that should not enter the body. When someone develops chronic inflammation it can lead to a number of autoimmune diseases and other issues.

Examples:

  • Alzheimers
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Chrones disease
  • Heart and cardiovascular disease

Mood

It is not well known that our mood is largely affected by our gut health! There are many serotonin receptors located in the gut. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that influences our feeling of well being and happiness as well as regulating a number of other vital areas.

You may think that gut health cant play a large role in affecting our mental health but when you consider the fact that actually about 95% of our serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, which is lined with a hundred million nerve cells, or neurons, it makes sense that the inner workings of your digestive system don’t just help you digest food, but also guide our emotions.

The VN is the direct link between the brain and the gut microbiome, making it the single most important communication pathway regarding digestion, nutrient status and the ever changing population of bacteria, viruses, yeast, parasites and worms that live within the digestive tracts.

- When someone says that they have a gut feeling, that is due to the Vagus nerve.

 So if we can keep our gut healthy by getting the right bacteria, and creating the perfect conditions then our Vagus nerve should be able to operate to it optimum level.

Which foods should we or shouldn’t we eat?

A diet high in refined sugars and processed foods is harmful to the brain. In addition to worsening your body’s regulation of insulin, they also promote inflammation and oxidative stress. Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.

Fortunately, the expanding field of nutritional psychiatry is finding there are many consequences and correlations between what you eat, how you feel, and how you ultimately behave, but also the kinds of bacteria that live in your gut.

There are many different studies going on in relation to gut health currently, and there are predictions that gut health supplement industry is expected to grow to £48 bn by 2023. One study using prebiotics, which are actually complex carbohydrates that humans are not able to digest, but are what the pro biotic bacteria actually flourish on, showed that people were more likely to focus on something positive than negative if they had a choice between the two when taking a pre biotic supplement.

Another study showed that using prebiotics could help with sleep. At the start of the trial, Mosley spent 21% of his time in bed awake – by the end that had shrunk to 8%. Of all the strategies Mosley tested to treat his insomnia, he found prebiotics the most effective. Shortly after this, Bimuno (the prebiotic supplement used in the study) promptly sold out.

So this isn’t just another fad. However we should be able to get most of what we need from a balanced and varied diet.

Good foods for gut health:

  • Asparagus
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • Lentils

Here’s where it gets a bit weird…

Many athletes will do anything to improve their performance and one lady believed so strongly that the bacteria found in the faeces of professional cyclists would aid her own performance that she doped herself with some of the donated faeces, hence the name ‘poop doping’.

Even though she couldn’t prove it, she said it improved her own performance on the bike drastically, however we would not recommend trying this at home, or at all for that matter as your faeces is home to more bacteria than there are people on his planet and a lot of it will be bad bacteria. Plus it’s also a bit weird and you may loose a few friends.

Applying what we have learned about the vagal nerve

Some individuals who suffer from depression may undergo vagal nerve stimulation in which the nerve is stimulated at regular intervals using electricity from a device similar to a pacemaker.

An international team of researchers from Amsterdam and the United States conducted a clinical trial, which demonstrates that stimulating the Vagus nerve with a small implanted device significantly reduced inflammation and improved outcomes for patients with rheumatoid arthritis by inhibiting cytokine production which are known to cause inflammation and if not properly regulated, can lead to autoimmune diseases.

For a lot of people, knowing that we have an area to target to improve our health and mood will be a huge boost. Knowing there is an area we can target through different exercises to improve our general well-being is great, not only that, if someone is experiencing a moment of intense stress, they can target the VN to produce feelings of relaxation.

If our Vagus nerve is functioning as well as it should be, then we can actually do a few things to help, one that wasn't mentioned earlier is looking at how you are breathing.

Breathing techniques - try breathing in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold for 2 and breathe out through pursed lips for 8 seconds. repeat this for 5 minutes and see how you feel. Tip - focus on the feeling of the belly rising and falling.

 

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