How the Vagus Nerve Affects Gut Health

The vagus nerve delivers a variety of signals between the digestive system and the brain. It travels from the brainstem down through the neck to the abdomen, innervating areas of the face, throat, ear, and heart, as well as the whole digestive tract. 

Additionally, the vagus nerve is considered the main part of the parasympathetic nervous system. This system drives what’s often referred to as the body’s “rest and digest” state. So, for the digestive system to work at its best, the body needs to be in a relaxed state.   

The vagus nerve affects gut health in several key ways, including:

Supports The Breakdown of Food 

The vagus nerve helps the body break down food in a few different ways. For one, it stimulates the release of saliva to break down food before it moves to the esophagus. Additionally, the vagus nerve upregulates the breakdown of solid foods before they reach the digestive tract. 

To further break down food so that it can move to the stomach from the esophagus, the vagus nerve triggers the release of digestive enzymes and bile. These substances are necessary for food to reach the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. 

Ensures Proper Nutrient Absorption

The vagus nerve ensures that food doesn’t move through the stomach too quickly. This allows the body to properly absorb nutrients from the food that you eat. 

Manages The Movement of The Intestines

Our bodies rely on the migrating motor complex, or MMC, for proper digestion. The MMC is a motility pattern that moves food through the small intestine so that it can reach the large intestine and be excreted. The vagus nerve coordinates intestine mobility and the MMC. 

Vagal tone refers to the function of the vagal nerve. Optimal vagal tone is associated with proper emotional regulation and greater overall wellbeing. However, poor vagal tone, chronic stress, anxiety, and related concerns can significantly impact the health of your gut, leading to gastrointestinal problems like bloating and constipation. 

If you’re experiencing digestive discomfort, schedule an appointment at Body Flow Wellness to learn more about our treatment offering. 


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