The Gut-Brain Axis: How Gut Health Relates to Anxiety
Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach or had a “gut feeling” about something? That feeling is your vagal tone, which is the signal that your gut and brain use to communicate with one another. The higher your vagal tone, the more quickly and effectively your body can calm down after a stressful event.
Your vagal tone, or your “gut instinct”, is the reason why your digestive system is so sensitive to your emotions. This connection is called the gut-brain axis and is controlled by neurons in your nervous system that sends signals between your brain and your gut.
When your mouth waters when you think about your favorite foods, or you have an upset stomach leading up to a big event, those are communication signals within your gut-brain axis that are sent through a cranial nerve called the vagus nerve.
Today we’ll talk about what the vagus nerve is, how it relates to anxiety, and how you can improve your vagal tone to make it easier for your body to adapt to stress.
What Is the Vagus Nerve?
Your nervous system is made up of two parts: the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. Your central nervous system includes your brain and spinal cord, while your peripheral nervous system is made up of several nerves that extend out from the central nervous system throughout your body.
Your peripheral nervous system is also divided into two parts: the somatic nervous system, which is responsible for voluntary movements, such as typing or playing an instrument, and the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary movements, such as your heart rate and breathing.
Your vagus nerve plays an integral role in regulating your mood, your speech, regulating your heart rate, and digesting your food. By paying attention to your vagal tone, you’ll have a better understanding of how well your vagus nerve is working. Let’s talk about how your vagus nerve affects your mood and can help your body regulate your anxiety levels.
How the Vagus Nerve Helps With Anxiety
Your vagus nerve is responsible for counterbalancing your body’s fight-or-flight response. When you are faced with a dangerous or stressful situation, your brain sends a signal to your adrenal glands to release cortisol. When your cortisol levels get too high, your vagus nerve sends a signal to your brain to release feel-good hormones, including serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine, to help balance out your stress response.
When you experience chronic stress, your body remains on high alert for extended periods of time due to high levels of adrenaline running through your system. Eventually, this wears your body down and can lead to a variety of health issues, including anxiety disorders, mood swings, chronic pain, and inflammation. To combat this and help your body adapt more efficiently to stressful situations, it’s important to increase your vagal tone so your body can relax more easily after experiencing stress.
How to Increase Your Vagal Tone
As you age, your vagus nerve becomes less effective in sending signals between your gut and your brain. This means that your body has a difficult time regulating itself after stressful experiences. To combat this, there are ways that you can increase your vagal tone and improve the communications along your gut-brain axis. Luckily, there are several natural and practical ways to stimulate your vagus nerve, including:
- Gargling water
- Breathing exercises
Additionally, it’s important to fuel your body with a nutrient-dense diet that is rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean protein. Since your vagus nerve plays such an important role in your physical and mental health, it’s important to take good care of it so that your body can handle stress more effectively.
If you are experiencing symptoms such as brain fog, digestive issues, or irregular heartbeats, these could be indicators that your vagal tone may be weak. Stimulating your vagus nerve regularly will help strengthen the signals between your gut and your brain.
In addition to a balanced diet and vagus nerve stimulation, you can also improve your vagal tone by optimizing your intake of vitamins and nutrients. At Five Journeys, we offer IV vitamin therapy that is designed to combat anxiety using a special blend of Vitamin C, B-complex, Magnesium Chloride, Vitamin B12, and Zinc Sulfate.
To give your body the tools it needs to combat stress and anxiety, call our team at Five Journeys in Boston today!