vagus nerve

Vagus Nerve Activation with Dr. Navaz Habib

In this episode of The Functional Medicine Radio Show, Dr. Carri’s special guest Dr. Navaz Habib explains the importance of the vagus nerve to our overall health.

Dr. Habib’s book “Activate Your Vagus Nerve” is a simple to follow guide to help you identify and address a major missing piece in patients dealing with chronic health concerns.  By activating the Vagus nerve, we can optimize our productivity, focus and energy levels, allowing us to feel the positive effects of upgraded health.

Main Questions Asked about the Vagus Nerve:

  • What is the vagus nerve and why is it so important?
  • How do we know if our vagus nerve is working properly or not?
  • Are there specific signs to look for? Are there tests?
  • What about treatment? How do we fix this?
  • Are there exercises to help rehabilitate the vagus nerve?
  • What else do we need to know about the vagus nerve?

Key Points made by Dr. Habib about the Vagus Nerve:

  • The vagus nerve is one of the most important nerves in our body. This nerve is the only one that leaves from the cranium, which is where our brain is located, and goes to the other organs.
  • It goes to many different organs in our body; essentially, you name the organ and the vagus nerve goes to and innervates that organ.
  • The vagus nerve not only sends information to the organs from the brain, but also from the organs back to the brain.
  • Most of us have heard of the brain gut connection and the physical connection is the vagus nerve. It is the fastest and clearest direct path between the brain and the gut.
  • An easy way to check if the gut brain connection is working, and that the vagus nerve can transfer the information between the gut and the brain, is to see if our gut is working the way it should be.
  • Digestive dysfunction is one of the most important, most common signs of vagus nerve dysfunction that we see.
  • There is one test that I feel is a great way for anyone to just check to see how well their gut is functioning. It’s called the sesame seed bowel transit time test.  Pick up a small bag of white sesame seeds, put a spoonful of these in a glass of water and drink it down, without chewing the seeds.  Our body cannot digest the covering so they will show up in the stool.  What we are looking for is the time it takes to see the first seeds in our stool and then when we see the last seeds to come out in our stool.
  • Anywhere between 12 and 24 hours is good. Anything more or less than that is a sign that our vagus nerve isn’t working properly.
  • There are other signs, as well. The vagus nerve has four different functions.  One being a parasympathetic function, which is our rest and digest function – so one thing I look for is how well people handle stress.  Inability to handle stress and/or recover from a stressful event means that their bodies are not very well adapted.
  • 15% of the information passing through the autonomic nervous system (which is the system that controls all the things we don’t think about, g., digestion, heartbeat and breathing) is parasympathetic. If these things don’t function well and don’t allow for recovery, it means the vagus is not working well.
  • This is where a lot of issues with inflammation occur. If we’re not able to control our levels of inflammation, it’s because our vagus is not able to do its job.
  • We have a system called the blood brain barrier, which is supposed to keep inflammatory products, viruses, , out of the brain; but the vagus is a direct bypass.
  • If we start to have leakiness in the gut because our function is compromised, it’s easy for the inflammation to get through the gut blood barrier into the vagus nerve and bypass the blood brain barrier leading to the brain fogginess incidents where you are dealing with memory loss, walking into a room and forgetting why, and forgetting where you parked the car, for example.
  • This is a direct sign of inflammatory processes in the brain, especially when one had a good memory before.
  • Thus treating the gut issues are not always enough to resolve issues.
  • Travel is one of one of those things where our body is put under a lot of stress and that stress can be because we’re crossing time zones, for example, and our body is don’t know what time it is, and so we throw off our melatonin responses and our hormones get thrown off. And in doing so, when we change our schedules, our bodies don’t know whether they’re in a state of being awake or going to sleep. The vagus nerve does a lot of its work is during that sleep time to help the recovery of the stressors that have occurred throughout the day.
  • What happens then, is the inflammatory processes are up-regulated, thus putting our bodies under higher stress, our parasympathetic system is down-regulated meaning we’re not able to control inflammation or digestive function, leading to all the symptoms people have when they travel or have a stressful event in their life.
  • I said earlier that there were four specific functions to the vagus nerve. Parasympathetic being one of them, afferent, which is where the information being brought from all the organs to the brain. That is our second function. Our third function is motor function, and that motor function is to signal the muscles of the back of the throat and the muscles of the larynx to do their job.
  • Vagus nerve function allows us to have pitch variability in our voice; and regulates our gag reflex. An inability to swallow pills is strongly associated with the latter.
  • There a few things we can do and several tools we can use, based on the four functions of the vagus, to regulate the problem. The number one thing to do is to learn how to breath properly again.  What we need to do is get into a good posture and get our chest raised forward, make sure that our head is aligned, that our ears are aligned without shoulders, and learn to breathe using our diaphragm – using that balloon filling feeling of our gut and actually have the rise and fall of our gut occurring.
  • Motion of the diaphragm allows not only for positive movement in the lungs, but in the digestive organs as well. So, the breath is where I have most people begin.
  • When we talked of motor function, I talked of the muscles of the back of the throat, the larynx and pharynx – this is where we train our gag reflex and train our humming and chanting and vocal cord muscles.
  • To help stimulate these muscles, I’ll have my patients activate their gag reflex. I’ll also get them to gargle with salt water, which can have a great effect on breaking up the bacterial biofilm that likes to sit at the back of our throats.
  • I also like to have patients do some humming or chanting to get them into a calm state, especially before meals. It’s a great way to stimulate vagus function,
  • There are some other ways to test vagus nerve function that do cost, for example, heart rate variability. Our heart rate varies depending upon the level of stress we’re experiencing.  The parasympathetic system (vagus) calms heart rate.  The heart rate will tell us whether we are in a state of sympathetic (running from that saber-toothed tiger) or parasympathetic (relaxing on the beach).  The lower

Resources Mentioned for the Vagus Nerve:

Book – Activate Your Vagus Nerve

Dr. Habib’s website

Dr. Habib’s book website

Book – Reclaim Your Energy and Feel Normal Again

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