Toning The Vagus Nerve For Ultimate Gut Health: Part Three

Toning The Vagus Nerve For Ultimate Gut Health: Part Three


In part one of Gut Health, I briefly outlined the digestive tract and the importance of
digestive tract health. When our digestive tract is functioning optimally, we thrive. Our
food gets pulled apart into all of the individual nutrients so these nutrients can be carried
to the body cells to build our vital health. I shared methods of supporting eating hygiene
and the importance of chewing well for gut health and making nutrients available to the

Part two of Gut Health suggests methods for decreasing inflammation in the gut,
decreasing whole-body immune response and inflammation, and ways to heal and seal
our very important gut lining tissue.

Here in part three, I will share a simple explanation of stress on the digestive tract and
gut lining with ways to calm stress and tone the vagus nerve to support gut healing.

In my final support, I will bring in some information on probiotics, discussing both
encapsulated probiotics and fermented food options.

I invite you to make a fist. Clench it hard and pay attention to how that feels: tight, rigid,
unmoving. When we are in stress mode, sympathetic nervous system dominance, our
digestive tract becomes tense and clenched (our whole body does) and our stress
response basically slows and shuts down digestion. When we are in stress mode and
need to be able to fight or flee (fight or flight mode), an actively functioning digestive
tract is not needed. In fact, if energy is used towards digestion, less energy is available
to work those big muscles to run away or to stay and fight.

Think of how often we rush through meals:

  • Standing at the counter to eat quickly while we get other things ‘done’
  • Rushing out the door with a smoothie that we can slug down in the car without much thought as we make our way to work or the next destination
  • Moving around the house with our food in hand because we are trying hard to get 6 things accomplished at once

Stress And The Vagus Nerve

Being aware of what stresses us, and when stress is actually happening at the moment,
is a starting point to relieving stress in our lives. Building this “awareness” muscle is a
huge step towards healing unhealthy patterns and changing neural pathways of thinking
and reacting. By creating this awareness, we can stop the trigger reaction (knee jerk
reaction), and choose to take healthy action to handle the current situation.

Basically, we can take an active stance to not allow the situations or triggers to actually
send us into a full-blown stress response. Stop, deep breathe, and choose to act in a way that relieves the situation and does not exacerbate it. Stress response, awareness,
and the creation of active choices vs. emotional reactivity could be a very long post by
itself. When we create conscious awareness in our lives and chose ways to calm stress
reactions into constructive action instead, we build new neural pathways of being and
help to tone our vagus nerve.

I often refer people to this New York Magazine article, I Now Suspect the Vagus Nerve
Is the Key to Well-being
, and I invite them to include vagus nerve toning lifestyle
habits. If you cannot read this vagus nerve article on the NY website because you
have used up all your non-subscriber reading for the month, the article is on my
under the Free Health Ed Pages tab.

Improving vagus nerve tone is recommended for many modern health struggles. It is
not hard to find articles on vagus nerve health or suggestions and classes to support toning
this nerve and bringing the body and mind back into the parasympathetic nervous system
(PNS) dominance. PNS dominance may support healing disturbed gut health.

Here’s an easy and simple habit to support vagus nerve toning, support gut health, and improve your digestion of food and usage of the actual nutrients from your whole food choices:

  • Sit in a calm space to eat and slow down your meal time,
  • Deep, slow, conscious breathing throughout your meal, and
  • Chewing thoroughly and slowly, swallowing pudding-like consistency food is the goal.

When we offer the body food, in a calm and relaxed manner and chew well, we contribute to keeping ourselves in parasympathetic nervous system dominance.

Calm meal times help create a calm digestive tract. The digestive tract lining and gut microbial population can come back into balance when the body is in this rest and digest mode, PNS dominance.

Now on to the gut microbial population. Microbes in your gut aid in digestion, help regulate mood and inflammatory responses, manufacture digestive chemicals and nutrients, maintain the structural integrity of your gut mucosal barrier (gut lining), support the maintenance of healthy body weight, and are involved in so much more in regards to your whole-body health.

The healing information, in regards to the microbes in our gut, has exploded over the last 20 or so years. It is well known that people who are in close contact with the soil, gardeners, and farmers, for example, have a much more diverse gut microbiome. Diversity in healthy gut microbes makes for robust human health.

So how do we enhance our gut biome so we have a diverse population of desirable microbes, easily shed undesirable microbes, and keep our biome’s colony count up?

  • My first suggestion, in every instance, is recommending a 100% whole food diet, preferably organic as the chemicals and genetically modified organisms of the corporate agricultural system destroy gut microbes and your gut lining’s health. Whole food eating literally feeds the beneficial gut microbes and starves the not-so-beneficial microbes. Our health can be turned around simply by implementing an organic, whole food eating plan.
  • Get your hands in the soil, healthy soil of course. Spend time outside touching Nature without fear or the need for constant hand washing or sanitizing.
  • Eat fermented/cultured foods: sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented pickles & veggies, plain-unsweetened-live culture yogurt, etc. If you have access to fermented sour cream and butter, fermented dairy with live cultures is a source of gut microbes.
  • Avoid drinking chlorinated water as chlorine kills microbes.
  • Alcohol is hard on gut microbes. Naturally fermented beers and wines, with live active cultures remaining, can contribute to microbial diversity. The information coming out on this topic is one I casually follow. I find it fascinating to think of all the craft beers and local wines that were once fermented in every local community. Maybe they had something figured out, an art we have lost.
  • Be aware of the prescription and over-the-counter meds you use and their impact on gut microbes and gut lining health. For example, antibiotics wipe out gut microbes. Do we stop using antibiotics? No, but wise and conservative use is recommended.
  • Stress is hard on gut microbes and gut lining. See the information above.
  • Sugar kills beneficial microbes and allows the overgrowth of not-so beneficial microbes. Read labels: learn the ways that food corporations dump refined sugar into your food and stop buying and eating these sugar-laden foods.
  • Environmental pollution: see corporate agriculture comments above. This also includes the chemicals people put on their private lawns to kill plants (sometimes referred to as weeds) and insects.
  • Artificial sweeteners.
  • Inhaling meals and snacks: eating fast is perceived as stress by the body. Stress has been explained above. Breathe deeply and let all that stress go.
  • Limit your use of anti-bacterial products, both skincare, and household cleaning. The chemicals and antibiotics in these products negatively impact your gut and the whole body’s microbiome.
gut microbes and the vagus nerve

Is Taking Probiotics Necessary?

I do recommend probiotics to people who have been on antibiotics, recently or frequently in their lives. I advise using a whole food diet as your source of nutrients for both your body’s health and the health of maintaining a balanced and diverse gut microbiome. After a round of antibiotics, a good probiotic supplement, for several months, can support re-establishing the normal gut flora. After finishing one quality brand of probiotics, I suggest switching to a different brand to vary the gut microbes and probiotics, that you are exposed to in the supplements. Reading labels to know what microbes are in your probiotics, and picking options with varied microbes to switch to, helps get a variety into your digestive tract.

Many companies have multiple formulas that each have a different blend of gut microbes. You can therefore switch products within the same company. For example, the Toddler probiotic by Flora has Bifidobacterium infantis, which is good for skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, but most adults would not gravitate towards a toddler’s formula. After finishing one bottle of probiotics, switch to a different bottle that has different micro-organisms in its blend. Switch blends 3 or 4 times over several months to support restoring gut micro biodiversity. 

I will give an example of a method I sometimes recommend to clients with Flora brand probiotics. After a round of antibiotics, start by using Flora’s (or another company’s) toddler formula. Use this formula, daily, until you finish the bottle. I have people switch to Flora brand children’s probiotics and use them until they finish that bottle. Next, I have them move on to one of the adult formulas and use it until the bottle is finished. 

I would also suggest continuing to use live fermented food products and then continuing to maintain healthy gut flora with whole food eating and a whole-health lifestyle.  

Remembering that our digestive tract is the seat of our whole body’s health, can help us to take pause and commit to better care of our eating hygiene habits and the food choices we make. Keeping our digestive tract healthy ensures proper digestion of food and available nourishment for every body cell. Knowing the importance of an intact and healthy gut lining and balanced gut microbiome’s contribution to our immune, nervous system, and whole-body health may just make it easier to choose lifestyle habits that support our vitality and longevity. 

I will remind every reader that the information in my articles is from my wisdom and experience from my training in both western medicine (RN) and holistic modalities. My views are not necessarily the views of the Potsdam Food Co-op. When we make choices about our health, use others’ advice, and make choices based upon that advice; we are taking our health into our own hands. Our choices, and any actions that result from said choices, are our own responsibility. Yes, this is Paula Youmell, RN’s disclaimer. 

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