Gut Health

Are You Asleep To The Importance Of Your Vagus Nerve?

Written by Samuel Minkin BHSc Musculoskeletal Therapy, Dip. Fitness, Level 1 tVNS

Vagus Nerve, Brisbane Musculoskeletal Therapist, Depression, Memory, Anxiety, PTSD

The Vagus Nerve (Cranial nerve X) is the longest of the 12 cranial nerves and plays a HUGE role in the body’s functions. First of all, the Vagus nerve is a neuromodulator which has motor and sensory fibres that connect the brain stem to many organs in the body which include the heart, lungs, stomach, large intestine, small intestine, spleen, liver, gallbladder, ureter, female fertility organs, kidneys, ears, tongue, and is the main parasympathetic nerve in the body.

The Vagus nerve also affects different parts of the brain such as the amygdala, hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, insula in a bi-directional manner from these organs. Recently it was found that stress directly inhibits the Vagus nerve…. Hmmm, it is interesting when comparing the symptoms of stress with Vagus nerve dysregulation. You would be splitting hairs to draw a difference, with striking similarities between the two.

Vagus Nerve, Musculoskeletal Therapy, Anxiety, Depression, PTSD

This nerve is grossly underappreciated and utilised even with the growing body of evidence showing major improvements in gut health, mental health, cardiac health, inflammatory disorders, autoimmune conditions and epilepsy. Vagus Nerve stimulation may involve manual manipulation of the nerve in the neck, exercises which strengthen Vagal tone, neural tensioners and electrical stimulation with auricular clips (transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation) or electro needling.  Stimulation of the Vagus nerve improves signals going to and from the brain which improves negative feedback loops (If its too high brings it down and if its too low brings it up).

As well as tVNS there are a variety of things which can be done to increase vagal tone with some being more effective for particular conditions than others. Exercises such as gargling, gag-reflex, singing, uvula elevations, meditation and putting the face in a bowl of ice water (divers reflex) all upregulate vagal tone and improve its functions.   

So what can we treat with non-invasive tVNS?

  • Migraine
  • Motivation and optimism
  • Chronic Pain
  • Reflux
  • Atrial Fibrillation
  • Allergy
  • Autoimmune Disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Behavioural Issues (e.g. autism)
  • GIT Complaints
  • Digestion
  • Depression
  • Crohn's Disease
  • Psoriasis
  • Anxiety
  • Working Memory
  • Blood-Brain Barrier
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Inflammatory Disorders
  • Neuroplasticity via BDNF (stroke, rehabilitation)
  • PTSD

How can the Vagus nerve treat the gut?

The Vagus nerve is what modulates the release of hydrochloric acid (stomach acid) and digestive enzymes Gastrin and Leptin in the stomach. When there is too much hydrochloric acid in the stomach the Vagus nerves afferent fibres perceive this and inform the brain to make a change. An efferent message is then sent down the efferent fibres of the Vagus nerve and levels of hydrochloric acid are adjusted to suitable levels. The same can also be said when there is too little hydrochloric acid when we get slow digestion and bloating as a result.

The Vagus nerve also has a motor role and that is it sets the tone of the pyloric sphincter which is the sphincter between the oesophagus and the stomach. When this is weak as a result of Vagus dysregulation, stomach acid can travel up the oesophagus causing heartburn and chronically Barret’s oesophagus. It has also been found that tVNS increases gut permeability, improves peristaltic activity and treats inflammatory gut disorders such as Celiac, SEBO and ileitis.

Vagus Nerve, Musculoskeletal Therapist, Depression, Anxiety, PTSD

How can Vagus nerve treat depression and anxiety?

Research shows the tVNS increases noradrenaline, adrenaline, 5-HT and dopamine in the brain. In depression, there are lower levels of these monoamines which has been found to be correlated with decreased mood, focus and attention, memory formation, however, tVNS has been shown to increase focus, mood, memory and anxiety. It has also been found that tVNS can upregulate the prefrontal cortex which is the area for reasoning and responsible for inhibiting inappropriate thoughts or behaviour to normal situations. This is an important part of improving anxiety. Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor is the fertiliser to neuroplasticity and also a mechanism of action for treating depression and anxiety.

Vagus Nerve, Brisbane Musculoskeletal Therapist, Anxiety, Depression, PTSD

As a Musculoskeletal Therapist which is a branch of functional medicine, it is clear to me the importance of this modern medicine technique in integrative medicine. I have been using tVNS at City Cave to treat patients suffering from thyroid conditions, depression, anxiety, reflux, memory, rehabilitation for the past 4 months with patients reporting weekly improvements. Currently, there have been no reported side effects since the begun studies on the Vagus nerve in the 1990s. As the new year is upon us it is time to “wake up to the power of your Vagus nerve and what it can do for you”.

How can this help with your new year's goals?

People who have been receiving Vagus Nerve stimulation have found improved motivation and optimism after just one treatment. As they continue to receive the specialised treatment they report feeling improvements in mood, motivation and daily life. Vagus Nerve stimulation does not hurt and takes 30 minutes to complete.

For bookings or if you are curious if it can help you, please contact the clinic or myself.

The Power of Probiotics

On the back of our two Gut Health 101 workshops with our amazing Jess Blair (Naturopath) and Andrea Love (Dietician), we thought it would be a good chance to delve into some knowledge on Probiotics. Our very talented Health and Liaison Officer Emma (who also studied Dietetics), delves in a little deeper to help us get to know what Probiotics are, when to use them and why they are so good for your gut! 

The idea of consuming good bacteria for health is not new. It dates back to the early 20th century, when shortly after, the term “probiotic” was coined meaning “for life” or “for health”.  Probiotics are a type of friendly bacteria that, when introduced into our bowel, stabilise the intestine's resident microorganisms, restoring our natural balance of good ‘bugs’ in the digestive system. If we get the right balance of bacteria then the whole system works.

We have all seen drinks in the dairy cabinet at the supermarket claiming to “keep you healthy on the inside”.  And then there are the yoghurts with Lactobacillus acidophilus or ABC cultures, which advertise that they are good for your digestive health. Friendly bacteria or probiotics are one of the latest health trends. But do they work and how often do you need to take them?

HOW PROBIOTICS KEEP YOU HEALTHY:

Friendly bacteria can create the right environment in your digestive tract which helps to:

  • Replace normal bacteria that have been killed off by a course of antibiotics; 
  • Produce substances that make your internal environment unwelcoming for Salmonella, rotavirus and other harmful bugs;
  • Stop episodes of diarrhoea including travellers’ diarrhoea;
  • Create a barrier so the internal lining of your intestine is less likely to let allergens through; 
  • Stimulate the immune system; 
  • Regulate bowel movements and prevent constipation and flatulence; 
  • Ease irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn's disease;
  • Digest the lactose from milk; 
  • Deactivate harmful enzymes in the intestine.

To be classified as a probiotic the strain must be present in sufficient numbers in a product. Most importantly, the bacteria must be able to survive the gastric acid to arrive at the small intestine and then the large intestine where it grows and multiplies.  Most probiotic yoghurts contain booster substances called pre-biotics to aid delivery of active cultures to the digestive system. In other words the booster acts for the friendly bacteria so they can grow and multiply inside you and do their good work.  These boosters usually include inulin, fructooligosaccrides and polydextrose. 

WHEN DO YOU NEED PROBIOTICS:

You generally need a probiotic if something has disturbed your digestive system:

  • After a course of antibiotics; 
  • After a bout of Gastro or diarrhoea; 
  • Major diet change; 
  • Stress.

For general health and wellbeing, the use of a probiotic two or three times a week is fine. But if you are ill or need it to correct an imbalance, then twice a day doses are recommended.

It is important to note that probiotics that have passed their use by date or that are not kept cold simply won't have the number of viable bacteria present. So follow these tips:

  • Store it correctly - keep it chilled at all times especially during the trip home from the supermarket;
  • Buy from a large supermarket which has a fast turnover so the probiotic is fresh;
  • Consume the product within a couple of days.

Although I'm not a major proponent of taking many supplements (as I believe the majority of your nutrients need to come from food), probiotics are exceptions if you don't eat fermented foods on a regular basis. 

- Emma Williams

If you think taking a probiotic could be beneficial for you, book in to see Andrea or Jess and get a personalised treatment plan that will cater to your needs, diet and goals.