The last post discussed how our nervous system interprets and handles different types of stress (physical, emotional, and chemical). There is a fine balance between our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems ("Gas vs. Brake Pedal"), and how our body responds to stress. This week we are going to touch on the Vagus nerve, which acts as an internal brake pedal.
The Vagus nerve is a long, wandering nerve that sends branches to almost every organ and gland in our thorax and abdomen. It is the 10th cranial nerve starting in the brain stem, exiting out through the skull (jugular foreman), and traveling down to the throat, chest, diaphragm, and abdomen. Below is an image of where some of the Vagus nerve's branches go.
With so many branches the Vagus nerve has to relay information to and from the brain to control a variety of functions.
Vagus Nerve Communication Pathways:
- Brain to Body - Our brain informs the body that everything is safe in the environment and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system ("rest and digest") to control our throat, esophagus, heart, lungs, diaphragm, stomach, and intestines. Allowing the body to absorb, digest, grow, heal, and build a healthy immune system.
- Body to Brain - Our body interprets the world around us sending information about pain, temperature, and touch from the ear, throat, chest and abdominal organs up to the brain.
Vagus Nerve Functions:
- Anti-stress hormone production (acetylcholine and oxytocin)
- Swallowing and digesting food
- Keeping our heart beating and lungs breathing
- Decreasing inflammation
- Supporting immune and stem cell function
Vagus nerve's ability to decrease inflammation is a critical component to pump the brakes, which allows the body to properly grow and develop. In a study comparing two rats in the same environment, one had its Vagus nerve stimulated and the other turned off. The rat with its Vagus nerve stimulated had drastically decreased gut inflammation and improved immune function compared to the other rat. How does Vagus nerve get turned off? Based on its geography as it exits the skull it is prone to physical stress from birth trauma. When it is turned off the body is stuck in a stressful "fight or flight" state. This imbalance will impact the child's ability to develop and interact with their environment.
Results of a Turned Off Vagus Nerve:
- Social, emotional recognition and expression
- Speech and communication
- Sensory regulation
- Calm and relaxation
- Slowing down heart and breathing
- Digestion motility and relaxation
- Immune boosting and anti-inflammatory
When children present with a few or all of theses changes they are diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Therefore, having your child's nervous system checked for stress and subluxations will determine the health of their Vagus nerve. With care their nervous system will start to heal as it switches from gas pedal/"fight or flight" to a brake pedal/"rest and digest" state, which promotes healing and relaxation. Ultimately, allowing them to grow and flourish in their world!
For more information on the nervous system, kids health, and much more please check out our Perfect Storm Workshop. http://www.bluehillschiropractic.com/perfectstorm.html