The #1 Nerve We Should All Be Talking About – The Vagus Nerve

By Dr. Tony Ebel, DC, CPPFC, CCWP
The #1 Nerve We Should All Be Talking About - The Vagus Nerve | PX Docs

I want to talk to you about an essential nerve that affects not just your children but your entire family. In today’s world, we are all overwhelmed with busy schedules and stress. So let’s focus on the number one nerve that we should all be aware of – the vagus nerve.

Now, you might not be a neurology expert, but I’m sure you talk a lot about stress and fatigue in your daily life. Your kids may also seem tired, emotional, or cranky, which are all common symptoms of stress. In fact, you may even be using wearable technology like an Apple watch, Garmin, or Whoop to monitor your stress levels.

I love all of these things! And that is where the vagus nerve comes in – not Las Vegas, V-A-G-U-S. If you visit Las Vegas, you will most likely lose track of your vagus nerve because this nerve is in charge of regulating rest, digestion, and decision-making. But perhaps, if you go to Vegas with a properly functioning vagus nerve, you may be able to digest the buffet food better, choose a 9 pm bedtime, and make better decisions, such as not donating all your money to the casinos.  

But let’s get down to the practical information you need to know.  The vagus nerve, also known as the “rest and digest” nerve, is responsible for so much more than just helping us sleep and digest our food. It’s a complex nerve that has many functions and plays a crucial role in our overall well-being.

#1. THE VAGUS NERVE HELPS US REST

The vagus nerve is known for its variability, resiliency, and adaptability. It doesn’t just help us rest, but it also helps regulate our heart rate and breathing. When our vagus nerve functions correctly, it can help us feel calm and relaxed, which is essential for our overall health and well-being.

If you’re struggling with sleep and have tried magnesium, melatonin, and maybe even sleep medications – the vagus nerve is the answer to your sleep challenges.

#2. THE VAGUS NERVE HELPS US DIGEST

This is what we talk about in terms of motility. Poor vagus nerve function can contribute to digestive challenges. In infants, that looks like colic and reflux, and upset stomachs. It can turn into significant constipation struggles as well. 

#3. THE VAGUS NERVE CONTROLS OUR IMMUNE SYSTEM

The vagus nerve also controls our immune system and helps to regulate inflammation. This makes it a critical component of our body’s defense against infection and disease. When the vagus nerve is activated, it can help to reduce inflammation and promote healing throughout the body.

The vagus nerve is the most critical nerve for the parasympathetic side of the nervous system. So if it is not functioning properly, that means we are stuck in sympathetic, fight-or-flight mode, which can lead to inflammation, chronic allergies, chronic immune challenges, and autoimmune challenges. 

HOW DOES THE VAGUS NERVE IMPACT A CHILD’S DEVELOPMENT?

Now let’s dig into the vagus nerve and its impact on children’s development. The sensory communication components of the vagus nerve play a crucial role in socialization and speech. Children who struggle with sensory issues may have interference or malfunction in the vagus nerve, leading to sensory overwhelm and meltdowns, hindering their social and speech development.

The vagus nerve also plays a critical role in regulating different parts of the brain, including emotional regulation and mood. It helps to calm us down and alleviate panic and anxiety, which are common in our busy and fast-paced world. Additionally, there is another branch of the vagus nerve that is responsible for our learning, cognition, focus, and memory.

Now you know how much more the vagus nerve is responsible for other than just rest and digest. When one aspect of this nerve is not functioning correctly, it can impact other areas, leading to a range of health problems.

CHRONIC ILLNESS AND THE VAGUS NERVE

Next, I want to address a concerning trend that we see in the majority of our patients, especially children – chronic illness. Many sick children and adults have multiple conditions, and they often see different specialists and take various medications without finding a long-term solution. 

However, the key to resolving these interconnected conditions lies in the nervous system, specifically the vagus nerve.

As we now know, the vagus nerve is crucial for many bodily functions, including digestion, sleep, immune response, inflammation, social-emotional skills, communication, sensory processing, mood regulation, and brain function. When the vagus nerve is functioning correctly, the body can do everything God designed it to do. However, the vagus nerve can easily become damaged, leading to a host of issues.

DAMAGE TO THE VAGUS NERVE

Birth trauma is one of the leading causes of vagus nerve damage. The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that extends from the brainstem, passing through the spinal cord and into the body. The nervous system is interconnected, free-flowing, and supposed to function without interference. 

When babies are born, the trauma of forceps, vacuum, or C-section deliveries – the twisting and pulling – can cause inflammation, neuromuscular tension, and irritation, damaging the brainstem and vagus nerve. Unfortunately, this damage is all too common and is the number one missing link in pediatric healthcare.

It’s essential to understand that subluxation and dysautonomia can trigger vagus nerve dysfunction, leading to a range of health issues. This “perfect storm” of factors often begins with birth trauma, but stress during pregnancy and fertility challenges can also exhaust the vagus nerve. Therefore, it’s crucial to recognize how environmental and lifestyle factors can impact our nervous system and overall health.

The vagus nerve acts as our “brake,” while the fight or flight system is our “gas pedal.” Although we need the fight or flight system for survival and day-to-day activity, it’s essential to regulate and balance it out with our vagus nerve.

In today’s high-stress, toxic environment, many of us find it challenging for our vagus nerve to keep up with the demands placed on it. Despite trying various methods to improve our nervous system’s resiliency, such as sleep apps, melatonin, meditation, and yoga classes, we may still feel like something is missing.

Measuring the health of the vagus nerve is the number one thing that can change your life.

While devices like the Apple Watch and Garmin are helpful, the most effective way to measure vagal nerve function is through a heart rate variability (HRV) scan.

Our PX Docs network of pediatric neurologically focused chiropractors uses the HRV scan to measure whether your vagus nerve is online and doing its job or is tapped out and worn out. This information allows us to create a customized care plan to recharge and restore your vagus nerve.

The most potent and incredible vagus nerve-activating move is one you don’t have to do yourself. By showing up to a pediatric neurologically focused chiropractor, you can receive chiropractic adjustments that can activate your vagus nerve and restore its function.

Whether you’re an adult like me with four kids and a whole lot to do or a baby who needs to eat, sleep and look cute, the vagus nerve plays a crucial role in your body’s systems. If you’re a grade-schooler who needs to learn and socialize or a teenager going through a challenging time, your vagus nerve needs to be at full power.

At PX Docs, we have multiple articles on our website that can help you learn more about the vagus nerve and the benefits of pediatric neurologically focused chiropractic care. Please don’t wait to look on our directory to find a PX doc near you. We want to help you through whatever challenges you or your child may face and, even better, stay ahead of them forever forward.

Author
Dr. Tony Ebel is the lead writer and educational guide for PX Docs. He is a Certified Pediatric + Wellness Chiropractor with 15 years of clinical experience. In addition, Dr. Tony has been teaching and training other Pediatric + Family Chiropractors for the past 10+ years, primarily teaching the clinical protocols he created for pediatric neurodevelopmental challenges such as Autism, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Epilepsy, Anxiety, and more. This clinical program is now taught in collaboration with the Life University Postgraduate Department and has over 500 graduates. Dr. Tony’s passion is educating, empowering, and informing parents about the nervous system's role in natural, drug-free healing for all pediatric conditions and cases.

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