Why is the Vagus Nerve So Important For Our Kids?

By Dr. Matt Hill
Why is the Vagus Nerve So Important For Our Kids? | PX Docs

The Vagus Nerve is all the craze right now! Any search on google will generate thousands of hits with life and “health hacks” galore.  With all the research, biohacking, and natural science that has been reported lately, it’s cool to hear about a part of our nervous system that can have such an amazing impact on our health and adaptability.

But did you know the vagus nerve is also important for our kid’s development, behavior, and sensory comfort? I want to dig into the science of an active vagus nerve and a vagus nerve that is “turned down.”

If you are in the health world and follow natural, holistic living, there is no doubt that you’ve heard of the vagus nerve. Being a pediatric chiropractor and dad of four boys, I would be very remiss if I didn’t talk about the vagus nerve and how it can help you and your kiddos because it is the answer to so many of our health challenges. 

what is the Vagus Nerve? Turn It Up or Turn it Down

The vagus nerve is a nerve that comes out from underneath the skull on both sides and goes throughout the entire body – through the heart, lungs, and digestive organs. You may have heard about the vagus nerve concerning the brain-gut or gut-brain balance, which has much to do with digestion. While that is one of the incredible things the vagus nerve can do, it has more all-encompassing action that’s so important for our kids.

There are two main things that the vagus nerve does. If you turn it up, it is a sensory relaxer, so it will help the body rest, relax, and digest.  Turning it down allows the other side of the nervous system to take effect –  the go, go go, fight or flight, busy brain side.

What you really want is a balance of up and down regulation and what we usually end up needing for our kids is to turn the vagus nerve up because, in the world we live in, it’s so often turned down. That’s why our kiddos seem to have that busy brain, fight or flight more often.

the Vagus nerve and Rest/Sleep, Emotional Regulation, and digestive Function

When we turn it up, that results in three effects on our kids. Number one is rest and sleep. The vagus nerve allows the body to sensory deregulate to help the body block out all external noise. This allows the brain and body to calm down, which helps kids get to sleep and stay asleep.

The second thing is emotional regulation – the relaxed side. When our body is turned down on the vagus, it feels like you’re running from a bear in fight or flight. So if you have a three-year-old like me, you know they can go haywire sometimes because emotions are controlled by that up or down regulation. We want to get that vagus nerve turned up for our kiddos.

The third has to do with our digestive side. There’s so much more that goes into that brain-gut connection. Not only is digestion so key for moving fluids throughout the body, but it’s huge in feeling comfortable and developmentally ready for kids.

If you have a kiddo who is six months to a year old and they’re working on walking, talking, adding in foods, and are starting to get away from bottle or breastfeeding, if they’re not digesting, it’s going to slow everything else down. So the vagus nerve is vital for babies as a developmental milestone to help them jump ahead with the sensory system, motor system, movement, social system, and walking. 

The vagus Nerve and Birth Trauma, Stress, and Physical Trauma

This is where chiropractic comes in because pediatric chiropractors can have a major impact on turning that vagus nerve up when needed. Because of its location, it can be impacted negatively by three main things we see. 

It can be affected by birth trauma. If you had a stressful pregnancy or delivery, had to use forceps or a vacuum, or had a C-section, that can impact and turn down the vagus nerve immediately during the birth process. 

Secondly, the vagus nerve can be impacted by the toxic stress levels we are surrounded by today. When our environment comes at us with toxic items, that can affect our gut which communicates back and forth with our brain. If the gut and brain are imbalanced, it will cause the body to do all different things, like turning the vagus nerve down, resulting in that flight or flight mode.

The third thing is when kids are playing sports, having accidents like falling off their bikes, and experiencing these big physical stressors in their life that are causing them to get tight, tense, and hold that extra energy. Physical stress affects the vagus nerve, not only impacting this upper cervical region but in turning it down. 

So if you are struggling with sleep, emotional regulation, digestion, etc., and want to trust your gut that they’re all related… you’re right!  That is because it is all controlled by the vagus nerve. 

We use technology in our office called INSiGHT scans to measure this nerve and see whether it is turned up or down. If it is more turned up, chances are, you will have a much easier, well-regulated rest, digest, chill kiddo that can adapt and overcome many things.

If it’s turned down, they most likely want to do those things but might struggle to get them done. That’s where we come in, and we really want to help you. We know every kiddo is unique, so please check out our directory and reach out to a local PX Doc near you. They will put together a custom care plan to help your child reach their full potential.

Dr. Matt Hill is a pediatric and family chiropractor who practices at PWC Chiropractic in Crystal Lake, IL. In addition to full-time practice, Dr. Matt is the Lead Clinical Guide at PXDocs. Dr. Matt's specialty in neurological-focused chiropractic for children started 13 years ago with his son Micah. Micah was diagnosed with a brain injury that happened in utero during development. After talking with many medical professionals and being left without hope that anything could help his condition, Micah started Neurologically focused Chiropractic Care, showing remarkable changes. He went from a baby with low motor tone, immobile and struggling to communicate, to walking, interacting, and using actions and communication tools to tell us what he needs. Despite his diagnosis and struggles, he is now the happiest teenager - growing and learning despite his developmental challenges! When not in practice or teaching, Dr. Matt is with his family, which has grown to include four boys! Micah, who is now 13; Eli, who is 10, 7-year-old Zachary, and racing after them all 4-year-old Josh.


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