One Easy Technique to Transform Your Gut Health

If you want to improve how you feel and function, make your digestive health a top priority.

Unfortunately, I learned the hard way what happens when you neglect your gut (both figuratively and literally)…

For years, I ignored my body’s warning signs and shrugged off my doctor’s advice.

My stubbornness, combined with years of ignoring a highly inflamed gastrointestinal (GI) tract, eventually landed me in the hospital early last year. There, I experienced surgical complications, then septic shock, five emergency surgeries, and three very close calls.

Thankfully, I’m nearly recovered and feeling better than ever—all because I now pay attention to my body and play an active role in my health.

Today I’m going to tell you why the state of your gut is so crucial—especially for whole-body health. You’ll also learn a few ways to keep your GI system in peak condition (a few of them might surprise you!).

Gut health affects more than digestion

If you struggle with digestive issues, you’re not alone. According to the CDC, over 22 million U.S. adults are diagnosed with digestive diseases each year.

Some of the most common ones include:

  • Celiac disease (sensitivity to gluten)
  • Crohn’s disease (affects GI tract, usually where the small bowel and colon connect)
  • Diverticular disease (includes diverticulosis—where small pouches form in the wall of your colon and become inflamed)
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (very frequent heartburn and/or acid reflux)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (frequent abdominal pain and changes in bowel habits)
  • Ulcerative colitis (inflammation in the colon aka the large intestine)

But if you’re experiencing digestive issues and haven’t been diagnosed with a specific digestive disorder, chances are, your microbiome could be out of balance.

Your microbiome is the environment in your gut that is home to trillions of colonies of healthy bacteria, or microbiota.

Sometimes, the bad bacteria outnumber the good bacteria, causing a range of issues that go well beyond digestion. In fact, the health of your microbiome can affect the function of your brain, heart, metabolism, and immune system. Your gut health can also impact your weight and mood.

By now, you’re likely aware of the pivotal role diet, nutrition, and exercise play in improving gut health. But today, I want to focus on an intervention that not many people associate with digestion: vagus nerve stimulation (VNS). 

Your gut-healing superhighway

As a quick refresher, your vagus nerve is the longest nerve in your body—stretching from the bottom of your brain stem, past your major organs, and down to your gut.

And when your vagus nerve is stimulated, it can do some pretty incredible things…

So much so that my friend and physician of 25-plus years, Dr. Russell Miller, refers to the nerve as the “healing superhighway.” (You can learn more and listen to my interview with Dr. Miller here.)

Imagine a superhighway inside of your body—one that sends critical chemical messages at lightning-speed pace between from your brain, to your organs, to your gut. Everything works together to transport things like signals, chemicals, blood, oxygen, and nutrients from point A to point B.

Sometimes though, your body’s vagus nerve superhighway can get “jammed up.” This triggers a build-up of inflammation, which is essentially like endless highway construction. Inflammation is constantly there working, yet never seems to go away.

A “jammed” vagus nerve, mixed with high levels of inflammation, leads to something called low vagal tone.

Your vagal tone is a marker of how strong your vagus nerve is. And when it’s low, it sets the stage for some of the major digestive problems I mentioned earlier.

The good news is, there’s an easy fix to get things running smoothly again.

Is low vagal tone affecting your gut?

According to a 2018 study review, stimulating your vagus nerve (and in turn, strengthening your vagal tone) positively affects many of your digestive functions including:

  • Stomach acid production (which protects your stomach lining)
  • Enzyme release and bile excretion (which help break down food for absorption)
  • Motility (how easily food moves through your body)

Your vagus nerve also influences your parasympathetic nervous system. This is the system that is at work when your body is in a calm state. It plays such a big part in GI health, it’s actually nicknamed the “rest and digest” system.

Being in parasympathetic mode also helps lower inflammation and decrease anxiety and depression, which as studies suggest, also alleviates the stress put on the digestive system.

Having a high vagal tone allows the body to go into parasympathetic mode faster. And as I mentioned earlier, you can boost your vagal tone by stimulating your vagus nerve.

Safe, non-invasive, all-natural GI treatment

Here are a few of my favorite VNS techniques:

It’s also a great idea to try VNS before meals. Some researchers have found that making sure your body is relaxed and in parasympathetic mode prior to eating allows the body to digest food better.

Experts also recommend eating slowly and mindfully—without a phone or TV nearby. Being present has immediate digestive and stress-relieving benefits.

Remember, small daily actions really add up. And taking care of your digestive health—one of your body’s most important and basic systems—is as simple as making small, smart choices every day.


SOURCES:

Breit, S., Kupferberg, A., Rogler, G., and Hasler, G. (2018). Vagus Nerve as Modulator of the Brain–Gut Axis in Psychiatric and Inflammatory Disorders. Frontiers in Psychiatry. Retrieved from: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5859128/

Brisbane Naturopaths and Wellness Centre. (2016). The Benefits of Vagal Nerve Stimulation on Gut Health. Brisbane Naturopaths. Retrieved from: brisbanenaturopaths.com.au/2016/11/02/2016113the-benefits-of-vagal-nerve-stimulation-on-gut-health/#:~:text=Stimulating%20the%20vagus%20nerve%20increases,it%20enters%20the%20small%20intestine.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Digestive Diseases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from: cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/digestive-diseases.htm

How Gut Health Affects Your Entire Body. (2019). AOA Family. Retrieved from: aoafamily.com/blog/how-gut-health-affects-your-entire-body/

Ojuro, P. (2019). 6 Common Digestive Disorders. Tanner.org. Retrieved from: tanner.org/the-scope/6-common-digestive-disorders

Orenstein, B. (2020). 9 Common Digestive Conditions From Top to Bottom. Everyday Health. Retrieved from: everydayhealth.com/digestive-health/common-digestive-conditions-from-top-bottom/

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About the author

Jim Donovan M.Ed., is a professional musician and educator. He's an Assistant Professor at Saint Francis University where he teaches music and how the power of sound can help you experience a healthier life.