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Have you every heard people saying to you ‘Go with your gut feeling’? This saying actually has a very valid explanation and is connected with your brain nerve function. Let’s dive into the gut/brain connection and see what effect it could have when it comes to making decisions and to how we are feeling.

In the brain we have a nerve known as the wandering nerve or the vagus nerve. It extends from the brain to all the organs in the body except for the adrenals that sit on top of the kidneys. It plays a critical role in influencing the calming parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) and it carries a variety of signals from the brain to the digestive system and organs and oversees several important body functions including the control of mood, digestion, heart rate and immune function. Incredibly, the neurons of the vagus nerve transmit microbial messages to the brain.

Studies have shown that by stimulating the vagus nerve with simple exercises is potentially a valid treatment for depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and inflammatory bowel disease. By stimulating the vagus nerve it can lead to lower levels of inflammatory cytokines and that can be beneficial as they have been shown to be increased in depression. Interestingly, there is also evidence that the gut bacteria can have a favourable effect on anxiety and depression by affecting the activity of the vagus nerve. Specific probiotic strains have been shown to improve the vagus nerve and subsequently improve mood and psychiatric conditions. For example, Lactobacillus Rhamnosus was shown to positively alter GABA in cases of anxiety and depression. Similarly, Bifidobacterium Longum showed anti anxiety effects provided vagus nerve integrity was good.

However, probiotics are not the only requirement for vagal nerve stimulation. Vitamin C has been shown to increase the ability of the Vagus nerve.

Vagal tone or the functionality of the vagal nerve has the capacity to regulate the stress response that means to help us remain calm and and it can be influenced by breathing. It can also be positively influenced through meditation and yoga. The simple exercises that can be done to help vagal nerve tone are:

  1. Splash you face with cold water.
  1. Finish your shower with a blast of cold water, if you dare!
  1. Gargle with water until your eyes start to water
  1. Sing or hum loudly.

Depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric conditions continue to plague a large percentage of the population and often, the treatment is pharmaceutical drugs with undesirable side-effects. However, as researchers continue to unlock the mysteries of the vagus nerve they are finding it to be an important contributor to many underlying metabolic and hormonal problems associated with mood and cognitive function. The support is shifting toward how individuals can help themselves in common psychiatric conditions. At the same time, strong links between the gut microbiome and mental health are being shown and we are beginning to understand that the microbiome may be the target for optimizing vagal activity, and hence, improving depression, anxiety and other common psychiatric conditions.

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