I have been intrigued with the “gut brain” and the vagus nerve for some time now. I think that my curiosity has blossomed into love though; sparked by numerous articles that have come my way in the last couple of months. The most recent was published by Neuroscience News and reveals a relationship between Parkinson’s disease and the vagus nerve.
The study sited in the Neuroscience News publication clearly identifies a link between constipation, the vagus nerve and Parkinson’s disease. It’s an important study; I hope you will take a moment to read it. If it’s true that chronic constipation and other digestive issues are early markers for Parkinson’s disease, it makes sense to take steps early in life to ensue a properly functioning gastrointestinal tract.
According to an older research study published in Denmark, chronic constipation is the second leading ailment that brings people to seek out reflexology. I can certainly agree with that; it’s one of the top reasons people have sought out sessions from me.
The Vagabond Nerve
The wandering vagus nerve (vagus is Latin for “wandering”) is the most important nerve of the parasympathetic system that influences digestion. This vagabond nerve meanders from the brain to the stomach and digestive track, with stops along the way at the heart, lungs, spleen, liver and kidneys. Branching nerves are involved in speech, eye contact, facial expressions and even your ability to recognize other people’s voices.
The vagus nerve is also known as cranial nerve X, the tenth and longest of the cranial nerves to emerge from the posterior skull. It has approximately 1000 single nerve fibres and over 100 million nerve cells.
A couple of points that that have really grabbed my attention are:
~ Ninety-five percent of serotonin produced by the body is found in the digestive track, not the brain, as previously believed. Serotonin is often prescribed for reasons of psychological health, but interestingly, also for digestive distress. That makes sense now. In addition, dozens of other neurotransmitters and hormones we thought only to exist in the brain and spinal cord are now known to also live in the intestines.
~ One of the more fascinating facts about the vagus nerve is that 10% of these nerve communicate to the organs in the gut, while an astounding 90% communicate back to the brain. That certainly explains why in traditional Chinese medicine, the gut is referred to as the second brain. Maybe it should be the first?
Since the vagus nerve operates as part of the autonomic nervous system (the critical part that runs the show, behind the scene), we aren’t aware of its role in our lives; however, without proper functioning of this nerve, it would be difficult to carry out the everyday functions that we take for granted, like breathing, eating and speaking. No wonder I’m in love with this nerve!
The Vagus Reflex
The vagus nerve reflex is found bilaterally on the plantar surface of the feet under the medial sesmoid bone of the first metatarsal. Try incorporating it into your sessions with people struggling with respiratory and digestive issues. Who knows – it may end up being good medicine against future brain disorders.
Read more research on the vagus nerve.