the vagus nerve and how it affects our bodies

the vagus nerve and how it affects our bodies

This post is all about the nervous system and its effect on our bodies. The gut is a major part of servicing and sending messages back to the brain – and it communicates through part of a larger a nerve called the vagus nerve, which as it is for most of the body will have a profound effect on hormones and eventually fertility in accordance with what the heck is going on with you both now and responding to the perceived stressor you may have faced in your fertility journey and life in general. 


Where is it located?  – This nerve begins in the brainstem then extends to the neck via the carotid artery. It is often referred to as the ‘wandering nerve’  as it can move with Stealth like precision and influence and it touches many systems such as the cardiovascular system, the digestive system, the reproductive system, and many other organs taking orders and passing information back to the brain like the bodies own  super broadband wifi. It’s the largest nerve in the body, and if you picture the body like a few hundred lines of Christmas tree lights this doesn’t even go as far as where and how this nerve connects to the mainframe. Many scientists also credit the vagus nerve to connecting the brain and genitals after spinal cord injuries, which is why some are still able to achieve the ‘ Houston we have liftoff moments! Scientists have also noted that the vagus nerve can read and interpret messages from the microbiome, and turn on or down inflammatory responses according to the threat. 

The phrase you are ‘ getting on my nerves’ comes to mind to illustrate the point, as humans we tend to think of our nervous system as one single entity. It is however a bit more complicated and has many different elements, the most important for this post is the Autonomic Nervous System. 

The ANS controls ‘autonomous’ functions, ( things we do unconsciously). Such as our heart rate, blood pressure, sweating, digestion, and breathing. The ANS is cut into 3 areas: the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), and the Enteric Nervous System (ENS). The SNS  is the command centre for our ‘fight or flight’ reaction.  Which starts the ball rolling when we need to respond to stress making our  heart beat faster,  so our lungs have the capacity to get more oxygen, sending the signal to move more blood to muscles diverting blood and triggering the release of adrenaline, and cortisol in the brain and adrenal glands. The ENS is concerned with the function of the intestines (although digestion  is often its own entity and is deemed the second brain at times) but also has a role to play in communication with the central nervous system. The PNS is responsible for what goes up must come down reaction as it calms all that was forced into action to make the body ready for action, so it a reverse of SNS re-diverting bodily resources to the vital organs, and allowing the deeper autonomous systems (such as digestion) to work normally again and when the body is at rest. The vagus nerve provides the vital communication highway by which these systems operate. It’s the ‘air traffic controller’ of the ANS! 

The vagus nerve is important for fertility and hormones. If we can get this working well it can reduce inflammation, often something I see with clients unable to conceive or carry to term; it can improve memory and trauma through the amygdala and rebooting these systems. Improving vagal tone ie the way the vagus nerve communicates will improve breathing and heart function. In turn the ‘tentacles’ of the VN extend to many organs, behaving like a super WiFi  signal as mentioned above instructing the brain to release enzymes, proteins and hormones like prolactin, vasopressin, and oxytocin, which calm and chill your boots. With a high functioning vagus nerves people may be more likely to recover more quickly after stress, injury, or illness and trauma.

How can we direct and support the vagus nerve to ‘plug into’ our systems and reboot a Perpetual loop of stress, worry and despair? ( which are often things people on the fertility are caught up in) –  To do this we need to understand why its got out of balance –  The sympathetic nervous system is not designed to be ‘ ridden and tamed’ like a wild horse. It is short lived. However modern life and stressors have almost given it a new long lived purpose. The SNS can’t distinguish between long term and short term stress and this will have consequences in rest and digestion, and releasing of acetylcholine in the brain and the feel good factor hormones such as oxytocin. Often I see people with an overactive SNS that are sensitive to touch and massage, feel pain strongly as their nervous system is ‘over egged’ and things like prolactin are constantly elevated. Anecdotally they seem to conduct electricity like a 70s flickering motherboard and get static shocks all the time! When I see this with clients and I see the tell tale signs, its time to bring in the big guns!

Vagal nerve stimulation  – its been used for more drastic causes in regards to epilepsy and long term migraines where a Vagus nerve implant is added internally to reboot. Almost like a pacemaker to the VN. We don’t have to go down the surgery side to help this though! 

Chanting, humming and digeridoo – its all in the vibration! The vagus nerve is massively stimulated by signing, chanting and this vibrational pull can work its way from head to foot! Also the use of cold water and the stimulation of cold and heat can stimulate the vasodilatory approach and move into what is know as the ‘divers reflex’ where the body notes you are in water and slows the heart to conserve water  (hello all you old gals doing wild swimming at mo and the wim hoff method!) . Another way to enact the change to Parasympathetic nervous system change is yogic breathing. Longer breathing out to breathing in can stimulate this change and move us closer to PNS ‘rest and digest mode’. Meditation also in itself is a great way to bring on our friend PNS and calm the SNS perceived threat!

I was super lucky to see some of these things in action in Bali a few years ago when I visited a Balinese high priestess. She used so many of these techniques as we meditated for 30 mins then she chucked quite a few buckets of cold water at us each individually and finished it off with vagic humming and chanting  (something that made me giggle a little as the vibrations tickled my throat for 10 mins! And I felt the gong bath she used from my ears to my toes!) Maybe there is something that monks and chanters and even those in choirs have to show us that we know instinctively as humans? 

One way to incorporate a few of these things is to use a Sensate pebble. Something Ive been using for a while as hello’ im that girl, static shock woman, sensitive to touch and high prolactin! I often recommend it to clients who may fall into this picture to help them balance to more PNS. And I have to say its helping me immensely as I plug in nightly to my noise cancelling earphones which target the meditation music that coincides with the vibrations that buzz on my chest. I feel it in my toes within 20 seconds so that my que to show the VN is now fully engaged and giving me a nod to rest, digest and relax! 




Stephen Porges, “The polyvagal perspective”, Journal of Biological Psychology, Feb 2007;116-143


Gaia Vince, “There’s a single nerve that connects all of your vital organs – and it might just be the future of medicine”, Business Insider, Jun 2015


Christopher Bergland, “The Neurobiology of Grace Under Pressure”, Psychology Today, Feb 2013


Forsythe P, Bienenstock J, Kunze WA.”Vagal pathways for microbiome-brain-gut axis communication”. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2014;817:115-33


Kok, B, Fredrickson, B, Coffey, K, et al. “How Positive Emotions Build Physical Health: Perceived Positive Social Connections Account for the Upward Spiral Between Positive Emotions and Vagal Tone”. Psychological Science 2013 24: 1123


Valentin A Pavlov, Kevin J Tracey, “The vagus nerve and the inflammatory reflex – linking immunity and the metabolism”, Nature Reviews Endocrinology, Dec 2012;743-754


Pei-Jing Rong, Ji-Liang Fang, Li-Ping Wang, Hong Meng, Jun Liu, Ying-ge Ma, Hui Ben, Liang L1, Ru-Peng Liu, Zhan-Xia Huang, Yu-Feng Zhao, Xia Li, Bing Zhu, Jian Kong, “Transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation for the treatment of depression: a study protocol for a double blinded randomized clinical trial”, BioMedCentral Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Nov 2012


A Laine Green, Donald F Weaver, “Vagal stimulation by manual carotid sinus massage to acutely suppress seizures”, Journal of Clinical Neuroscience, Jan 2014;179-180


Bangalore G Kalyani, Ganesan Venkatasubramanian, Rashmi Arasappa, Naren P Rao, Sunil V Kalmady, Rishikesh V Behere, Hariprasad Rao, Mandapati K Vasudev, and Bangalore N Gangadhar, “Neurohemodynamic correlates of ‘OM’ chanting: A pilot functional magnetic resonance imaging study”, International Journal of Yoga, Jan-Jun 2011


Harry Cheadle, “ASMR, the Good Feeling No One Can Explain”, Vice, Jul 2012


Verified by MonsterInsights