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! 




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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


miscarriage – why is it still taboo?

miscarriage – why is it still taboo?

Miscarriage… why is it still taboo?

October is Baby loss awareness month. And during this month, a week is set aside every year to start conversations to break the taboo about miscarriage and infant death. 

I have a confession to make. Although I’m here for all my clients as I support ladies around fertility pregnancy and sometimes loss; I find this month helpful to me personally as I had a miscarriage myself.

My baby would be 18 this year. Every year you mark times you would be celebrating firsts, like school, secondary school, and going off to Uni. As it stays with you as grieving the loss of any family member would. I  remember giving him the name Ben ( I instinctively knew it was a boy).

I was given a due date of mid August 2003 after I went for a scan on Christmas eve, where I heard the heartbeat for the first time. The sonographer gave me the date and I kept the scan card in my keepsakes probably until around 2017, when I was finally able to throw it away without feeling sad about it. 

The pregnancy was a shock, as at the time my boyfriend and I were not trying for a baby. I remember taking 4 pregnancy tests to confirm the pregnancy and illogically asked my sister to do one ( the weird things you do when faced with something you know is the truth!)  but at 30 with a house and a good job I thought after the initial shock that this was something I could do. Sadly it broke us and me for a long time as although I was in a good place he wasn’t.  

At around 9 weeks into the pregnancy I started to miscarry. I was involved in a really serious car accident 10 days prior to this, and I often wonder if the shock and blow I took to head and body had something to do with it as my little fiat uno was crushed to a pulp by a Dutch 18 wheeler who pulled into my lane without seeing me and crushed me against the barriers. The miscarriage happened a week and a half later and It was the day after the new year, so still a lot of party people getting too drunk and ending up in Accident and Emergency – bad timing on my bodies part when I got there it as it was a heinously busy night.  It started around 12:45am and like really bad period pains it soon became apparent I was miscarrying as it built into huge waves of pain and bleeding. When I got to the hospital I was left in Accident and Emergency on the side and nobody came to help me for 4 hours despite asking quietly at first and then calling out as I was in a lot of pain. Finally after lying on a stretcher bed for 4 hours a registra peeled back my trousers and gasped at the bleed everywhere and mumbled ‘yes that’s miscarriage, lets admit you overnight as this looks quite bad.

I finally got admitted to the ward around 5am, rigged up to an IV as I’d lost so much blood and had really low blood pressure and a lovely auxiliary nurse cleaned me up and  ‘helped me along’ with the removal, as she said it would help if we got things out in terms of my recovery. The ward was dark at this point and this all happened with her holding a torch and the curtain around my bed.  I cried through the whole thing and afterwards as I lay there wondering why it had all happened, what I had done wrong to make the baby go away and in the process my boyfriend and how desperately alone I felt. ( something I later realised is a common thing most women go through when they have a miscarriage)

I left the hospital and slept walked through the next few days. When I returned to work my manager at the time who I had rung to tell her about the miscarriage said on email ‘ I don’t know what to write on your return to work form so come into my office for a chat’ A conversations that introduced me to the world of the taboo around miscarriage. I soon discovered –  Like the movie and line in fight club ‘ the first rule about miscarriage is ‘ nobody talks about miscarriage’ as my colleagues knew about it but nobody talked to me or even offered a sympathetic word or hug apart from the lady I sat next to. 

I was gobsmacked and a bit taken back when my manager seemed reluctant to start the conversations when we finally met in her office,  about what to write on the form – to which I replied      ‘… its obvious isn’t it? I lost my baby so write that down..’ My manager then fumbled ‘ I’ll just write women gynaecological issues shall I?  –  I haven’t had a miscarriage before… I hope you are ok now? I just got up and left the room after that mumbling a bit, knowing that that was about as much sympathy I’d be getting from work about my ‘unfortunate miscarriage’ as she put it.

The worst thing about miscarriage is you often feel shame, sadness and anger all rolled up into one and are faced with pregnancies all around you! I was in a team in the EU office at the time where both ladies around my age were pregnant and only a few weeks further on than me happily talking about their milestones – and all the while there I sat silently dealing, listening and giving support and words of encouragement at the right times to my colleagues about their happy event – when what I wanted to do was run away or curl up back at home in my own space. 

After the whole ordeal and lack of support from everyone round me  (it was 2003 and things have come a long way from there thankfully)  – It took me years to even talk about it properly. I kept it all bottled up and this is probably the first time I’ve even pieced it all together. 

A year later, I decided a fresh start was needed so I left Nottingham, moved to London, sold my house and started a nutrition course. During this time I really focused on hormones and strangely enough some of my case studies became pregnancy, and hormone related, so you could say I went looking for answers and Nutrition and hormones helped me see a way forward. 

However alongside this, had I been better informed and supported I might have been given some  counselling by the GP I visited afterwards when I wasn’t coping about lovely organisations like Tommys and SANDS who are there to help women through miscarriage and still birth to help them deal with the emotions and feelings that come up at any point as you grieve the loss of a family you had imagined to have, even if only briefly. 

Every year over 250,000 women go though a miscarriage and the statistic is one is four babies are lost before 12 weeks. 

Its changed a lot since 2003 in terms of being more open, but its still the last taboo. Mostly women suffer in silence due to ‘not wanting to make a fuss’  or making anyone feel uncomfortable, including friends and family. Then come the ones who do talk to you with words of advice  telling you ‘ its for the best’ or .

..’there must have been something wrong with it’ Or ‘you didn’t want a baby did you? a double Scorpio sting for ladies who get pregnant unexpectedly and then miscarry –   almost stopping you feeling grief like you didn’t have the right to grieve at all. 

Miscarriage is always met with ‘ advice’ However despite all of the support I give women preparing them for pregnancy, it can be tricky to prevent miscarriage especially if there have been multiple miscarriages.

Despite all the preparation and emotional support, the blood tests and the invasive testing, the advances in modern technology that can pinpoint gender and abnormalities at such an early stage,  I still find it difficult to give answers as to why miscarriage happens – but you can guarantee I look into things with a  fine toothed comb and have had some brilliant success stories with women carrying to term after 4-6 miscarriages. 

Often when working in this area after doing a huge amount of digging – The truth is  sometimes we don’t know. I am reluctant to say its ‘ chromosomal’ as it could be any number of things such as progesterone issues, failure to thrive, placental issues, incomplete cervix or any number of things. Rather unhelpfully the NHS in the UK will only test if you have 3 recurring miscarriages. 

What I do, is always give support and a familiar voice at the end of the line if they need it, as mostly when you decide to talk it all comes flooding out.

I feel having a miscarriage myself was what the driving force behind my business – to  help women  conceive and carry to term is my greatest triumph. Having a miscarriage has as helped me to become a better more caring practitioner and one who knows what to say when others don’t.

A journalist I follow on Instagram wrote a story on her miscarriage in the guardian a few years back ( this post has been sitting in my files for a few years and I visit it and ask whether it’s the right year to release it and with a larger milestone happening ie 18 years since the miscarriage I finally think I can say things with a bit more head than heart these days and feel a sense of release for what He may have wanted me to do). But its taken time. Its always good to talk, or listen and even more so if its taboo.  

how chemicals affect sperm

how chemicals affect sperm

Many of you are here because you want to become Mothers or Fathers. All of you will have had an interest in this as you may have had problems conceiving. For some, the journey down the road to parenthood is easy. But for others, conception can be an immensely challenging process for both body and mind.

The natural approach to treating infertility looks the at the root causes of infertility, by addressing all body systems, rather than just focusing solely on the reproductive system.
I’ve talked a lot about diet so far and things we have more control over. Some things like environmental toxins we have less control over, however we can make some choices about most of these issues once we know what we are dealing with.

A recent report in the UK from the Royal College of Gynaecologists confirmed many of the concerns I have as a nutritionist around limiting your chemical exposure during pregnancy. The truth is this journey should really start before conception instead of the advice given of which chemicals to avoid during pregnancy.

I often refer to environmental toxins with clients as the silent accumulators as they can be responsible for sub fertility. Accumulated toxins from our diet or environment can build up over time and unfortunately, they will stop nutrients from getting to a woman’s reproductive organs and interfere with sperm health.

According to Natural Health Concepts, “More than 80,000 chemicals permitted have never been fully assessed for toxic impacts on human health and the environment. Under the current law, it is almost impossible to take regulatory action against dangerous chemicals, even those that are known to cause cancer or other serious health effects”.


We absorb almost 60% of what we put on our skin and if we take just a quick snapshot of the chemical bath we are exposed to just in body care, it is quite easy to rack up an impressive chemical count within hours of waking. By the time we eventually go to bed, we will be exposed to many hundreds of chemicals just in one area such as body care.

Many couples have unexplained infertility and cleaning up their exposure to chemicals is one component of an overall plan and used in conjunction with others will help them become more fertile. Everyone has a different physiology so as a rule I always recommend an overhaul of body, home and lifestyle.

Exposure to chemicals used to preserve lotions and potions heavy metals, radiation, and toxic chemicals in some foods, drugs and other products can damage DNA and can influence our gene structure and expression.

Here are a few things to help you clean up your act in regards to chemicals prior to conception:

1. Minimize your exposure to toxic chemicals

Once pregnant exposure to environmental toxins (in the form of industrial chemicals) both in utero and neonatally may dramatically affect the growing child. There appears to be less stringent controls on them as there are for medicines. Consequently, poisonous chemicals end up circulating in our environment, food supply, air and water.
Heavy metals and environmental pollution can alter hormone function and result in adverse reproductive health effects. These include:
Ovotoxicants: which can disrupt or even stop ovulation.
Endocrine disruptors: Which can interfere with hormone function and cause endometriosis and PCOS.
Phthalates: in plastic food containers, cling film, bags, medical supplies, vinyl flooring and packaging at high levels have been associated with miscarriage and testicular toxicity. At low levels they disrupt hormonal balance.
VCH chemicals: used in rubber tires, plastics and pesticides.
PAH: released from cigarettes, car fumes and road tar

Men are also affected

Studies confirm male sperm counts are declining, and environmental factors, such as pesticides, exogenous oestrogens (Xenoestrogens), and heavy metals may negatively impact spermatogenesis (formation of sperm).
Sperm seems to be more sensitive to heavy metals and industrial pollutants than Ova. Many sperm abnormalities have been linked to these toxins. The majority of these chemicals can be found in the atmosphere, on the ground in cities and in the waterways.

They have also been termed “reprotoxicants” for their negative effects on sperm development and maturation. Shanna Swan who was involved in the sperm study published in 2017 has written a great book looking at chemicals as the main reason for declining sperm health.  

What can we do about this – The top 7 environmental toxins to avoid

Pesticides: found on non-organic fruit and vegetables, meat, dairy and unfiltered tap water
Formaldehyde: found in air fresheners, deodorants, floor polish, upholstery cleaners
Bisphenols: found in plastic containers and can leach into food and water.
Organic solvents: petroleum based liquids found in household products, electronics, car repair, health care, photography, agriculture, printing, construction and cosmetics and many more
Parabens used in common shampoos, conditioners and body care items.
Dry-cleaning chemicals
Paint fumes
Occasional exposure to one or the other toxic chemical is not of concern. What is of concern is accumulation of these chemicals over a long period.

2. Water

Our waterways are constantly being polluted by industrial waste and by-products, pharmaceutical drugs, pesticides and herbicides and commercial cleaning products.
How to minimise this = use a filtration system
Buy a filtration water system that filters particles smaller than 1 micron (this will filter out the drugs as well as heavy metals). Use the filter in your shower and your kitchen. Shower steam contains the same chemicals, which you can end up inhaling and can be absorbed through your skin.


It can be difficult to totally banish chemicals from our life, as after all we do live in a modern society; however we can make a big dent on our chemical exposure by:

1. Minimising and switching to natural products for body hair and teeth
2. Making sure the majority of your food is chemical free
3. Not obsessing about using plug in air filters and using harmful chemicals to clean your house

4. Filtering your water with a really good filtration system

sperm morphology – can the shape really hinder fertility?

sperm morphology – can the shape really hinder fertility?

Abnormalities in shape make it more difficult for sperm to penetrate and fertilize an egg. However this is not impossible and in my clinic I have seen many people go on to have a healthy pregnancy with 4% or lower morphology.

If there has been a morphology issue at an early stage before working together from last years test –  one of the next things I suggest is a DNA fragmentation test 

In my experience this seems to be the largest anomaly in most the sperm tests I see. And in my opinion relates to physical and environmental reasons.

The sperm shape it vital to a successful pregnancy. Often if there are zero morphologies this can be down to an illness, virus and heating the testicles too much, or chemical exposure Please read the ground breaking book by Dr Shanna Swan ‘ Count down’ about chemicals that can affect sperm if this is the case as there are some changes that need to happen on an environmental level taking out everyday chemicals. When you take these things out of the equation things may improve.  Also there is a blog I have written about this for more information here. ( link to blog on chemicals) 

Taking out the things suggested below will help this immensely

Heating the testicles is a sure way to mutate sperm so no lycra pants, saunas or steam rooms and cycling and sitting for long periods of time can boil thing a bit!

Things we can do to improve the shape of sperm:

  • Reduce caffeine
  • Reducing Alcohol
  • Taking out Tobacco and marijuana 
  • Maintaining some form of exercise three times weekly as obesity reduces chances of well functioning sperm


Diet wise these things can help

Vitamin C – studies looking at increasing fruit and veg containing vitamin C as well as vitamin E two key antioxidants helps to boost morphology

CoQ10 – works at an energy and mitochondrial levels so will also improve motility and energy of sperm 

Lycopene- used alongside zinc and folate helped improve semen parameters and pregnancy as well as reduce oxidative stress 


A marine pine bark and full of antioxidant possibility has helped not only with morphology but all parameters and also erectile issues 

nutrients key to sperm count

nutrients key to sperm count

As in previous blog posts the sperm test is made up of a variety of parameters. These are useful to gage a general view on the health of the male. The WHO set the parameters that all GPS or urologists use regarding a healthy level. Sperm Count is regarded by this to be 15 million per milliliter (ml), or at least 39 million per ejaculate. If this is under 15 milliom this is considered low. As you may expect as testosterone is the driver of this a routine hormone test will show if there are issues with testosterone and other factors like FSH, LH and prolactin. 

There may also be a hindering physiological issue that impede sperm getting to larger numbers, which has to be ruled out. But in terms of lifestyle, a good healthy diet is the key starting point. 

Why is this so important surely it only takes 1 sperm to get there? Sadly of the many  millions that are released the more you have the more chances that the calculation of around 50-100 sperm getting to the egg make it as the ‘ best possible winners’ 

Vitamin C

Including vitamin C in your diet through fruit and veggies such as mango, papaya, broccoli, cabbage, kiwi fruit, chilis, potatoes, camu camu, spinach and ontop of this adding in 1,000-mg vitamin C supplements twice a day for up to 2 months increased sperm count by more than 100% 

Also, taking zinc supplements increases testosterone levels and sperm count in those who are low in zinc 



The key to DNA replication is just as important in Men as it is in Women for creating good quality reproductive ‘money makers’ you can get folate in leafy green such as  Kale, cabbage, Watercress,  Brocholi, Beans and legumes like chickpeas/garbanzas spinach, Brussel sprouts and spouted broccoli seeds, Beetroots or beet greens. Also organ meat like liver is a great source 


Selenium is needed to make healthy sperm and boost count. Foods such as Brazil nuts, fish, meat and eggs provide selenium.


Vitamin D

In a 2018 review low levels of vitamin D can have an effect on fertility. The best way to increase this in diet is oily boney fish. But in terms of sunlight this is the gold standard to improve levels. However in most cases like thos who live in colder climates that rarely tips the mercery higher than a fewq weeks a year a vitamin D supplement to therapeutic levels is needed.

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