Something I see many people do when it comes to improving their health is go straight down the obvious route, or the ‘plaster’ approach as I call it (band aids for all you Americans reading this). It’s the more mainstream approach but by going down this route you could be missing the biggest thing that is impacting your health.
How do you know you’re following the ‘plaster’ approach?
It’s when you have sleeping problems so you take sleeping pills, you take probiotics for gut problems, lansoprazole for reflux, you go to the gym just to lose weight but the scales don’t move, so you aim for restrictive diets and fat burners and you rely on caffeine to improve your focus and brain function.
These usually don’t work long term and can cause even more frustration, along with lowered quality of health, if you don’t fix one thing.
That one thing is your ‘Vagal Tone’.
Your Vagal Tone is the ability for your vagus nerve to send messages effectively and signal to your vital organs all over your body.
What is your Vagus Nerve?
Your Vagus nerve is a nerve connected to your brain stem. It’s your 10th cranial nerve and is actually latin for ‘wanderer’, therefore it is your wandering nerve and aptly named because it sends communication from your brain to your heart, lungs, digestive system and controls most bodily functions. It is massively involved in lowering inflammation all over the body, regulating your heart rate, improving your digestion and pretty much all healing processes within your body.
It is in control of your rest and digest by being the main nerve in the parasympathetic nervous system – our relaxation system that allows us to work effectively.
We need good vagal tone to have a healthy heart rate, healthy blood pressure, good blood glucose management, ability to swallow well, regular digestion and bowel movements, lowered anxiety and good moods along with better sleep.
The trouble is we spend way too much time in our ‘fight or flight’ side of the nervous system – the sympathetic nervous system – and we cannot grow, heal or relax when doing this as it massively impacts our health and the state that we can get into for recovery.
Signs you have poor Vagal Tone
- Poor immune function and highered sickness
- Heart rate problems and lowered HRV
- Blood pressure problems
- Poor gag reflex
- Poor ability to swallow
- Regular earaches and infections
- Acid reflux and stomach acid issues
- Losing your voice and stumbling on your words
The symptoms above can point to specific nerve damage. However, even without nerve damage we can still have poor function, which could show up as:
- Low energy
- Anger outbreaks
- Brain fog
- Sleep issues
- Low attention span and ADHD symptoms
- Lowered pain tolerance.
I know usually these articles just focus on the negatives but improving your Vagus nerve’s ability to function results in what is essentially the opposite of these (sorry for pointing out the obvious)
- Good HRV (60 and above most of the time)
- Good BP regulation
- Good ability to handle stress
- Good regulation of moods
- Sleeping through the night with good energy when you wake
- Good gut health
- Good organ function
- Being able to swallow pills easily
- Being able to talk and good speech regulation
Not just this but it’s sometimes important to look at the lesser signs that the body is under stress, things such as grinding of teeth, muscle tightness, anxiety, brain fog, concentration issues, anger, headaches and migraines, stomach issues, skin issues, low sex drive and even just fatigue when you really shouldn’t be feeling fatigued.
What causes bad vagal tone?
It’s all well and good knowing the signs but what are the things that have got us to this point, what have we been through and how can we improve this?
- Chronic stress over a long period of time
- Poor sleep and habits around sleep routine
- PTSD from both childhood and/or adult trauma
- Head injuries and priming of glial cells in the brain
- Poor breathing techniques
- Poor blood glucose management and diet
- Exposure to mold
- Viral infections
- Lyme disease
- Chronic toxin exposure
And how do we then go on to improve this? Well, as with everything it is going to be down to the individual as to what things will work best and what can be implemented regularly. It will depend on the severity of the issue and the time frame that it takes to improve will vary. The problem arises when I see many people who have issues with their vagal tone just choosing hard exercise routines or restrictive diets, which causes more stress along with emotional frustration. Hence with anything like this I would always consult a professional who specialises in this area whether it be myself or someone else.
First off before making improvements, it’s good to test and see if it is your Vagus nerve we need to work on (spoiler, it pretty much certainly can be improved if you’ve not done any direct work before).
These are some methods of testing it.
- HRV: Looking at the variability of your HR is the ‘gold standard’ way of monitoring stress on the body and deciding if your vagus nerve function could be improved. It can be done using an oura ring, apple watch, fitbit or other fitness tracker. The marker I look for in clients is 60 and above, so if it’s below this we need to work on improving the score and the vagus nerve is what I would start with whether directly (improving tone) or indirectly (lifestyle factors).
- Blood pressure – Ideally your blood pressure should be between 100-140 systolic (top) and 70-90 diastolic (bottom)
- Orthostatic hypotension – basically when you get up too quickly you feel light headed
- Pupil Constriction Test – if you shine a light into your eye does your pupil constrict for 10 seconds before dilating? If it takes much longer, constricts immediately or does nothing, then it’s a sign you are either in more of the parasympathetic or sympathetic nervous system than you would want. We need balance here.
And finally, what can you do to improve it?
- Get a good sleep routine and improve sleep hygiene
- Practice gratitude
- Laugh a lot
- Regulate your breathing
- Singing loud will stimulate your vagus nerve
- Stimulating your gag reflex
- Gargling regularly
- Cold water exposure and splashing on the face
- Good nutrition protocols
- Adaptogenic herbs such as ashwagandha or tulsi
- Chiropractic adjustments or massage
This method is something that I have used with clients all over the world to improve their health without them even thinking it could be an issue. Usually with gut problems we look at the gut, with weight loss we look at what’s being consumed and being burnt off, with sleep we look elsewhere too but this is basically the direct control method. By signaling from the control centre of the body it will allow us to improve your health so much just by working on the things within this article.
As always if you do need help with this then drop me a message, let’s book in for a virtual coffee and discuss how you can improve your health quickly.