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The Important Role of Your Vagus Nerve

Updated: May 23, 2019

by Dr. Phil Smith

Chiropractic care is a powerful way to boost your ability to heal. Most of us have heard that stress can cause havoc on the mind and body. We all have stress. Those who are not dealing with the stress properly are the ones that will suffer health problems. It is your response to stress that matters the most- how do you physically and mentally adapt/handle the stress. For those of you already under regular chiropractic care, you have likely noticed overall health improvements including your ability to relax, sleep, be in a better mood and so on.

Spinal posture affects and moderates every physiological function from breathing to heart beat regulation, blood, pressure, hormone function, digestion etc. Your ability to make new cells, recharge, re-generate, digest food is regulated in large part by the Vagus nerve (at the top of your neck- see poster above).

Chiropractic adjustments have been shown to improve how your Vagus nerve works. That is why people with different conditions like high blood pressure, blood sugar, digestion, breathing, hormone problems etc. improve with chiropractic care. Commonly under our 5 Fundamental program people will no longer need medications and will reverse their condition(s).

You can stimulate the Vagus nerve and boost your healing power at home with these 30 self-help remedies found at the bottom of this article by Joel Cohen, adapted from


What is the Vagus Nerve?

by Joel Cohen, BS

In people with fatigue, food sensitivities, anxiety, gut problems, brain fog and depersonalization, the vagus nerve is almost always at play. These people have lower vagal tone, which means a lower ability to perform its functions.

The only question is which aspect of the vagus nerve is malfunctioning and to what extent it is the problem vs. other aspects of your biology.

The vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system, referred to as the rest-and-digest system. It’s not the only nerve in the parasympathetic system, but it’s by far the most important one because it has the most far-reaching effects.

The word vagus means “wanderer,” because it wanders all over the body to various important organs.

The vagus nerve reaches the brain, gut (intestines, stomach), heart, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, kidney, ureter, spleen, lungs, reproductive organs (female), neck (pharynx, larynx, and esophagus), ears, and tongue.

Given the importance of the vagus nerve to the gut (and other organs), when it’s not working properly, it will cause digestive disorders including dyspepsia, gastroparesis, GERD, ulcerative colitis, anorexia, and bulimia, to name a few.

Vagus Nerve Functions


In the brain, the vagus nerve helps mood and controls anxiety and depression.

The vagus nerve is largely responsible for the mind-body connection since it goes to all the major organs (except the adrenal and thyroid glands).

It’s intimately tied to how we connect with one another — it links directly to nerves that tune our ears to human speech, coordinate eye contact, and regulate emotional expressions. It influences the release of oxytocin, a hormone that is important in social bonding [1].

Studies have found that higher vagal tone is associated with greater closeness to others and more altruistic behavior [2].

Vagus activity of a child can be affected by their mother. Infants had lower vagus activity with mothers who were depressed, angry, or anxious during pregnancy [3].

Some studies suggested that the vagus nerve is important for getting in the mental state of “flow”. It’s believed that the combination of sympathetic (fight-or-flight) and vagus activation creates the right environment for a flow state [1].

Vagus nerve stimulation might increase wakefulness (by increasing orexin in the prefrontal cortex). It has been shown to decrease the amounts of daytime sleep and rapid eye movement in epilepsy patients with traumatic brain injury and also promoted the recovery of consciousness in comatose rats after traumatic brain injury  [4].

However, the vagus nerve also might cause ‘sickness behavior’ (fatigue, sleepiness, depression, anxiety, appetite loss, pain, lowered motivation, and failure to concentrate) in an inflammatory state (IL-1b) [5].


In the gut, it increases stomach acidity, digestive juice secretion, and gut flow. Since the vagus nerve is important for increasing gut flow (motility), having less vagus activation will increase your IBS risk, which is a result of slower flow [6].

Stimulating the vagus nerve increases the release of histamine by stomach cells, which helps release stomach acid [7]. So, low stomach acidity is usually, in part, a vagus nerve problem. By releasing intrinsic factor, the vagus nerve is important to help you absorb vitamin B12.

Satiety and relaxation following a meal are in part caused by activation of the vagus nerve’s transmission to the brain in response to food intake [8].

The vagus nerve is important in conditions like GERD, not only because it controls stomach acidity, but also because it controls the esophagus.


In the heart, it controls heart rate and blood pressure. Vagus activation will lower the risk of heart disease, among other lethal diseases [9].

Liver, Pancreas, and Gallbladder

In the liver and pancreas, it helps control blood glucose balance.

In the gallbladder, it helps release bile, which can help you get rid of toxins and break down fat.

Kidney and Bladder

The vagus nerve promotes general kidney function. It helps with glucose control and increases blood flow [10], which improves blood filtration. Vagus activation also releases dopamine in the kidneys, which helps excrete sodium [11] and, thereby, lower blood pressure.

The vagus nerve also goes to the bladder [12] A side effect of its stimulation is urinary retention [13], which means that less vagus stimulation can cause you to urinate frequently. Indeed, many of my clients complain about frequent urination (also due to low vasopressin, low aldosterone, and high cortisol).


In the spleen, it can reduce inflammation. Note that vagus activation will reduce inflammation in all target organs (by releasing acetylcholine), but when it activates in the spleen the response will probably be more systemic [14].

It helps control fertility and orgasms in women by connecting to the cervix, uterus, and vagina. Women can actually experience orgasms simply from the vagus nerve.

Mouth and Ears

In the tongue, it helps control taste and saliva; while in the eyes, it helps release tears.

The vagus nerve explains why a person may cough when tickled on the ear, such as when trying to remove ear wax with a cotton swab.

Vagus nerve stimulation helps people with tinnitus because of its connection to the ear.

Potential Symptoms of Vagus Nerve Dysfunction

  • Obesity and weight gain [15].

  • Brain problems

  • IBS

  • DepressionAnxiety

  • Chronic fatigue

  • High or low heart rate

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Gastroparesis, also known as delayed gastric emptying