Food, Mood and The Vagus Nerve


Have you ever felt nervous, fearful or excited and got those twittering butterflies wing sensations in your gut? And have you heard the saying, “trust your gut?” This saying, in part, has to do with the vagus nerve and how it links the brain to the gut.

The enteric nervous system.

This system is a meshwork of nerves in the gut lining (gastrointestinal tract). It has as many neurons as the spinal cord and is often referred to as the second brain. The vagus nerve connects these two brains. A great deal of research is being conducted on the vagus nerve; how vital its role may be in digestive health is fascinating.

The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve.

It originates in the brain and travels or wanders (commonly referred to as the wanderer) to the abdomen, innervating and supplying organs and many different areas in the body, including the heart, liver, and stomach. The vagus nerve constantly sends the brain information about the other body organs; in this case, the digestive system functions.

The vagus nerve has been linked to influencing mood, fear, and anxiety. It also communicates with the mind informing the gut to promote either the “rest and digest” *parasympathetic nervous system response or put on alert for a “flight or fight” sympathetic nervous system response.


2 cartoon blueberries

The way you think,

the way you behave,

the way you eat,

Can influence your life by 30 to 50 years.

Deepak Chopra

Vagus Nerve Functions:

  • alerts when hungry
  • promotes enzyme and HCL release
  • stimulates the gallbladder to release bile
  • stimulates intestinal blood flow
  • communicates which nutrients, such as carbohydrates and protein components, are present triggering the appropriate amount of digestive chemicals to be released
  • slows the heartbeat to allow for optimal digestion

The gut/brain communication pathway is bi-directional, meaning messages are sent back and forth between the two. It is imperative to note that there is no separation between these, and most people with digestive issues have some psychological issues: from sugar cravings to mood disorders, depression, and anxiety.

*As mentioned earlier, the vagus nerve promotes a parasympathetic nervous system response to eating: rest and digest. 

Another strong reason to keep the health of your digestive system strong and healthy.

Happy digesting,
dr. heather

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quote form deepak chopra

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