Improve Your Health (and Vagal Tone) With These 4 Tips

The vagus (sounds like Vegas) nerve plays a critical role in many areas of your health.  It’s the tenth cranial nerve and originates in your brainstem. It goes through your neck and thorax and extends down to your abdomen. It is one of the biggest nerves that connect your brain and gut through a two-way communication system. It sends an extensive range of nerve impulses from the digestive system and specific internal organs (liver, heart, and lungs) to your brain and vice versa. 

The vagus nerve plays several important roles in your day to day life including the regulation of internal organ functions including:

  • Digestion, heart rate, breathing, vasomotor activities (hormones, blood vessels), and some reflexes such as coughing, sneezing, swallowing, and vomiting
  • Regulation of our fight, flight, or freeze actions
  • Affects our anxiety levels and ability to handle emotional and physical stressors

So now, what is vagal tone?

Vagal tone is simply a measurement of how well your vagus nerve functions, and it is measured indirectly through heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is the amount of time in between heartbeats, which indicates the vagal activity of the heart. There should be variability in the amount of time between heartbeats. Meaning, that the more variable your HRV is, the better your vagal tone, and the less variable it becomes, the weaker is your vagal tone as well. I remember when I first learned about this it was counterintuitive–I thought it made sense that a healthy heart rhythm was one that was very evenly spaced, but that’s not the case! You don’t want a metronomic heartbeat–you want it to be dynamic and flexible.

HRV is also an indicator of fitness recovery because it reflects how well your body is recovering from stress and its ability to balance between the parasympathetic “rest and digest” branch and the sympathetic branch of your nervous system so that you can recover from exercise well.

The right HRV varies from person to person, thus your HRV baseline is individual. There’s no fixed HRV baseline, so a high or low HRV is not the same for everyone (more on this in a moment).

But low vagal tone is associated with the following:

* inflammatory bowel diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease
* neurological conditions (dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc)
* mental health problems including depression, anxiety, and PTSD
* diseases of the heart and blood vessels

How to track your HRV?

There are devices that can track your HRV. One of which is the Oura Ring. It tracks HRV during sleep and helps you find your baseline. I also really like the Inner Balance by the HeartMath Institute which provides HRV and feedback for improving it in the moment.

But the big question is how do you improve your vagal tone?

There’s a method that is already well-researched in improving vagal tone: electrical vagal nerve stimulation. This has been approved by the FDA as a treatment to a few neurological and mental disorders, but since only a medical professional can perform this procedure, it’s not very accessible.

So I have 4 effective ways to improve your vagal tone that are non-invasive and generally good for your health and well-being. Plus you can do them on your own!

  • Exercise – High-intensity interval exercise improves vagal tone (and is scientifically supported). However, if you aren’t able to do HIIT for whatever reason, even light exercises can increase your HRV.
  • Breathing and Meditation – Improve your vagal tone by adding 10-20 minutes of slow, mindful breathing every day. Do this by consciously breathing out longer than breathing in. When we exhale, our heart rate decreases and this stimulates the vagus nerve. Slow breathing also increases the parasympathetic nervous system (your “rest and digest” branch).
  • Diet and Probiotics – Your diet should be nutrient-dense and anti-inflammatory, because everything that is good for your gut and brain is good for your vagus nerve. Probiotics help your gut to heal and maintain a healthy balance of flora, which supports your gut-brain axis (where your vagus nerve plays a big part)
  • Cold Water Immersion – Research backs up cold water plunging and cold stimulation of the neck area for improving vagal tone. Cold water immersion is especially good for muscle recovery and improving HRV–which is why it has become popular in athletic communities. If you have poor vagal tone or wish to improve it further, start gradually (i.e. take the last 10-20 seconds of your shower on the coldest setting.)

Whether you use an HRV tracker or track whether your symptoms have improved, I hope you find improvements as you apply these helpful tools.

It is my passion to work with people like you whose health symptoms are getting in the way of you living life fully and with a sense of freedom in your body. I can help you to regain your health so you can feel great and free to enjoy life fully.

If you’re ready to discover where your best health has been hiding, I’d love to connect with you!
Apply for a complimentary Unstoppable Health Discovery Session at bit.ly/schedulinghealth (subject to availability).

Until next time, I’m wishing you unstoppable health!
~Rebecca

P.S.
Know someone who could use my help?
Send them the link to apply for a complimentary Unstoppable Health Discovery Session. bit.ly/schedulinghealth (subject to availability).

Common Drugs That Affect the Gut Ecosystem–And What to Do about It!

Within your gut lives billions of microorganisms that promote your health. Collectively known as the gut microbiome, this microbial community works as a giant factory producing various chemicals or substances that pass through the intestinal wall to join the bloodstream and affect your body’s cells.
 
Different factors affect the composition and quantity of your gut microbiome, including genetics, diet, sleeping pattern, and exercise. But today, let’s take a closer look at another factor that changes the gut ecosystem that doesn’t get discussed much: medications.


 
Medications and medical interventions can be incredibly helpful, so the goal of this newsletter isn’t to attack these tools. Rather, the side effects of medications on the gut are part of the picture and it is important to be fully informed. Remember that the health of the gut says a lot about the health of the body in general.
 
So what are some common drugs and that disrupt the gut ecosystem?
 
Proton-pump inhibitors
PPI’s are the drugs of choice to treat gastric acidity, GERD, and acid reflux. They are associated with adverse effects in the gut microbiome.
In studies conducted amongst those taking proton-pump inhibitors, they found considerable quantities of bacteria that are normally present in the oral cavity.
And mind you, these bacteria do not belong in the gut! They are usually killed by stomach acid. And the presence of these bacteria in the gut is associated with the development of some types of colon cancer.
 
Antibiotics
Another gut disrupting drug, likely unsurprisingly, is the antibiotics. Perhaps you’ve experienced antibiotic-related diarrhea, which is a short-term effect of antibiotic use, at some point? This can lead to a rebound towards constipation as your body attempts to rebalance itself.
Long term effects of being on antibiotic therapy are reduced diversity of the gut microbiome.
If your gut microbiome lacks diversity, there’s less production of health-promoting molecules such as butyric acid (butyric acid or butyrate is well-known for supporting digestive health, reducing inflammation, and regulating the epigenome (the dynamic part of our DNA), thereby promoting overall health), which can be a predisposing factor in developing chronic illnesses.

Metformin, a medication used to treat Type 2 Diabetes and PCOS (reduced microbial diversity and reduced abundance of healthy flora) and laxativesused to treat constipation, are 2 other common medications that disrupt your gut health.

As I said earlier, it is sometimes inevitable to take medications. So it is of utmost importance to take extra care of your gut health.

Here are my top research-backed tips to help you take good care of your gut:
 Take probiotics and prebiotics – Probiotics, whether in supplement or fermented food form, promote gut microbiome diversity. Prebiotics are the what your gut bacteria eat, such as plant fibers, starches, and collagen. These prebiotics promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics include leeks, garlic, sunchokes, tomatoes, artichokes, flaxseed, chicory, and green leafy vegetables.Avoid sweets – Artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin), sugar, and foods that are naturally high in sugar contribute to gut dysbiosis and increase the bacteria that are linked to metabolic diseases.Get your sleep – It is important to establish good sleeping habits to get ample, restful sleep at the right time. Poor sleeping patterns are associated with poor gut flora.Manage stress – Stress, even if it’s short-lived, disrupts the gut microbiome, so make sure to do things that can help you relieve stress. Some of the things you may want to try are HeartMath, mindfulness meditation, journaling, and deep breathing exercises.Exercise – Keep your body active! Make sure to allow time every day to exercise. It is good for your circulation, mood, muscles, bones, and gut health.
It is my passion to work with people like you whose health symptoms are getting in the way of you living life fully and with a sense of freedom in your body. I can help you to regain your health so you can feel great and free to enjoy life fully.
 Until next time, I’m wishing you unstoppable health!
~RebeccaP.S.
Know someone who could use my help?
Send them the link to apply for a complimentary Unstoppable Health Discovery Session. bit.ly/schedulinghealth (subject to availability).

5 Ways Sunlight Impacts Your Metabolic Health

Did you know that sunlight has a direct impact on your metabolic health?
All the cells of your body take some direction from the sun on how they should function.

Here are the 5 ways sunlight impacts your metabolic health:

1. Plants make food for your cells using sunlight.
Photosynthesis is the process by which green plants create their food with the help of carbon dioxide, water, and sunshine.
Light energy from the sun is transformed by plants into simple sugars that form into complex carbohydrates that we consume. Once inside our body, they are broken down to be used by our cells to form energy in the form of ATP or adenosine triphosphate.
During photosynthesis, oxygen is produced as a byproduct.
Sunlight is essential to every living thing’s survival on earth, including you!

2. Sunlight entering the eyes generates genetic and hormonal signals.
Your eyes, particularly in the retina, have these special cells that respond to light, called photoreceptors. When they absorb light, they undergo a tiny chemical change that triggers a series of events that create an electrical impulse that is fired by an axon of a nerve cell to another until it reaches your suprachiasmatic nucleus or the SCN as well as other parts of your brain.
So exposure to sunlight stimulates your SCN to start brain and cellular processes that are affected by genetics, hormones, and neurotransmitters. Now, when you have an erratic sleeping pattern or don’t get enough sunlight, you are not exposed to the normal cycles of the sun. When that happens, the complex physiologic processes that are initiated by the SCN are distorted.
This is when disease can set in.

3. Sunlight helps regulate stress-response systems.
Your SCN is your body’s master clock or pacemaker. It is in charge of your body’s circadian rhythm or sleep-wake cycle. This affects your metabolic health because it plays a role in food intake, insulin sensitivity, glucose control, and energy expenditure. When your blood sugar is out of balance, it affects everything, but I want to specifically point out how hard this is on your adrenal glands! Your adrenal glands produce many hormones, cortisol being the most known one. One of cortisol’s roles is helping blood sugar regulation…and if it’s got to work hard balancing your blood sugar, your stress-response system is definitely going to be strained and you aren’t going to feel as resilient as you could!
So when your circadian rhythm is disrupted, it takes a toll on your metabolic health. It may lead to pancreatic dysfunction and problems with glucose and insulin metabolism, which may lead to a high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes mellitus, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases. Even in the absence of disease, your body’s ability to convert energy into food will be limited and, as I mentioned with your resilience, you won’t have the capacity to regulate your stress response.
It is vital to get sunlight first thing in the morning and get off screens and artificial light before bedtime so that your SCN gets the right signals to function optimally.

4. Sunlight impacts mood, which is also correlated with metabolism.
Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters that affect mood, and its levels decrease when you don’t get enough sunlight. No wonder some people experience mood changes or depression during the winter months if they’re living somewhere where sunlight is limited.
Aside from mood regulation, serotonin also affects metabolism. In fact, increased serotonin levels regulate appetite and glucose control.

5. Sunlight is a source of vitamin D.
Although vitamin D can be found in food, the major source of vitamin D is the sun. It is sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin.” Vitamin D also affects mood and metabolism. Obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes are among the disease conditions that are correlated to low levels of vitamin D.

By now, I think you get the point: sunlight is important! It affects you on a cellular level and impacts the physiologic processes that affect both your mood and metabolic health. Assess yourself if you are getting enough sunlight (around 20-30 mins/day) and if not, how can you begin to adapt your lifestyle in order to benefit from it.

It is my passion to work with people like you whose health symptoms are getting in the way of you living life fully and with a sense of freedom in your body. I can help you to regain your health so you can feel great and free to enjoy life fully.

If you’re ready to discover where your best health has been hiding, I’d love to connect with you!
Apply for a complimentary Unstoppable Health Discovery Session at bit.ly/schedulinghealth (subject to availability).

Until next time, I’m wishing you unstoppable health!
~Rebecca

P.S.
Know someone who could use my help?
Send them the link to apply for a complimentary Unstoppable Health Discovery Session. bit.ly/schedulinghealth (subject to availability).