The Vagus Nerve- Why Is It So Important?

The Vagus Nerve

The innervation of the vagus nerve

The innervation of the vagus nerve

I have been thinking about what I wanted to write about in this blog entry. It can be problematic at times to come up with a relevant topic that can be insightful, educational, and easy to apply to everyday life. I kept coming back to the vagus nerve because of its importance to the human body. This nerve has several functions and responsibilities so it is hard to explain such complexity in a single entry. Therefore, I am going to attempt to give a simple and concise article on the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve is designated cranial nerve number ten. There are twelve cranial nerves in total. Cranial nerves originate in the brain and brain stem with the focus of supplying the brain-body connection within the brain and mostly the head and neck. For example, the optic nerve transmits information from the eyes to the optic center of the occipital brain (back of the brain). Like many things in life, there always is an exception to the rule. The vagus nerve is the exception. This nerve leaves the brainstem and travels to several different organs of the body well below the typical head and neck area.

Like I said before, the vagus has many responsibilities. However, we are going to concentrate on the primary functions. The vagus utilizes 75% of its function to send information to the brain from the organs it controls.1 This is very important. If the brain cannot interpret the information coming in, the brain will not know how to fix any problems going on. To explore how this system works, let us look at another example. If we were to place our hand on a hot stove, a pain signal is sent from the hand to the spinal cord and then to the brain. The brain says “Ouch, that’s hot, body move your hand”. The brain sends a signal back for an autonomic response to remove our hand and all is well. Now, the problem arises if those pain nerves in the beginning are ineffective, not working, or the signal is interrupted. The brain will act like nothing is wrong and we burn ourselves. Now the question you should be asking, “What organs does the vagus supply?”.

The vagus is included in the involuntary autonomic nervous system. This is the part of the nervous system where you do not actively think about doing its function. I will explain more on this later. The vagus is primarily responsible for voluntary muscles in the larynx and esophagus, supplying autonomic fibers to the heart, and contributing to the stomach and intestines (gastrointestinal tract). The focus needs to be on the heart and gastrointestinal tract.

The heart has a normal heart beat, right around 72 beats per minute. How do we maintain that specific heart rate? That is the responsibility of the vagus nerve. It automatically keeps the communication between the brain and heart to maintain that heart rate. Along with heart rate, the vagus plays a vital role in blood pressure. The blood pressure is handled just like the heart rate. Both are how the vagus nerve functions. Logic will dictate, the organs will not respond properly if the right signal is not sent.

As mentioned earlier, the vagus plays an important role with the gastrointestinal tract. The function of the vagus nerve is to stimulate smooth muscle contraction and glandular secretions in these organs. For example, in the stomach, the vagus nerve increases the rate of gastric emptying, and stimulates acid production.2

There are numerous people in our society that experience heart rate, blood pressure, and gastrointestinal problems. The vagus nerve could be answer. When the nerve is inhibited and not working properly, the signals get challenged. The figure below shows the location of the nerve (nervus vagus) at the upper cervical spine location. The green bone is called C1 or atlas.

Vagus nerve path through the foramen magnum and done the spine.

Vagus nerve path through the foramen magnum and done the spine.

Understand that the diagram is for demonstrative purposes. The nerve does not sit on the bone itself. It is in a protective sheath. However, it shows that if there is a measurable displacement of the atlas or a structural shift in the upper spine it can lead to signal interference in the vagus nerve.

Assuming a person has low vagal activity (decrease activity of the vagus nerve), what can be done? There are some medical procedures that are currently being trialed. It involves implanting a electric stimulator on the nerve. This will apply constant signaling to the nerve in the attempt to stimulate and correct the low vagal activity.


A structural chiropractor, like myself, can look for, measure, and correct the measurable atlas displacement or structural shifts in the spine. This is obviously less invasive compared to the surgery. The corrections are precise and simple. After an initial care plan, we re-evaluate the patient to see if there is any improvement. Only a structural chiropractor can correct these shifts and displacements.

The possibility that structural corrective chiropractic care can help with blood pressure and intestinal issues is high. In fact, there are many case studies in peer reviewed journals showing the benefits of chiropractic related to these issues. We need to constantly look for alternatives to modern medicine and you need to ask yourself what the best option is for you. Structural correction is not for everyone plain and simple. But before undergoing any type of procedure, whether modern medicine or alternative paths, you need to evaluate all your options.

I hope this gives you some insight on the importance and role of the vagus nerve. Additionally, how structural correction can possibly help. If you have any questions, you can contact us via email.



1. “Basic and Clinical Anatomy of the Spine, Spinal Cord, and ANS. 2nd edition” G. Cramer, S. Darby. 2005



America’s Health Crisis – Are You The Problem?

America spends more than any other country in the world on health care – and yet, as of 2010, ranked 36th in the world for life expectancy with the anticipation that the ranking will continue to slip.  How can a country that spends so much on health care be this unhealthy?  In my opinion, the problem is American culture and the lack of responsibility that seems to permeate every unhealthy decision.  We seem to think that taking a pill will fix all of our ailments – or that back surgery is inevitable as we age.  Neither of these are an absolute reality for people who elect to take care of themselves.  Unfortunately, that is a minimal amount of the American population.

How does food relate to the health crisis?health

Are you type 2 diabetic and sick?  Are you eating a box of doughnuts for breakfast and blaming your weight gain on poor genetics?  Sure, maybe your genetic code sets you up to gain weight easily compared to a “normal” person, but your diet and food decisions drive your metabolism and the expression of your genes.  Life isn’t fair, and that is truly unfortunate, but people with a genetic predisposition to gain weight need to be more vigilant in their food selection.  A pyromaniac is safe if you don’t give him/her access to fire.  But, give them a lit match and watch out.

Now, I will admit, not everyone suffering from type 2 diabetes, obesity, or cardiovascular disease eats the way I mentioned previously.  Many people, in fact, believe they are eating well.  Unfortunately, the food industry is filled with masterful marketers that lead us down the wrong path.  For one, they recently started using the term multigrain to advertise products.  This is genius because it sounds like it is better for the consumer than white bread.  However, this actually means that it contains flour from multiple sources, not that it contains whole grains.  These grains are highly pro-inflammatory – and chronic inflammation is linked to:

  • Some cancers
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Arthritis
  • Atherosclerosis
  • And much more

As if eating healthy wasn’t hard enough, now we have to read every label to make sure we aren’t being tricked.  If you are looking for wheat products, make sure it is 100% whole wheat.  Even then, try to limit your servings to where it complements your fruit and vegetables.  After all, while they provide nutrients, they are still going to ramp up your body’s inflammation.

How does exercise relate to the health crisis?

Next, only 20% of adults 18 years and older are getting the recommended amount of exercise for their overall health.  This blows my mind because there are so many ways to exercise.  Do you like to go to the gym and lift heavy weights for a couple hours?  There is a gym for you.  Is your schedule tight and you only have 30 minutes to devote to exercise?  There are high intensity gyms available that will give you a full body workout in 20 minutes.  Do you prefer working in nature?  You can go on a hike.  There is no excuse for not exercising 4-5 times a week – and the sooner we commit to this, the better off we will be now and in the future.

So, what are some health benefits to exercise?  Here is a list from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Controls weight gain
  • Combats health conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes
  • Improves your mood
  • Boosts your energy
  • Promotes better sleep
  • Helps your sex life
  • Can be fun

These seem like pretty good benefits right?  You are much healthier if you exercise regularly.  The hard part, naturally, is starting a routine.  Don’t wait until New Years to start a fleeting month long commitment to personal health.  Look yourself in the mirror and make a commitment to your health today.

Where can we learn more about nutrition and exercise?

I realize some people have no idea where to start, and a life changing paradigm shift can be overwhelming.  Do your best to take small steps every day toward your overall goal.  Start off by taking a ten to twenty minute walk and work your way up to a gym membership or home workout routine.

Is food your vice?  Take baby steps.  For one, start removing things like potato chips and similar items from your pantry.  These are some of the worst foods on the planet for you and should not be consumed regularly.  Also, free yourself from soda if you have not already.  A periodic coke isn’t the end of the world.  After all, life is also about living.  However, if you drink enough soda, you may find that type 2 diabetes (and its associated chronic inflammation) are the reason you have no energy, suffer from heart disease, and can’t feel your fingertips any more.  Do you need somewhere to turn for good diet information?  I recommend the book Eat To Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman.

To sum everything up, American lifestyles are the reason for our nation’s health crisis.  I apologize if this article feels like a sucker punch – but sometimes this is what you need to hear; not that everything is rainbows and butterflies.  I am concerned about the health of this nation and you should be too.  Our children want to see us grow old and free of debilitating, preventable diseases.  We also need to be role models for our youth.  There is no better day to take control of your health than today.  Take a moment and seriously evaluate your health.  Yes, it may be uncomfortable and painful – but it is always darkest before the dawn.

Bone Broth

Did You Say You Drink Bone Broth?

If you watch television, check Facebook, or use the internet, you have no doubt seen a product advertised as the next great cure for any number of ailments.  I see these things and usually chuckle.  Your body is a complex machine that requires millions of different parts to function optimally.  After all, can you build a house with just bricks or drywall?  These advertisements are making a recommendation for one piece of a massive jigsaw puzzle – not a “cure”.  While getting individual components isn’t a bad idea, doesn’t it make more sense to first utilize products that contain an abundance of nutrients?  When you do this, you can easily complement your diet with individual minerals you may struggle to get normally.  If this philosophy makes sense to you, let me introduce you to a nutrient powerhouse you may not be familiar with – bone broth.

What is bone broth?Bone Broth

Bone broth is a staple in the diets of many cultures.  Also referred to as stock, it is composed of animal parts that you cannot eat directly. This includes the bones and marrow, skin, feet, tendons and finally ligaments.  To convert it into broth, these “byproducts” boil and simmer over a period of days.  Over time, the simmering causes the release of many healthy vitamins and minerals that are stored within.  This includes:  collagen, proline, glycine, glutamine, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sulphur, and more.

Stocks and broths you find in your big box grocery store do not typically contain the same nutrient density.  The reason being, they are usually artificially flavored, full of chemicals, aren’t created from healthy animals, and frequently include MSG.  A good stock is made from grass-fed animal parts and does not include any chemical additives.

What are the benefits of bone broth?

To begin with, bone broth:

  1. Protects joints – It is one of the best sources of natural collagen. Collagen is a component of cartilage, an essential material for protecting your joints.  In addition, it also contains gelatin.  Gelatin acts like a lubricant for your joints, allowing them to slide easily without friction.
  2. Good for your gastro-intestinal tract – It appears to have a role in restoring the gut lining, combating food sensitivities, and can help promote good bacterial growth similar to a pro-biotic. Amino acids in the broth help heal the lining of your intestine, which is abused by passing food frequently.  This abuse can lead to tiny holes in the lining which may develop into a “leaky gut”.  This is problematic because a leaky gut allows food particles to more readily escape into the blood stream.  When this happens, your body may think it is a virus, bacteria, or other invader and initiate an immune response.  Could this be the reason we see so many food sensitivities?  Is it possible your body’s auto-immune responses are the result of confusion?
  3. Maintains healthy skin, nails, and hair – Collagen again has a role in the maintenance of these body parts. It helps form elastin and other compounds in the skin responsible for maintaining skin’s youthful tone, texture and appearance.  It may even reduce cellulite, since cellulite forms due to a lack of connective tissue.

There are many more potential benefits to bone broth in addition to what I listed.  When a food contains this many nutrients, it will be beneficial for your entire body.

Where can you find bone broth?

Firstly, you can make it yourself!  A high quality slow-cooker, water, and chicken bones are the beginning steps on a journey to homemade bone broth.  Don’t want to deal with a potential mess or don’t have time?  Check out google to see if there are any organic, high quality supplement stores in the area that may be able to supply you with this super food.  Organic grocery stores may work as well.  Remember, quality is important here if you want to reap all of the benefits.  If it contains MSG or added artificial flavoring – steer clear.

Bone broth seems to fly under the radar for many Americans.  I know it did for me.  This is probably because we have an excess amount of food in the states and typically don’t use the “byproducts” of animals.  However, as you just found out, these parts also provide incredible nutrient density for your body.  It can protect joints, help heal your gut, maintain youthful looking hair and nails, and much more.  Don’t wait until your body breaks down.  Give your body what it needs today.