With Springs arrival in Western Australia and the change of seasons, illness, coughs, colds and allergies escalate.
It's got me curious....
If the nervous system dictates health or dis-ease in the body, WHY do people get sick with the change of seasons?
I've always thought it's because there are a few more bugs around. But is there more to it?
It seems the state of our brain (no matter the season) has a critical part to play.
A Belgian study by Dr. Gilles Vandewalle, a neuroscientist, showed our brains respond to the changing seasons.
He cites, "Mood and immunity are well known to change with seasons in humans and there are indications that several brain aspects could also be seasonal."
So perhaps the 'seasonal change' in our brains is what affects our mood and immunity with the change of seasons or vice versa?
And why SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder, is experienced through the winter months. SAD is a condition associated with feelings of hopelessness, low energy, changes in sleep or eating patterns.
Or why there is evidence that shows a higher incidence of suicide in late spring / early summer. In fact Australias' national day of action, R U OK day to support people struggling with lifes' ups and downs, was this week, September 12th. There are many, many significant factors associated with suicide, yet the seasons / weather also seems to be influential.
It's a timely reminder to take even more time to be with those you are close to and who are a little more vulnerable at this transitional time of year and check in with how they are going? Really?
How the brain governs our body.
There's an intimate connection between our brain and our body and this connection affects far more than our mood and immunity. It can affect inflammation, the endocrine (hormonal) system, circulation (the heart) and even metabolism!
Via this connection the brain fundamentally governs our body.
The connection being….
If you haven’t heard of it, keep reading, it might just reset your entire well-being & it's FUN.
Viva Las Vagus!
The vagus is the longest nerve in the body, connecting the brain with the Gut, heart, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, kidney, lungs, mouth and more…
Vagus means wanderer in Latin, which is how the Vagus works, wandering around the body through the organs.
The vagus sends information about the state of our organs back and forth to the brain. Therefore if the vagus system isn’t functioning well or ‘toned’ - this important communication network malfunctions, potentially affecting every organ and system within us.
For example, this connection helps regulate;
- Food intake and hunger hormones
- Anxiety, stress tolerance and mood
Tone your vagus. Regulate your stress.
Let’s get sciency for a moment.
The vagus is the main component of your parasympathetic nervous system i.e. your rest and digest response – which is also where the healing state is most likely to occur.
Without going into too much technical detail, the tone (‘health’) of the vagus nerve regulates your tolerance to stress (fight and flight response)! With 60 – 80% of Doctors visits being stress related and most illness directly relating to stress, the tone of your vagus nerve, has a key role in protecting you from dis-ease.
5 examples of this intimate connection at play;
- Mental health. Stimulation of vagal nerve endings in the gut influences chemicals that affect our ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters, (also considered hormones), such as serotonin and dopamine in the brain. These transmitters are known for their crucial roles in psychiatric conditions, such as mood and anxiety illnesses.
- Digestive health. In the gut, the vagus helps to increase stomach acidity, digestive enzymes and more. Since the vagus nerve is important for increasing gut motility (movement), having less vagus activity can increase the incidence of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).
- Digestion. Stimulating the vagus nerve can help to increase the release of histamine in the stomach, which helps promote stomach acid, critical for healthy digestion and absorption i.e. low stomach acidity can also be due to vagus nerve inactivity.
- The microbiome. Some evidence shows gut bacteria (microbiome) affect the the vagus and therefore can directly affect mood and anxiety.
- Inflammatory diseases. These diseases are at the root of many diseases. A healthier vagus is also associated with improving inflammation and diseases such as arthritis.
And if you’ve lost connection to your gut instinct (your intuition) or not sure what I’m on about, then perhaps that’s another reason your vagus needs a little more toning too.
If you suffer from an inflammatory condition, digestive upset, blood pressure issues or mood disorders, perhaps it's time to take a closer look at your vagal tone?
11 simple ways to tone your vagus.
1. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing with a long exhale.
Breathing deep instantly initiates the ‘rest and digest’ response i.e. the parashympathetic nervous system and the vagus – which is thereby in charge of turning off the ‘fight or flight’ reflex.”!
In doing this it can simultaneously work to reduce heart rate and blood pressure - all by taking a few deep breathes!
Other quick and easy ways to tone the vagus;
- Chilling. Immersing yourself in a cold shower or a cool ocean or simply splashing cold water on your face.
- Gently moving e.g. yoga, walking.
- Whole foods. Removing known inflammatory foods e.g. gluten, dairy, coffee, alcohol, processed foods for a healthy gut microbiome.
- Nourishing nutrients. e.g. magnesium, B vitamins, krill or cod liver oil nourish the brain and the nervous system.
So many simple and FUN ways to keep your being well!
Which one or two can you start to add in?
Perhaps adopt the latest craze of ice bathing! You don't have to fly to Alaska, a cold shower or a dip in a cold ocean in winter does the trick...
Our bodies are complex and none more so than the physiology of our brains, the conductor. Therein - intimately connected to every organ, every system and ultimately every thing. To then treat the body within it’s unique parts, rather than as a whole, is to simply place a bandaid on the symptom, rather than exploring the root cause for ultimate healing - which is likely to lead to the brain & the gut.
The vagus nerve plays a vital role in the process & the gut/brain axis, maintaining homeostasis (balance) in the body including; inflammation, digestion, the regulation of food intake, satiety, stress tolerance and energy.
Hence why seasonal changes, which can initiate changes in the brain / nervous system have a direct impact on our vital bodily functions, such as our immunity, mood, digestion and so much more.
So now you've got a few more great reasons to relax your nervous system, tone your vagus and stress less...
Viva Las Vagus!