We have two arms of the nervous system: The sympathetic and parasympathetic.

The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the “fight or flight” response, while the parasympathetic governs “rest and digest.”  As you can imagine, many people are stuck in sympathetic stress these days.

Causes of being stuck in sympathetic stress include sleep deprivation, chronic inflammation, blood sugar instability, undiagnosed infections, hormonal imbalances, unmanaged autoimmunity, and other health-based dysfunctions.

Two of the more common causes we see in our clinics are unstable blood sugar and chronic inflammation. Many people are eating a diet high in breads, pastas, white rice, pastries, sweetened coffee drinks, sodas, and energy drinks. These keep blood sugar consistently high.

On the flip side are the people (predominantly women) who chronically undereat, skip meals, or eat fruit smoothies and green drinks for their meals. They often suffer from consistently low blood sugar. Blood sugar that is chronically low, high, or swings between the two promotes the release of stress hormones.

It also promotes chronic inflammation, as do other factors such as food intolerances. Many people do not realize they have an intolerance to a particular food, which may be triggering their symptoms. Some of the most common foods to cause an immune reaction include gluten, dairy, corn, eggs, and soy.

Although addressing the underlying cause is key (see my free guide The Inflammatory Reset Mini-Guide on my website), another thing you can do to support parasympathetic activity is to exercise your vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve in the body, helps regulate the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation, recovery, and repair.

Here are some ways to exercise your vagus nerve – consistency is key!

Gargle vigorously for 3 minutes, 3 times a day: Gargling contracts the muscles in the back of the throat, which activates the vagus nerve. Gargle to the point your eyes produce tears—the vagus nerve originates in an area of the brain near the area that activates tears. Tears mean you’re stimulating the vagus. You may need to work up to this over time.

Take a cold shower: At least one minute in water under 60F can stimulate the vagus nerve by activating the mammalian diving reflex. It’s also a great way to kick-start your mornings if you struggle with being a slow starter due to a poor cortisol awakening response. Just know cold water therapy isn’t for everyone—if it worsens your symptoms, drop it.

Coffee enemas: It sounds weird to the uninitiated, but they are a powerful way to activate the vagus through caffeine’s impact on nicotinic receptors. You shouldn’t feel the jittery or stimulating effects of the caffeine – most people report coffee enemas as very calming. But try it first in the morning to be sure. Use good quality organic coffee or look online for coffee designed especially for coffee enemas. Also, use a silicone enema bag or a stainless-steel enema bucket.

Alpha-Stim™: I love the Alpha-Stim, a medical device that provides cranial electrotherapy stimulation, for how easy it is to use. Just clip it to each earlobe and then go about your day, adjusting the level of intensity to what feels comfortable for you. The auricular branch of the vagus nerve is in the ears, which is targeted by the gentle electrical stimulation of the Alpha-Stim.

Other ways to stimulate the vagus nerve include deep, diaphragmatic breathing, regular physical exercise, singing loudly, or pressing on the back of your tongue with a tongue depressor to make yourself gag—again until you make your eyes tear.

To learn more about our services and to schedule a free consultation, please visit redriverhealthandwellness.com. We work with your prescribing physician for optimal results. Do not discontinue medication or hormone replacement therapy without consulting your prescribing physician.

• S P O N S O R E D  C O N T E N T •

About Josh Redd

Josh Redd, MS, DABFM, DAAIM, is a chiropractic physician and author of the Amazon bestselling book “The Truth About Low Thyroid.” Redd owns seven functional medicine clinics in the western U.S. and sees patients from across the country and around the world who are suffering from challenging autoimmune, endocrine and neurological disorders.

He studied immunology, virology and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins where he is a MaPHB candidate. He also teaches thousands of health care practitioners about functional medicine and immunology, thyroid health, neurology, lab testing and more.


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