What is the Vagus Nerve and Why is it Important?

In an article entitled “Science Confirms That the Vagus Nerve Is Key to Well-being” by Markham Heid and featured on elemental, we read about the vagus nerve and its importance to our overall emotional health. Paraphrased: “The vagus nerve is one of twelve cranial nerves, (picture it leaving the brain, like a set of roots, connecting to our heart, our guts, our immune system and many other organs) with it being the nerve that governs the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps control the body’s relaxation responses. In simple terms, heightened vagal activity counteracts the stress response.”

So what does this mean exactly? Here are the highlights:

  • “The sympathetic nervous system is fight or flight, while the parasympathetic nervous system is more chill out,” says Stephen Silberstein, MD, a professor of neurology and director of the Headache Center at Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals.”
  • “Silberstein says that heightened vagal activity slows heart rate and also switches off inflammation, in part by triggering the release of immune system calming chemicals.”
  • “Pick almost any common medical condition that’s made worse by stress or inflammation — everything from arthritis to inflammatory bowel disease — and there’s research showing that vagus nerve stimulation can help treat it or relieve its symptoms.”
  • “More and more, we’re learning how critical vagal activity is to attention and mood,” says Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine.”

The article goes on to talk about how we can heighten our vagal activity; including massage, yoga, physical touch, meditation, deep breathing – essentially any activity that helps to elicit our relaxation response will increase vagal activity; thereby reducing stress and the inflammation that tends to come along with it. 🙂

To read the full article: https://elemental.medium.com/science-confirms-that-the-vagus-nerve-is-key-to-well-being-c23fab90e211

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Photo credit: http://Photo by Basil James on Unsplash



An Owl or a Lark?

We all know about the importance of sleep; approximately 70% of us will have what is called a normal sleep pattern based on our internal clock, known as our circadian rhythm.

There are times however, when our circadian rhythm works at a different pace and we can either have a delayed sleep phase, in which we are falling asleep 3 or 4 hours delayed (night owl) or an advanced sleep phase, which is characteristic of waking up 3 or 4 hours earlier than the norm (morning lark.)

Sleep Habits, is a website that features many articles on sleep. Paul Jordan, author of “Morningness Eveningness Questionnaire – Are you a Night Owl or a Morning Lark?” has this to say about the importance of knowing your sleep pattern:

“Knowing whether you’re a night owl, morning lark or neither can be worked towards your advantage. Night owls are more productive during the night, where as morning larks are more productive during the morning. By scheduling high intensity tasks at your peak times you can effectively get more done. If you have flexible work commitments you may find it useful to either shift your sleep timing forwards or backwards to best take advantage of your most productive times.” 

Knowing where we land in terms of our own typical sleep pattern can allow us to make adjustments; allowing us to optimize our best sleep and as a consequence, feel refreshed and productive.

If you would like to take the quiz, follow the link: https://sleephabits.net/morningness-eveningness-questionnaire

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Photo credit: http://Photo by Isaac Davis on Unsplash


Food Facts; Then and Now

Our body image is tied to our self image. When we don’t feel good in our bodies, it affects our emotional health as well; we can feel grumpy when we pull on our two-tight jeans, or allow negative thoughts to influence our mind set when we walk past a mirror.

Western society doesn’t do food right;  fast paced and a “more is better” focus has led the food industry to double and almost triple our portion sizes and calorie intake. Here are some interesting facts, then and now:

  • In 1970, Americans consumed  an average of 2,160 calories per day. Today, we sit closer to eating 2,673 calories daily.
  • In the 70’s and 80’s, you could buy a 3″ diameter bagel that was 140 calories; now they average 5″ at 350 calories.
  • Then, a 2.4 ounce french fry was 210 calories, now the same french fry is averaging  6.9 ounces at 610 calories.
  • Packaging sizes have increased; from the 1950’s to now, package sizes have increased by 67%!
  • Fountain sodas have increased 500% from the 50’s, with the norm in restaurants being free refills.
  • We have increased our average dinner plate from 9 inches to 12!

Knowing these types of facts can allow us to begin to make some small changes to the way we consume food. When eating out, ask for the smallest size, at home switch to a 9 or 10″ dinner plate averaging out portions, slow down and enjoy your food, write in a food journal for a week or so to get a greater idea of what you are eating and how much fast food is actually being consumed. Little changes might just make a difference to the way we feel about ourselves.

When it comes to food, let’s go back in time 🙂

Information for this post came from two sources: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3343129/Take-portion-sizes-1950s-beat-obesity-say-scientists-warn-portions-20-years-ballooned.html

and: https://www.yourweightmatters.org/portion-sizes-changed-time/

Photo credit:http://Photo by Miguel Andrade on Unsplash

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Gut Bacteria and Our Mental Health

In a recent article entitled “Your gut bacteria are actively involved in your emotions, how you think and even behave” and featured on cbc radio, the link between our gut flora and our emotional health is growing in evidence.

“Scientific research that’s been picking up a lot of traction in recent years is starting to hint that our gut bacteria, otherwise known as our microbiome, is an active participant in our emotions, how we think, and even how we behave. Recent human studies have demonstrated a strong link between the gut and the brain.”

Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald spoke with Dr. John Cryan, a professor and chair of the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience at University College Cork in Ireland who came to this field as a stress neurobiologist, about this fascinating area of research.

“The next part of that puzzle then was, could we target the microbiome by some ways to dampen down the effects of stress? And together with some Canadian collaborators, we did some experiments to show that a single strain of bacteria, when given to mice, could dampen down their stress response quite dramatically.”

What this essentially means is that we have to some extent some control over how we can use diet and probiotics to help supply our microbiome with the bacteria it needs to support our emotional health. The article goes on to include the Mediterranean diet as it is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, and cautions people to do their research when it comes to purchasing the right pre/probiotics.

The full article is rich with information and is worth the read: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/quirks/mar-23-shopping-for-souvenirs-on-an-asteroid-new-cambrian-explosion-fossils-the-gut-brain-axis-and-more-1.5065927/your-gut-bacteria-are-actively-involved-in-your-emotions-how-you-think-and-even-behave-1.5065955

Photo credit: http://Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

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The Memory of Smell

Walking into a bakery instantly brings me back to my childhood and the memory of visiting Pilon’s bakery in Vankleek Hill. The smell of the ocean reminds me of Long Sands Beach in York, Maine; my mother instructing us to roll down our windows so as to smell “that fresh, ocean air.” Stick my nose in a hard cover book and I am roaming between the shelves of our small town library. The smell of coffee in the morning I associate with the start of a new day.

Unfortunately, for anyone who has suffered trauma, smells can also produce an instant and visceral reaction that can trigger their fear response; bringing them back instantly by way of flashback to the experience. It is important when this happens to take some deep breaths; reminding yourself that it is a flashback, that you are safe, and that you are in control of your surroundings.

Though often underestimated by way of our senses, smell plays an important role in our psychological system; instantly warning us of potential danger or bringing us back to a memory that nurtures our comfort system. Smell is our only sense with links directly to the parts of our brain that are responsible for emotion and memory; explaining how a smell can trigger an instant reaction.

As you have read this post, you most likely thought of your own favourite smells associated with memories. Please feel free to share in the comments section 🙂

Photo credit: http://Photo by Miti on Unsplash

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