What is the Vagus Nerve & How Does it Connect to Our Gut?
10 Minute Read
Loving the tart taste and effervescence of kombucha might be enough for you. It would certainly make sense to us if it were! But there’s also compelling evidence that certain probiotics - the beneficial bacteria populating our raw, unpasteurized kombucha - positively affect digestive functioning. And that’s not all! Preliminary research suggests that a diverse microbiome - the collection of bacteria in our gut - doesn’t just help us digest our food and absorb nutrients. It may also be connected in complex ways to our mental well-being. While the connection between gut health and mental health is still unfolding, the potentially far-reaching benefits of having a healthy gut microbiome offer another reason to partake of raw, unpasteurized fermented foods.
What is the vagus nerve?
Now, let’s talk about the vagus nerve. There’s an on-going, complex “conversation” occurring between the gut and the brain, and it’s mediated by the vagus nerve - actually a collection of nerves, the longest in the body. The vagus nerve is responsible for the “rest and digest” component of the autonomic nervous system, and it passes information back and forth between the brain and the gut, regulating heart rate, respiratory function, and digestion, as well as reflexes we don’t need to think about to perform, like swallowing and sneezing. How well it facilitates the gut-brain conversation can impact our health in multiple ways, and an underactive vagus nerve may struggle to regulate the body’s stress response, contributing to increased anxiety and depression. Preliminary research suggests that the diversity of the microbiome can enhance the functioning of the vagus nerve.
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What does this have to do with kombucha? We’re not sure yet. It’s certainly not as simple as saying that drinking kombucha will make you happy - other than, of course, by way of its deliciousness. But studies show that symptoms of a high stress level may correlate with an absence of particular strains of gut bacteria in the microbiome. It doesn’t necessarily follow that replacing those strains of bacteria will improve stress-related symptoms - we’re talking about potential correlation here, not causation. But the data that’s slowly emerging does suggest that certain elements of nutrition, including beneficial bacteria, may affect vagus nerve activity via the microbiome, impacting communication with the brain and helping with stress regulation.
As connections continue to emerge in the relationship between microbiome diversity, the functionality of the nervous system, mental health, and the food we eat, promising implications for improved physical and mental health may follow. Until then, enjoy your kombucha!
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