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  • Writer's picture Bowie Matteson

The Vagus Nerve and Diabetes

The vagus nerve, the longest of the cranial nerves, plays a crucial role in regulating many bodily functions, including heart rate, digestion, and glucose metabolism. In recent years, researchers have discovered a significant connection between the vagus nerve and diabetes, shedding light on new approaches to managing this complex condition.


I've been seeing a holistic chiropractor of late to investigate some of the energy, nervous system and spinal function origins of diabetes. In my 3 weeks of adjustments I've learned a lot about the organ innervations and how that correlates with specific areas of the spine.


From our energetic source (IE the brain), the vagus nerve is the main headwater from which our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems flow. It is the longest cranial nerve in our body. Think of it like a long river of nerves with tons of little streams and tributaries that reach all ends of our body. It is the telephone wiring of our body carrying the signals of YES/NO, GO/STAY, ON/OFF.


Sympathetic = FIGHT or FLIGHT (where most people with diabetes are OVERACTIVE) Parasympathetic = REST and DIGEST


Interestingly enough, the vagus nerve has direct ties to both our respiratory rate and our insulin secretion. An overactive vagus nerve hyperstimulates our breathing and understimulates our insulin release.


Think about your breathing pattern in times of stress: Short, shallow breathes that concentrates a lot of tension in your chest and shoulders. The signaling patterns for that type of breathing is the same signalling pattern that is telling your pancreas NOT to release insulin. (IE if you're in FIGHT/FLIGHT, you can't simultaneously be in REST/DIGEST).


So a piece of the diabetes puzzle that I think is worth exploring is nervous system regulation. Let's find ways to promote parasympathetic activation (Pro-Insulin) by revamping our vagus nerve connection.


The Role of the Vagus Nerve in Glucose Metabolism

The vagus nerve is a key player in the regulation of glucose metabolism. It communicates bidirectionally between the brain and the digestive system, providing real-time feedback on food intake and energy expenditure. The vagus nerve influences insulin secretion from the pancreas, hepatic glucose production in the liver, and glucose uptake in peripheral tissues.


Specific Nerve Pathways

One of the key pathways through which the vagus nerve influences glucose metabolism is the hepatic branch of the vagus nerve. This branch innervates the liver and plays a critical role in the regulation of hepatic glucose production. Activation of the hepatic branch of the vagus nerve leads to a decrease in hepatic glucose production, helping to maintain stable blood sugar levels.


Disease Pathology: The Vagus Nerve and Diabetes

In diabetes, dysfunction of the vagus nerve can disrupt these crucial pathways, leading to impaired glucose metabolism and insulin resistance. Reduced vagal tone, characterized by decreased activity of the vagus nerve, is associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and its complications.


Ways to Improve Vagal Tone Naturally

Fortunately, there are several natural ways to improve vagal tone and support healthy glucose metabolism:

  1. Deep Breathing: Slow, deep breathing can stimulate the vagus nerve and increase vagal tone. Try diaphragmatic breathing exercises for a few minutes each day.

  2. Cold Exposure: Cold showers or cold water immersion can activate the vagus nerve and improve vagal tone. Start with short exposures and gradually increase the duration as you become more accustomed to the cold.

  3. Singing or Chanting: Activities that involve using your vocal cords, such as singing or chanting, can stimulate the vagus nerve and improve vagal tone.

  4. Gargling: Gargling with water can stimulate the muscles in the back of the throat, which are innervated by the vagus nerve. This simple practice can help activate the vagus nerve and improve vagal tone.

  5. Mindfulness Practices: Practices such as meditation, yoga, and tai chi can help reduce stress and improve vagal tone. These practices promote relaxation and overall well-being, supporting healthy glucose metabolism.


In conclusion, the vagus nerve plays a critical role in glucose metabolism, and its dysfunction is associated with diabetes. By understanding the role of the vagus nerve and implementing natural ways to improve vagal tone, we can support healthy glucose metabolism and overall health.

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