Is it a bird? Is it a plane? The Vagus nerve.

October 14, 2010 § 2 Comments

My friend BR has recently applied for the assistant position of, in my opinion, one of Sydney’s top bloggers. Now in the final rounds of decision-making the applicants have to prove their research ‘savviness’ on a variety of topics – one of which is the Vagus nerve.  Oh yes, of course, the Vagus nerve… Never heard of it? Me neither. Think it sounds like something that happens after one too many drinks and strippers in Las Vegas? Me too.

Actually, without the functions of the Vagus nerve people would find it difficult to speak, breathe and eat, and their heartbeat would become extremely irregular…hmmm, ok, difficulty talking and breathing, racing pulse – are we sure we’re not talking about too many drinks and strippers in Las Vegas??!

BR found a delightfully disgusting photo of the Vagus nerve, which admittedly doesn’t quite hit the spot for a food blog, so instead here’s a picture of the peeps that Cranial Nerve X (it’s other scientific name) would hang around with if it was a superhero…

And actually, after doing some more reading, I think we COULD classify todays topic as SUPER! Here’s why:

  • It travels a long way to aid & protect the human body …tracking from the pituitary gland in your head, through the lungs and chest, then the digestive system, ending at the colon (BR 2010)
  • It  has super stretchy arms for hard-to-reach places and for fighting evil …a number of nerves branch out to the heart, lungs, voicebox, stomach, liver and ears.
  • It’s smart ...carries incoming information from the nervous system to the brain about what the body is doing. From there it transmits outgoing information to the body in response.
  • It can free itself from enemy paralysis ...helps regulate and slow the heart beat, controls muscle movement and transmits chemicals (stress and non-stress) to the body as a situational reaction.
  • And most importantly, it reminds the Superhero that its time to stop saving the planet and eat ... Responsible for the functioning of the digestive tract through abdominal and intestinal contraction and for sending messages to the brain about what is being digested and what the body is getting out of it.

Here is a very sweet man talking about the vagus nerve. He thanks you for clicking on his video and says that you are a smart person. Need a confidence boost? Click the link!

And here is a good read on how the vagus nerve is connected with our eating, our weight and our happiness. To summarise in a few, less scientific, points:

  • Don’t eat on the run or when distracted, you want the Olfactory nerve to stimulate the Vagus nerve. Basically this is like foreplay –  first you want your sense of smell to be hugged by the aroma of your food. Then your eyes begin to devour the feast before them. Small mouthfuls will build the tension and finally, when the tastebuds are wild with anticipation, go ahead and eat. How good was that?!?!.
  • The brain is made up of hippos and marine life. The Vagus nerve links the central nervous system and the enteric nervous system, which work with the stomach to tell the brain to eat more or eat less, and create feelings of satiety after eating. The gastric stimulators at work here, CKK, not only activate the ‘hunger centre of the brain, the hypothalamus (!!!) but also the seahorse (!!!) shaped parts of the brain, called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the area related to memory and the reward system. Add to this the fact that 95% of the body’s serotonin (the neurotransmitter that balances our moods) is in the gut and we have a big flashing light over the words:





  • Serotonin (and our moods and in effect the amount we eat and how well we metabolise our food) will be affected by what’s happening with three other chemicals in the stomach:
  1. The chemical Ghrelin makes us feel hungry;
  2. The chemical Leptin makes us feel full
  3. And CKK (Cholecystakinin) is the hormone that switches off Ghrelin and tells the body to stop eating via the VAGUS NERVE.

So basically…when the Vagus nerve isn’t functioning none of these full/hungry messages can be sent to the brain and we will generally choose to overeat and not be satisfied with food.

PHEW!! I’m exhausted!!

Finally, we here at the Strawberry Patch, you and me both dear Blushers, very possibly have a condition known as the semi-active Vagus nerve*…while we’re very satisfied with everything we eat we may often find a malfunctioning in Ghrelin activation in the company of a great food and too much wine… this means that meal times can subsequently move from FULL –to- UNBUTTONED PANTS – to – LYING ON YOUR BACK GASPING FOR AIR

Tell me, what was the last meal that made you feel like a beached whale following the final lick of the dessert spoon?

*Do not look for ‘semi-active Vagus nerve’ in any medical journal…I think it exists only in the realm of food bloggers!


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§ 2 Responses to Is it a bird? Is it a plane? The Vagus nerve.

  • Oh My…. the vagus nerve! Gosh…, really…, food bloggers know that stuff? I’m impressed. OK…., its been a long week, so I’ll answer the easy stuff. Beached whale feelings seem to only happen when I’ve eaten something I’m slightly ‘not meant to eat’… daaah 🙂
    Especially around festive times and Xmas… Wonder why…, Mmmmm

  • What a brilliant post! Loved it… I think I need to do some reading up on old v nerve.
    Last beached whale meal…it was horrendous. Indonesian restaurant with my mum and sister. Food was sooo good, but ordered too much and couldn’t bare to waste it. I was gasping for air that’s for sure.

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