Vagus Nerve, Parasympathetic System, HRV, and Oral Peptides: Insights and Implications

Vagus Nerve, Parasympathetic System, HRV, and Oral Peptides: Insights and Implications

Grace Liu, PharmD, AFMCP, is a functional medicine practitioner with an international integrative medicine practice that includes group class, private consultations, functional laboratory analysis, and personalized gut protocols.

Leslie: Just to get us started, tell us: how did you get into this line of work?

Grace:  So about 13 years ago, I had my own acute health crisis where my health just completely shut down. So that's what started my interest in gut health and in the peptides that come from our GI tract, our gut lining, and our whole gut organ, and just overall wellness and regeneration. 

Leslie: That's amazing! So, I know when we chatted earlier, you were talking about the vagus nerve. What is that?

Grace: The vagus nerve is one of many cranial nerves that come out of our head. It's called the cranial-10 nerve. It affects not only the gut, but other organs that sense our environment for safety and look for danger versus safety. And safety calms it down, and it goes to our heart, all our sensory organs, like our ear, nose, throat, and voice box.

I've noticed that the gut will fail to heal and regenerate when the vagus nerve is not functioning optimally. This is because we have two nervous systems: sympathetic, which is driven by danger and adrenaline; and the parasympathetic nervous system, which we all know as the rest-and-digest regenerate nervous system. The vagus nerve heavily dominates the parasympathetic nervous system.

Leslie: So you mentioned that you're addressing gut health issues and vagal nerve issues. How do you work with clients to do that?

Grace: We have comprehensive programs, but we also have a master gut class, which takes into account one phase. But we go through four phases with all our intense clients, and in one phase you can get a lot done. So the one single phase would be looking at the rest and digest system– the parasympathetic. We can look at that by looking at adrenal. We can see the precursors of serotonin, dopamine, and adrenaline, and just see how balanced they are. For most clients, we will see a lot of stress going on, and studies show that as soon as we remove that stress, 90% of hormones will balance. 

The same is true with adrenaline. I love sharing about this exercise to optimize the vagus nerve. It's called The Oxytocin Exercise. Do you know what oxytocin is?

Leslie: That's the love hormone.

Grace: It's also a major repair peptide. And we can optimize it, because whenever it's optimized, for sure, the vagus nerve is also being optimized. They definitely parallel.

And when we discern why it might be low, it's all the same things that impair our vagus nerve as well. Not feeling safe, having hypervigilance from trauma and resolving trauma, not caring for oneself and lacking self-care, and pain or discomfort in the gut– all of these silent signals in the gut will impact our nervous system in the oxytocin that we get. So, love and hugs and cuddles with one another really is healing. You know how cats purr? There are some studies that apparently show that frequency is actually really healing for all around them, but then to themselves as well– self-healing.

We can optimize oxytocin. It’s best with people. I have an exercise people do three times a week, some mutual massage and touch therapy with someone to speak with you. It could be a best friend, a partner, spouse– and each will give 20 minutes of touch therapy to each other. So we want all five senses; touch is the main one, right? As you can imagine, touch is lot of peoples’ love language. Scent also plays into it; the nose is related to the vagus nerve. So all we're trying to get is the five senses.

Leslie: Does it go the other way too? Or is it mostly one-way?

Grace: Studies show precisely that a lot of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or even autoimmune kidney diseases are all preceded by a stressful event. When stress happens, we get ulcers: stress ulcers. These are basically little ulcerations that lead to leaky gut and things entering the bloodstream that don't belong there. As a result, there's not enough energy to keep everything sealed and healed. When we work with clients, we like to bring in peptides. These are the latest in the regenerative medicine field, and they're so healing because they help us heal and seal the gut despite stressors.

Leslie: And one more question. For probiotics, in your opinion, is it the more the merrier? Like fermented foods, gardening, daily probiotics, yogurts, all of it.

Grace: Diversifying is the key. When people are healing, there's certain probiotics I avoid, though; no Streptococcus strains which are often found in all the yogurts now and in fermented foods. They've cleaned out some of the good flora in there and they've sterilized it and put in Streptococcus, which is so terrible. People have too much Streptococcus already. Yeah, they may even be launching antibodies, especially if they have anxious mood problems or skin disorders, like eczema, psoriasis, and acne. So we don't want to add more Streptococcus to the system. We want to actually lower it through some antibiotic botanicals and then recalibrate the system. 

We want to reduce the body autoimmune attacking itself and attacking Streptococcus, and then to lower the levels in the body. Nearly all Streptococcus is toxic. 

Leslie: So yeah, you’ve got to avoid the water-dense foods and get more fiber.

Grace: They usually have a lot of antioxidants both in grains and the beans. That's where a lot of the fibers that are known as oligosaccharides feed immune regulators, like the ones that are the bifidobacteria and the lactobacilli, that really heal our gut.

Leslie: I feel like in this short amount of time, we've gotten so many great tips. I personally have never made the connection between the emotional side of things and the gut. I mean, I know it's logical when you explain it, but at least in my mind, those were different things. And now I can see very well how they're connected. So I think we've uncovered a lot of really interesting things that our audience can think about and consider in their daily lives.

Grace: It's something when we're such a go-and-do society; we forget about feelings, but we are feeling beings. And when we neglect that, because of a trauma, because we were told to be quiet, or because we were told “You're making too much of a mess”, our gut senses it. Then, it will start to break and have health issues.

Leslie: So tell us, where can people find your products? How else can they engage with you?

Grace: I'm at the and also on Facebook. You can find us that way on our business page, as well as Instagram. I'm Gut Goddess on Instagram, and we have a YouTube channel. 

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