vagus nerve exercises
Going to the bathroom or living with hemorrhoids can often feel a little like this picture. Not too pleasant. Let me start by giving you a little warning about puns, yeah I’m going to be using a few of them. So just turn the other cheek and lets put it behind us.
It’s an embarrassing subject we like to put behind us, but hemorrhoids can be a real bummer, with the pain of sitting butting into everyday tasks. (See, told you! Lots of puns) Although hemorrhoids tend to run in families, certain measures can prevent your backside from continually taking front and center.
Hemorrhoids are swollen and inflamed veins in the anus and rectum that cause pain from sitting, squatting, going to the bathroom, and other ordinary things. In addition to pain, other symptoms include bleeding, the urge for a bowel movement, itching, and irritation.
Common root causes of hemorrhoids
Fortunately, the most common cause of hemorrhoids is also the most preventable — a diet low in fiber. Most Americans eat less than half the daily recommended amount of fiber. And that recommendation has gone up — from 5–7 servings a day to 7–10. (A serving is a half cup of vegetables and fruits or a cup of leafy greens.)
Upping your fiber intake may be all that’s required for relief. Ideas to make eating more veggies easier include:
- Prepping and storing veggies to add to meals
- Ordering salads with meals when eating out
- Making big batches of veggies soups and stews
- Keeping a container “salad bar” in your fridge
- Veggie smoothies
- Snacking on raw veggies
If eating lots of vegetables causes gastric discomfort, you may need to take digestive enzymes with your meals. I know, I know, but which digestive enzymes do you take? It all depends. The two main varieties are with or without HCL (basically stomach acid). I will cover this in another blog coming up soon. Or you may have compromised digestion that require gut healing. Ask my office about ways to help repair your gut function.
If you eat plenty of fiber and are still constipated, then you may have to investigate other possible root causes.
For instance, the autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism is known to cause constipation. Properly managing Hashimoto’s by addressing immune imbalances is fundamental to relieving constipation and hemorrhoids. Think of thyroid hormone as the activity hormone, it gives us energy (including the digestive system). This is particularly true when we are talking about T3. In thyroid disease people tend to have low levels of T3 leading to decreased energy and activity of the body, and in this case particularly the digestive system. If you tend to have very slow digestion and no matter how good your diet is you just can’t seem to get regular with how often you go the the bathroom, then you might need to investigate a possible thyroid issue.
Poor brain function can cause constipation and hemorrhoids. If your brain is aging too fast or under functions, the vagus nerve, which runs between the brain and the gut, does not receive sufficient activation. An active vagus nerve signals the intestines to rhythmically contract and move food along in a timely manner. In fact, irresolvable constipation is an early symptom of Parkinson’s disease (although constipation does not always predict Parkinson’s).
Also, poor vagus nerve and brain function inhibit secretion of digestive juices and enzymes, which lead to constipation, as well as fail to keep the tissues and blood vessels of the rectum and anus healthy so as to avoid hemorrhoids. By now most people (at least in the health world) have heard of the “gut brain connection” or that the gut is often referred to as at the second brain. This can sometimes lead to the argument is the gut causing the brain stuff or is the brain stuff causing the gut stuff? My answer is a resounding “YES”. They are both true. Like any other system of the body, you cannot separate one part form another. You always have to look at everything. It’s the functional medicine way!
Fortunately, we can jumpstart the vagus nerve with exercises such as gargling vigorously and frequently, singing loudly, or stimulating the gag reflex. You might sound or feel a little funny doing the excursuses but they really do help improve function.
An inflamed, leaky gut with too much bad gut bacteria (dysbiosis) contributes to constipation. The gut has its own nervous system, called the enteric nervous system. When gut health is bad, the enteric nervous system does not function properly and constipation can result.
Additionally, poor gut health and bad gut bacteria impact brain health in a way that can, thanks to the communication highway of the vagus nerve, set the stage for constipation and hemorrhoids due to faulty brain-gut interaction.
Toilet pedestals and non-surgical treatments
If you haven’t caught wind of the “Squatty Potty” movement yet, take notice. Elevating your feet when you’re on the toilet so that you’re closer to a squatting position is said to help prevent constipation and hemorrhoids. Also, be aware of non-surgical solutions for hemorrhoids, such as in-office treatments that use an electrical current.
A variety of factors can cause hemorrhoids, however it’s always important to address diet and health of the digestive tract, brain, and immune system when looking to manage the underlying cause. Ask my office for more advice.
Until next time, its been lots of pun!
Be healthy, be happy,
Dr. Craig Mortensen