For those who have been fortunate enough to experience the training for Nutritional Therapy Practitioners, there is a consensus that there are two critical understandings that rise above the rest. First, the Big Idea that “Digestion is a Parasympathetic event.” Second, after reading Why Stomach Acid Is Good for You, the understanding that without sufficient stomach acid, digestion does not happen.
As one of Gray Graham's first students fifteen years ago in NTA’s inaugural class, I learned these ideas, and they maintained a parallel track in my mind. Both important, but the lines did not cross. As I looked at charts with a list of the Parasympathetic Functions and the Sympathetic Functions, I could see “gastric acid production” under Parasympathetic. It did not occur to me that hypochlorhydria was primarily caused by being by eating in a Sympathetic State.
In Why Stomach Acid is Good for You, Dr. Wright never explicitly states that production of gastric acid depends on being in a parasympathetic state. Nor does he mention that only in Parasympathetic does saliva production, enzyme production, peristalsis, bile flow, or even the gag reflex occur.
In year ten of my practice I got it. Digestion and hydrochloric acid production both depend on being in Parasympathetic. It was then I started saying to students and clients “How you eat is as important as what you eat.”
In the first 15 years of my nutritional practice, I probably sold more Betaine HCL (a supplemental form of hydrochloric acid) than anyone else in the Northwest. I believed I was practicing the Digestion Support paradigm of focusing North to South, forgetting that the brain’s autonomic nervous system was furthest north. As I continually delivered solemn warnings to clients and students of not eating in a Sympathetic state, and taught regimens for slow eating, I looked for all techniques for increasing “vagal tone.”
Vagal tone is the degree of activity happening in the parasympathetic nervous system. Strong vagal tone means the body can easily access the parasympathetic state. Cold showers, gagging, gargling, singing, and long exhalations were my prescriptions for increasing vagal tone for myself and my clients. And after reading about the use of electrical stimulation to increase vagal tone, I even started lasering my vagal nerve with a green laser. But due to the inconvenience and discomfort of these vagal-tone-building routines, compliance from clients, as you can imagine, was rare.
It was a fortuitous moment that I considered using essential oils on the vagal nerve. I was in a training session for Functional Neurology, and Dr. Paul Thomas had presented a German study listing oils that would stimulate the right or left hemisphere of the brain. I wondered if the oils could have a more targeted effect with topical application. Could essential oils increase vagal tone?
Since electricity has been proven to be effective in stimulating the vagal nerve, I chose a blend which contained lime and clove essential oils. Both of these oils are considered highly stimulatory. I applied this blend anterior to my mastoid bone where the vagal nerve passes. When I would test clients, a significant percentage of the points south of the brain would change. It felt like an important discovery, and it did work well with a majority of my clients.
My challenge with this first version of an oil to stimulate the parasympathetic system was that it had the opposite effect on a quarter of my clients. For those clients, it had a stimulatory effect which induced a sympathetic response. With the tutelage of Jimm Harrison from Phytotherapy Institute, I realized that topically this blend was working but having a stimulatory effect through the olfactory system.
For the last two years I have refined my understanding of the effect of essential oil combinations on the brain and specifically the vagal system. My new formulation, Vagal Tone™, supports the vagal system at its origins: the pons–medulla portion of the brain stem.
In my practice, and in the practices of a host of other NTPs who have used it, we have seen the profound downline effect on the digestive system. Uniformly, all digestive organs indicate a positive change when tested after the oil is applied.
Working with clients, Vagal Tone has transformed my treatment of hypochlorhydria and enzyme deficiency, has solved the toughest constipation issues, and transformed my clients' capacity for being in a parasympathetic state. Now, I rarely sell Betaine supplements unless it’s for a client who is traveling in a third world country (and they need extra protection against food pathogens), or someone who simply will not slow down for lunch.
I always incorporate Vagal Tone in my detox programs for clients, because detoxification is a parasympathetic event. And for clients who require immune support, helping their vagal tone is also critical.
My efficacy as a Nutritional Therapist was immeasurably enhanced by the development of Vagal Tone. Fellow Nutritional Therapy Practitioners, I believe that this can be a foundational treatment for all digestive and detoxification healing work. I could not imagine practicing without Vagal Tone.GET VAGAL TONE™