I have a self care tip for you that you may want to add to your daily routine, and it’s basically free! Try gargling! It may be something you do when you feel like you are coming down with a sore throat, but gargling has other health benefits you may not know about.
Gargling stimulates the vagus nerve, which is the nerve that connects the brain to the gut. It sits right next to the jugular vein. The vagus nerve is responsible for motility in the intestines, which helps “move” your bowels. If you suffer from constipation or poor digestion, you may want to consider stimulating the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve also helps release stomach acid and digestive enzymes, helps promote general kidney function, controls mucus function, helps with tinnitus (ringing in the ears), helps control the esophagus, and it helps with the mind-body connection. It helps with so many of the automatic functions in our bodies that we don’t have to think about, like heart beats and sweating. Wow, that is a lot of responsibility for one nerve!
To salt or not to salt? Adding a teaspoon of salt to a cup of warm water makes a nice saline solution that helps pull fluid from the tissue in your throat, and it can help to wash away unwanted mucus from a virus. So when your mom told you to gargle with salt water when you felt a cold or sore throat coming on, she knew what she was talking about! A 2005 Japanese study concluded that gargling with plain water at least three times per day helps prevent upper respiratory infections (colds) by over 30%. I would say if salt is available when you are ready to gargle, use it. If it’s not available, just use plain water.
Try and make a routine or habit of incorporating gargling into your day. Try it multiple times per day — when you get out of bed, when you brush your teeth, and in the shower are all great times to sneak in a gargle. Another suggestion is to keep a thermos with warm water near the area where you intend to gargle (and it will help you remember). Make sure you gargle deep into your throat so that you get the full benefits. It could get loud, but that’s the most effective way to stimulate the vagus nerve. Don’t worry if you tear up a bit, as the area of the brain that controls tears sits next to the vagus nerve.