Vagus Nerve Stimulation Dramatically Reduces Inflammation
The vagus nerve is always at play in people with gut problems, food sensitivities, fatigue, anxiety, depersonalization, and brain fog.
This means that people have a lower vagal tone, i.e., having a lower ability to perform its functions.
The one problem to address in this situation is to find out which part of the vagus nerve is malfunctioning and to what extent it is the problem compared to other aspects of your biology.
WHAT IS THE VAGUS NERVE?
The vagus nerve is the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system that is responsible for regulating the “tend-and-befriend” or “rest-and-digest” responses.
Even though it’s not the only nerve in the parasympathetic system, it is the most important due to having the most far-reaching effects.
Vagus’ literal meaning is ‘wanderer’ because this nerve wanders all over the human body to various crucial organs.
The vagus nerve reaches the gut (intestines, stomach), brain, liver, heart, gallbladder, pancreas, spleen, ureter, kidney, neck (pharynx, larynx, and esophagus), reproductive organs (female), lungs, tongue, and ears.
Due to its incredible importance to other organs, if the vagus nerve isn’t working properly, it could lead to digestive disorders such as GERD, gastroparesis, dyspepsia, anorexia, ulcerative colitis and bulimia among others.
It can also lead to inflammation because of “fight-or-flight” responses in the nervous system.
Inflammatory responses are what lead to the development of various diseases as well as severe chronic pain.
As a matter of fact, in most cases, inflammation serves as our body’s response to stress.
So the only way to reduce inflammation is by reducing the “fight-or-flight” responses in the nervous system as well as lowering biological markers for stress.
Usually, doctors would prescribe medications to fight inflammation, but there have been growing pieces of evidence that engaging the vagus nerve and improving the “vagal tone” is another way of doing that.
This can be accomplished by maintaining the daily habits of meditation and yoga or in other extreme cases – such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – using an implanted device for vagus nerve stimulation (VNS).
VNS REDUCES ARTHRITIC INFLAMMATION DRAMATICALLY
A joint team of researchers from the United States and Amsterdam conducted a clinical trial concluded that by stimulating the vagus nerve with a small implanted device reduced inflammation significantly and improved outcomes for patients with rheumatoid arthritis by inhibiting cytokine production.
According to researchers, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disease that has affected over 1.3 million people in the United States and costs over tens of thousands of dollars to treat it annually.
For this experiment, the neuroscientists and immunology-experts used state-of-the-art technology in order to map the neural circuitry that regulates inflammation.
One circuit, known as the “inflammatory reflex,” there are action potentials that are transmitted in the vagus nerve which hinder the production of cytokines.
This is regarded as the first human study of its kind to reduce rheumatoid arthritis symptoms by stimulating the vagus nerve with a small implanted device that triggered a chain reaction and as a result, reduced cytokine levels and inflammation.
And even though the experiment was focused on rheumatoid arthritis, the results also provided positive implications for people suffering from other diseases, including Crohn’s, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Paul-Peter Tak, the international principal investigator and lead author of the paper from the Division of Clinical Immunology & Rheumatology of the Academic Medical Center at the University of Amsterdam, said in a statement:
“It is the first study to determine whether stimulating the inflammatory reflex directly with an implanted device can treat RA in human beings. We have demonstrated previously how targeting the inflammatory reflex may help reduce inflammation in animal models and in vitro models of RA….. which may also be relevant for other immune-mediated inflammatory diseases.”
In other words, these findings give us a better edge in combating diseases that, at the moment, can only be treated with very expensive drugs that come with a wide range of side-effects.
Therefore, VNS offers healthcare providers a more effective alternative for improving the lives of people suffering from chronic inflammatory diseases.
VAGUS NERVE FUNCTIONS
For the brain, the vagus nerve aids in mood and keeps anxiety and depression under control.
The nerve is the one responsible for the mind-body connection since it goes out to all of the major organs (with the exception of the adrenal and thyroid glands).
The vagus nerve is intimately linked with how we connect with one another, as in, it links directly to the nerves that tune our ears to human speech, regulate emotional expressions and coordinate eyesight.
It is also what influences the release of the hormone oxytocin, that is important for social bonding.
Studies suggest that a higher vagal tone is largely associated with more altruistic behavior and greater closeness to others.
The vagus activity of a child may be affected by their mother.
In one study, it revealed that mothers who were angry, depressed or anxious during pregnancy gave birth to children with lower vagus activity.
Other studies suggest that the vagus nerve is crucial for getting in the mental state of “flow.”
It is assumed that a combination of sympathetic (fight-or-flight) and vagus activation produces the right atmosphere for a flow state.
By increasing orexin in the prefrontal cortex, vagus nerve stimulation may increase a person’s wakefulness.
It has been proven to reduce the amount of daytime sleep as well as rapid eye movements in epilepsy patients who have suffered traumatic brain injury and also promote the recovery of consciousness in comatose rats after a traumatic brain injury.
However, the vagus nerve can also lead to ‘sickness behavior’ (sleepiness, fatigue, loss of appetite, anxiety, depression, decreased motivation and inability to concentrate) in an inflammatory state.
Kidney and Bladder
The vagus nerve has been proven to promote general kidney function. It increases blood flow and helps in glucose control, which then improves blood filtration.
Vagus activation leads to the release of dopamine in kidneys, which excrete sodium and thus lowers blood pressure.
A side effect of the vagus nerve is that it causes urinary retention as it leads to the bladder.
Another way to look at it is that a lowered vagus stimulation can cause you to urinate frequently.
In the gut, the vagus nerve increases digestive juice secretion, stomach acidity, and gut flow.
If there is less vagus stimulation, it could increase the risk of IBS, which is the result of less flow. That’s why the vagus nerve is important for increasing gut flow (motility).
Vagus nerve stimulation increases the release of histamine by stomach cells, which helps in releasing stomach acid. Hence, low stomach acidity is a problem in the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve is important to help you absorb vitamin B12 by releasing intrinsic factor.
After a meal, relaxation and satiety are caused by activation of the vagus nerve’s transmission to the brain in response to food intake.
The vagus nerve is crucial for conditions such as GERD because it controls stomach acidity and the esophagus.
Liver, Pancreas, and Gallbladder
The vagus nerve helps control blood glucose balance in the liver and pancreas.
For the gallbladder, the vagus nerve helps release bile, which is what gets rid of toxins and breaks down fat.
In the heart, the vagus nerve controls blood pressure and heart rate.
Stimulating the vagus nerve prevents the risk of heart disease as well as other fatal diseases.
Mouth and Ears
The vagus nerve helps control taste and saliva in the tongue and releases tears in the eyes.
It also helps explain why a person coughs when tickled on their ears, such as the case when you’re trying to remove ear wax with q-tips or a cotton swab. It can also help people with tinnitus due to its connection to the ear.
In the spleen, vagus activation reduces inflammation by releasing acetylcholine.
Even though the activation targets the most important organs, the response is more systemetic in the spleen.
Since the vagus nerve connects to a woman’s cervix, uterus, and vagina, it helps control their orgasms and fertility.
POSSIBLE SYMPTOMS OF VAGUS NERVE DYSFUNCTION
- Brain problems
- Obesity and weight gain
- High and low heart rate
- Chronic fatigue
- Delayed gastric emptying or gastroparesis
- Difficulty in swallowing
- B12 deficiency
- Chronic inflammation
DISORDERS THAT VAGUS NERVE ACTIVATION CAN FIGHT
Given that the vagus nerve is linked with many different functions and brain regions, several types of research have uncovered the positive benefits of vagal stimulation on a number of diseases and conditions such as:
- Heart disease
- Anxiety disorders
- Memory disorders
- Chronic heart failure
- Multiple sclerosis
- Alcohol addiction
- Mood disorders
- Leaky Gut
- Bad blood circulation
- Severe mental diseases
12 WAYS TO STIMULATE THE VAGUS NERVE
1. Singing or Chanting
According to one study, singing increases heart rate variability (HRV).
In fact, mantra chanting, humming, hymn singing, and upbeat energetic singing are known to increase HRV in different ways.
Singing, in particular, begins the work of the vagal pump, which sends relaxing waves through the choir. When you sing at the top of your lungs, the muscles in the back of the throat activate the vagus.
Energetic singing activates both the vagus nerve and the sympathetic nervous system, which enables you to get into a flow state.
Singing in unison, usually practiced in churches and synagogues, also activates vagus stimulation and increases HRV.
It also increases oxytocin, a chemical which brings elated joy and happiness.
Studies reveal that when our bodies get adjusted to cold, our fight-or-flight (sympathetic) system decreases and our rest-and-digest (parasympathetic) system increases because it is managed by the vagus nerve.
Exposure to any kind of acute cold will boost vagus stimulation. You can start this off by dipping your face in cold water.
Two kinds of meditation, namely loving-kindness meditation and om chanting, can stimulate the vagus nerve.
The loving-kindness meditation enhances the vagal tone, which is measured by HRV. Om chanting stimulates the vagus nerve as well.
Yoga has been documented to increase vagus nerve and parasympathetic system activity in general.
This is backed by the results witnessed in the 12-week yoga intervention.
The program saw an increase in thalamic GABA levels, which led to greater improvements in mood and anxiety than a control group that did walking exercises.
5. Deep and Slow Breathing
Your heart and neck consist of neurons that have receptors known as “baroreceptors.”
The neurons detect your blood pressure and then transmits the neural signal to the brain (NTS), which then activates your vagus nerve that connects to your heart to lower heart rate and blood pressure.
This brings about a lower fight-or-flight activation (sympathetic) and more rest-and-digest (parasympathetic).
Baroreceptors can at times be quite sensitive.
When they become too sensitive, they will transmit signals to the brain, informing it that the blood pressure is too high and it’s time to activate the vagus nerve to lower it.
Slow breathing, along with roughly equal time contributed to breathing in and out, has been reported to increase the sensitivity of your baroreceptors and activate vagal stimulation, which in turn, lowers blood pressure and reduces anxiety by reducing your sympathetic nervous system and enhancing your parasympathetic system.
An average adult can benefit from 5-6 breaths per minute.
A proper breathing technique would be to breathe from the belly and slowly at that.
6. Positive Social Relationships
In one study, participants were told to sit and think about others in a compassionate manner by silently repeating phrases such as “may you feel safe, may you feel healthy, may you feel happy, may you live with ease,” and continue to return to these thoughts when their minds wandered.
Compared to control groups, the ones meditating showed an overall increase in positive emotions including interest, joy, serenity, amusement and hope after the class.
These psychological and emotional changes were linked with a greater sense of connectedness to others and an improvement in vagal stimulation, as seen by HRV.
However, simply meditating isn’t enough to bring a more toned vagus nerve.
That’s because the change only occurred in those meditators who were happier and felt more socially connected.
On the other hand, those who meditated just as much and didn’t show any signs of feeling closer to others showed no change in the tone of the vagus nerve.
Studies show that reciting the rosary prayer increases vagus activation.
More specifically, this method increases cardiovascular rhythms such as HRV and diastolic blood pressure.
Other studies suggest that reading one cycle of the rosary takes about 10 seconds and causes readers to breathe at 10-second intervals (including breathing in and out), which increases HRV as well as vagus function.
The infamous saying known as “laughter is the best medicine” is not all talk as it is actually linked with several health benefits, one including stimulating the vagus nerve.
A study performed on yoga laughter confirmed increased HRV in the laughter group.
However, there are various reports of people fainting from laughter, which could be due to the vagus nerve being stimulated too much.
Other instances of fainting come after urination, swallowing, coughing, or bowel movements, all that is due to vagus stimulation.
There are also reports of passing out from laughter in people who have a rare syndrome (Angelman’s) that are linked with increased vagus stimulation.
Sometimes laughter is a side effect of vagus nerve stimulation.
On the other hand, a good chunk of laughter is good for cognitive function and guards against heart diseases. It even increases nitric acid and beta-endorphins and benefits the vascular system.
The brain connects to the gut system through the vagus nerve.
Various reports have been surfacing that point to an effect of the gut microbiota on the brain.
Animals that were supplemented with the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus experienced a number of positive changes in GABA receptors mediated by the vagus nerve.
10. Breathing Exercises
If you breathe in and out with resistance, it will potentially stimulate your vagus nerve better – in the same manner as jogging with a backpack.
A breathing exercise that lets you breathe out as hard as you can, will make you uncomfortable, but you will also notice how awake you are.
There are not enough studies on this, but it is said to help you with your vagus nerve.
Magnetic fields have also been reported to stimulate the vagus nerve.
Some studies conclude that PEMF can increase both vagus stimulation and HRV.
You can use a pulse magnetic stimulator called an ICES in your gut and brain to stimulate your vagus nerve, which helps increase your appetite and reduce inflammation.
Massaging can also stimulate your vagus nerve, including the carotid sinus that is located on your neck, which helps reduce seizures.
Other than that, the vagus nerve can be activated by a pressure massage.
These messages are effective in helping infants gain weight by stimulating gut function, which is largely mediated by vagus nerve activation.
Foot massages are also useful in increasing HRV and vagal activity, while also lowering your blood pressure and heart rate, all of which reduce the risk of developing heart diseases.