Vagus Nerve Stimulation: Why It's Vital for Your Health

Updated on May 3, 2020
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I like to write about a broad range of topics from health to technology, history to travel. One day I'll publish a novel.

The Vagus nerve is like a sixth sense.
The Vagus nerve is like a sixth sense.

What Happens in Vagus Doesn’t Stay in Vagus!

“This is getting on my nerves”, “I have a gut feeling”, it’s my intuition”, sound familiar? Anyone reading this can relate. These terms that all of us have uttered many times in our lives can be literally associated to a little-known phenomenon in the parasympathetic system called the Vagus nerve, this remarkable nerve is vital for a variety of functions in your body and brain.

Known to ancient Chinese medicine for thousands of years the discovery of the vagus nerve made headway in the western world circa 1872 and is important for bi-directional communication between the mind and body.

By 1921 German psychologist Otto Loewi discovered a substance released by the vagus nerve called vagusstoff meaning “vagus substance” which causes a slow heart rate. And was the first neurotransmitter ever discovered? It was later renamed; acetylcholine by Sir Henry Hallett Dale in 1914.

The vagus nerve is one of 12 cranial nerves based around the base of the brain and is the longest cranial nerve in the body. Vagus in Latin means “wandering” and due to its size, that’s exactly what it does control all automatic body processes:

  • Breathing
  • Speech
  • Bladder
  • Taste
  • Swallowing
  • Heart rate
  • Orgasm

And a whole lot more...

It weaves and meanders from the base of the cranium touching larynx, heart and lungs your gut right through to the colon. We have to remember that we are bio-electromagnetic beings, we can’t move a muscle without having an electrical impulse triggering that function and many other functions for that matter.

This nerve plays a pivotal role in our emotions hence why there have been significant studies on vagus nerve stimulation to relief PTSD, depression, and anxiety.

The reasons you feel anxious aren't always clear.
The reasons you feel anxious aren't always clear.

The Vagus Nerve And Your Emotional Health

There is an inextricable link between the vagus nerve and our emotions when looking at anxiety for example, our nervous system comprises two contra systems that continuously send information from your brain to body and back again. Hormones like adrenaline and cortisol readying you for action preparing your muscles to move with haste whereas the parasympathetic system helps your body to relax.

These systems act as decelerators and accelerators once the vagus nerve secretes acetylcholine into your system this decreases the blood pressure and heart rate de-stressing your organs and promoting overall relief and a sense of calm and well-being.

When under stress your brain increases production of hormones called (CRF’s) corticotropin-releasing factor This triggers (ACTH) Adrenocorticotropic hormone this enters the bloodstream and adrenal glands which triggers cortisol and adrenaline.

These hormones inflame and suppress the immune system highlighting that stress and anxiety can make you sick easily, resulting in depression, anxiety and studies have shown that it can also cause Alzheimers,

And because the vagus nerve is integral to the flight, fight or freeze response, as it communicates between your gut and brain hence the term “gut feeling”, the signals the vagus nerve sends out help you recover physiologically and emotionally from scary situations.

Also a study done in 2008 demonstrated that anxiety, depression and anger could be transmitted from mother to child if the mother suffered from depressive and emotional disorders via low vagal tone This unfortunately manifested in their children who showed low vagal production levels of dopamine and serotonin.

The Vagus Nerve and Illness

Because the vagus nerve is vital for breathing it intervenes with respiratory mucous membranes and transmits the strength, rhythm, and frequency of inhalation and exhalation. If it is inhibited via viral infections such as pneumonia, a damaged vagus nerve will affect respiratory function natural nootropics like huperzine and galantamine have shown to enhance acetylcholine sensitivity which could potentially relieve sufferers of this terrible disease.

This study on the vagus nerve and pulmonary disease showed promising results.

Natural Vagus Nerve Stimulation

There are many natural techniques you can try to increase your vagal tone, by increasing the vagal tone, your body activates the parasympathetic nervous system allowing you to relax more rapidly after a stressful experience having a positive impact on emotional health and your general wellbeing.

Here are Three vagal stimulation techniques you can try right now!

Slow Breathing

Breathing deeply from your diaphragm activates the vagus nerve triggering your brain to calm your whole body down if the vagus hasn't sent the signal to do so specifically. A similar result can be achieved by closing your eyes and tapping your fingers on the eyelids this is curious as your brain will interpret this as short flashes of light also promoting relaxation.

Singing/Humming

As the vagus nerve goes through your vocal cord and passes through the inner ear vibrations of humming or even singing have been proven to positively stimulate the vagus nerve heightening your vagal tone.

Diving Reflex/Cold Water

This technique has been deemed as one of the best natural vagal stimulator you can do. By splashing cold water on your face from your lips to your scalp mimics the diving reflex. This achieves a nervous system cooling reaction; this can also be done by placing a bag of ice cubes on your face and holding your breath for a few seconds. Using this technique slows heart rate, increase blood flow to your brain and helps to relax your body overall.

Diet can change your vagas nerve.
Diet can change your vagas nerve.

Vagus Nerve and Diet

As stated earlier, the vagus nerve is a connector between your gut and brain and can be associated with the opposite to “flight or fight” which is the “rest and digest” response.

The signals sent from your gut to your brain will affect perception of hunger and satisfaction and your mood and stress levels. These vagal gut signals also affect digestion, gastrointestinal motility and creation of digestive enzymes. This is why vagus inhibition is linked to obesity, diabetes and gastrointestinal issues.

Once your stomach is full of food, satiety signals are sent through the vagus to your brain telling you that you’re full. Neurotransmitters that sense nutrients such as ghrelin and serotonin also can send hunger and fullness signals.

This emphasises the importance of gut health as a bad diet can greatly impact the sensitivity of the vagus nerve. Resulting in unwanted weight gain. One obvious indicator to obesity is junk food. Also known as the “cafeteria diet”.

Another positive study on weight loss through vagal stimulation.

Foods that can aid in vagal stimulation are:

Fish that are high in omega-3 like mackerel and salmon also foods high in vitamin B12 such as fortified cereal and animal liver.

Ketogenic diets have also proven to stimulate the vagus nerve and alleviate epileptic symptoms because keto induces hunger-suppressant and anti-inflammatory processes.

Probiotic foods have also shown positive results in vagal stimulation because it can modify gut-to-brain signalling by suppressing the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol. Which indicates that probiotics possibly can intercept gut-brain feedback loop which can aid in relieving psychological stress caused by gut problems.

So go on gorge yourself on some organic Greek yogurt.

Lightning Storm
Lightning Storm

Enhancing Vagus Nerve Through Electricity

Electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve, known as (VNS), can be used to help decrease epileptic or depressive episodes. VNS is actually designed to prevent seizures this is achieved by sending regular, mild pulses of electrical energy to the brain through the vagus.

A special device akin to a pacemaker is placed under the skin on the chest wall with wires connected to the vagus nerve in the neck. A study using this technique on epilepsy sufferers showed a marked decrease in seizures with an unexpected added bonus of improved mood.

A study conducted in 2016 showed by using electrical stimulation on the vagus significantly improved mobility in arthritis patients.

Because of varying successes of vagal nerve stimulation to treat physiological, physical, and emotional diseases a new field of medical study, known as bioelectronics, may be the future of treating a broad scope of illness with fewer side effects than pharmaceutical drugs.

As millions of people experience extremely high levels of stress and anxiety, gaining knowledge on managing stress-inducing chemicals and processes in your body at this time will go a long way!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2020 Daniel Sevan

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