Yoga Asana, Breathing, Pranayama and Meditation help activate the Vagus Nerve.
Vagus nerve; the essential interface of parasympathetic nervous system, helps control the functioning of brain, neck, ears, tongue, lungs, heart, stomach, intestines, liver, kidneys and female reproductive organs. It is also involved in speech, eye contact, taste and facial expressions.
When Vagus ” the tenth cranial nerve ” is activated, blood pressure stabilises, immune system functions at optimised levels, respiratory rate corrects itself, antibody titers improve significantly, sleep pattern and mood improves, digestive system and natural killer cells (NK lymphocyte cells) function increases and above all, YOUR overall health becomes better.
The strength of your Vagus nerve is called as Vagal tone. Everybody does not have same vagal tone; some people have higher vagal tone, which means that their body can relax faster after stress.
Research shows that high vagal tone is associated with low incidence of diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular diseases, whereas people with low vagal tone are more susceptible to health issues like depression, fatigue, gut issues, food sensitivities, brain fog and chronic inflammatory diseases.
New researches have revealed that electrical stimulation of vagus nerve can be used for treating resistant epilepsy, depression and rheumatoid arthritis, and is becoming an alternative to popping in pills.
But why is Vagus “Buddha” nerve important for your health?
1: Vagus nerve prevents inflammation. A certain amount of inflammation is normal after an injury or infection, but, some people experience on overabundance of inflammatory processes which can trigger multitude of health issues including autoimmune diseases, sepsis, heart attack, stroke, insulin resistance, tumor growth and organ damage.
It is reported that acetylcholine, the principal neurotransmitter of Vagus nerve inhibits tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and interleukins – key players in most inflammation and cell disorders.
2: Vagus nerve helps you Breathe. The neurotransmitter acetylcholine, released by vagus nerve helps in communication between Brain and Diaphragm. Vagus nerve gives you the breath for life by stimulating your lungs to breathe. Absence of acetylcholine will stop the Breath in no time.
3: Vagus nerve conveys messages between your Gut and Brain. About 80-85% of nerve fibers in Vagus nerve transfer visceral feelings or gut instincts from gut (enteric nervous system) to the brain and also from brain to the gut, making a feedback loop.
A 2014 Swiss study in Journal of Neuroscience, identified how the emotional intuitions or gut instincts coming up to brain through Vagus nerve are associated with different responses to fear. In the test animals, researchers severed nerve fibers carrying information from gut to brain, but kept the fibers sending information from brain to gut, intact.
The research revealed that the test rats were not that afraid to begin with i.e. having low level of innate fear, but when they became afraid, they had hard time overcoming this fear i.e. they retained learned fear for longer time.
Research also concluded that optimal vagal tone of vagus nerve helps to come back from stressful situations easily.
In fact, vagal nerve stimulation, an accepted treatment in the alternate medicine, is fast becoming the recommended allopathic treatment for epilepsy, severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorders and other anxiety disorders.
4: Vagus Nerve maintains Digestive Health. Vagus Nerve helps in food intake, digestion, satiety, maintaining gastrointestinal barrier and perform immune-modulatory functions in the gut. It increases production of gastric acid and digestive juices and maintains gut motility. It also helps stimulates production of gastric intrinsic factor; a glycoprotein that helps in absorption of vitamin B12.
5: Vagus Nerve promotes general Kidney and Bladder function. Vagal stimulation increases blood flow to kidneys and helps in better filtration of blood. Vagus nerve helps to excrete sodium via urine by releasing dopamine in kidneys and thereby lowering blood pressure.
6: Vagus nerve regulates the strength of Memories. Researchers at university of Virginia reported that vagal nerve stimulation releases norepinephrine (a neurotransmitter) into amygdala (part of brain that regulate arousal, memory and feelings associated with emotional stimuli) and activates it.
Upon activation, amygdala slots the emotionally activating experiences into long-term memory.
Understanding the pathways of emotional memory can aid clinical treatment of intrusive memories and opens promising treatment for conditions like Alzheimer’s.
7: Vagus nerve controls Heart rate and Blood pressure. Vagus nerve acts on heart’s pacemaker by releasing acetylcholine, which slows the pulse and blood pressure.
Many studies have reported the benefits of vagus nerve stimulation in patients with heart failure. In heart failure, the balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system is erratically altered and it leads to sympathetic over-activity.
A 2011 study in European Heart Journal reported that repeated vagus stimulation could improve quality of life and the heart’s efficiency to pump blood in patients with heart failure. Another study published in journal of cardiac failure in 2014 echoed the similar results. After 6 months of vagus stimulation, patients’ heart pumped 4.5% more blood per beat than before.
Multiple studies are underway investigating the effects of vagus nerve stimulation in atrial fibrillation (where heart flutters abnormally) and tachycardia (abnormally increased heart rate) as well.
8: Vagus nerve stimulation can lower and control blood sugar concentrations. A 2015 study in PLOS ONE, showed that vagus nerve stimulation have an anti-diabetic effect in animal models. Researchers explained that transcutaneous (through skin) stimulation of vagus nerve triggers release of melatonin hormone in blood.
It is discovered recently that melatonin plays a protective role against type2 diabetes by regulating glucose metabolism via controlling insulin secretion and leptin production. Also, melatonin has shown to influence food intake and body weight- risk factors for diabetes type 2.
9: Vagus Nerve helps in mood upliftment. Vagus nerve stimulation can be an effective treatment of chronic depression that has failed to respond to drugs. Studies suggest that, electrical stimulation of vagus nerve increases level of norepinephrine, which communicates between nerve cells in parts of brain implicated in mood disorders. In fact, some antidepressants also work by increasing level of norepinephrine in brain.
In 2005 U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved electrical stimulation of vagus nerve as a therapy for drug-resistant depressive patients.
10: Vagus nerve stimulation can prevent and treat chronic cluster headaches. Cluster headache is a debilitating pain usually limited to one side of face, which tends to recur over a period of several weeks.
The positive effect of Vagus Nerve stimulation, for headache cure, was first found when a company called Electrocore was experimenting their device on asthmatic patients (by relying on anti-inflammatory action of nerve). Along with Asthma, the device also helped people cure their cluster headaches.
A 2016 study published in the journal Cephalgia, reported that people suffering from an average of 67.3 cluster headaches in a month experienced around 3.9 fewer attacks/ weeks on an average after using transcutaneous electrical vagal stimulator along with standard treatments.
11: Vagus nerve initiates body’s relaxation response. Vagus nerve, when stimulated, releases proteins like prolactin, oxytocin and vasopressin, which help you to calm down. People with stronger vagal tone are more likely to recover quickly from stress, injury or illness.
12: Vagus nerve stimulation can be effective in treatment-resistant epilepsy. As reported by researchers in Journal Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery 2015, average seizure reduced by 32% just after 6-9 months of vagal stimulation. Patients reported only mild side effects, which get subsided when stimulation was stopped.
13: Vagus nerve stimulation helps to regulate one’s own emotions. Studies have shown that high vagal tone is associated with positive emotions and vice versa, which means that changes in habitual emotions can very strongly influence vagal tone.
Positive emotions can in turn promote positive social bonding, which can influence physical health. Many studies have proved the fact that emotional health can influence physical health.
All these researches seem to be very promising. But in human body nothing works in isolation. Knowing the vagal nerve’s widespread innervations, we are not very sure how electrical stimulation of nerve affects other functions. So caution is warranted when it comes to invasive procedures and surgical implants. But the question arises can we raise vagal tone without getting implants? The answer is yes! Tune in to the next article on ways to stimulate vagus nerve.