Vagus nerve stimulation can result in a number of benefits for those who pursue this option. Today, we're going to explore those benefits as they relate to veterans, including how it can help with PTSD recovery and much more. We're going to look at several different studies that explore the benefits and uses of VNS, as well as sharing an accessible option that allows you to experience these benefits for yourself from the comfort of your home.
What is Vagus Nerve Stimulation?
Before we discuss VNS in relation to its benefits for veterans, let's begin with the basics: What IS vagus nerve stimulation?
The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body. It controls an important part of your body’s automatic responses—the parasympathetic nervous system. This nerve controls a vast range of bodily functions and communicates sensory information between the brain and the organs. The vagus nerve is crucial for activating your relaxation response and helping to regulate tension. The stronger your vagus response, the more likely you may be to recover quickly from stressful events. Enter: VNS.
By stimulating the vagus nerve, it becomes stronger and more toned. As a result, it functions optimally, including helping your body relax and recover, even during stressful situations.
Holistic Vagus Nerve Stimulation: Benefits For Veterans
We know you're wondering how to stimulate this nerve, and we'll get there soon! But first, let's get into how optimal vagus nerve function is beneficial to veterans.
Vagus nerve stimulation for PTSD recovery
Post-traumatic stress disorder is, unfortunately, something many veterans experience.
PTSD can be debilitating, and symptoms of this disorder include:
- Mood swings
- Difficulty sleeping
- Startling easily
- Becoming angry or upset when certain incidents are brought up
- Anxiety and depression
- Several physical symptoms including fatigue, sweating, and increasing heart rate when certain events are brought up
- Chronic pain
There are a number of treatments available for PTSD for veterans, including several types of therapy.
Vagus nerve stimulation for PTSD
One treatment option that is becoming increasingly popular as it is studied more is VNS.
As this study from Frontiers of Psychology explains:
"Posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms are partly mediated by the vagus nerve. There is evidence for diminished parasympathetic activity in PTSD, indicating an autonomic imbalance."
The same 2018 study goes on to explain:
"Vagus nerve stimulation has shown promise as a therapeutic option in treatment-resistant anxiety disorders, including PTSD. Chronic VNS has been shown to reduce anxiety in rats and improve scores on the Hamilton Anxiety Scale in patients suffering from treatment-resistant depression. When stimulated, the vagus nerve sends signals to the NTS and the NTS sends direct projections to the amygdala and the hypothalamus.
Further, VNS increases the release of NE in the basolateral amygdala as well as the hippocampus and cortex. NE infusion in the amygdala results in better extinction learning. Thus, VNS could be a good tool to increase extinction retention. For example, in rats, extinction paired with VNS treatment can lead to remission of fear and improvements in PTSD-like symptoms."
This research is incredibly promising and it's no surprise many people, including veterans, are exploring this option to help with their PTSD symptoms.
In fact, in a randomized, controlled pilot trial from 2019, "participants pre-treated with noninvasive vagus nerve stimulation experienced less pain after heat stimulus than mock-treated participants."
VNS for psychiatric and inflammatory disorders
The same study also considered VNS for a number of other psychiatric and inflammatory disorders common among veterans, including depression and inflammatory bowel disease.
Treatment refractory depression
As for depression, the study reports:
"A pilot study that examined the application of VNS in 60 patients with treatment-resistant depressive disorder showed a significant clinical improvement in 30–37% of patients and a high tolerability. Five years later, the stimulation of the vagus nerve for the treatment of refractory depression was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Since then, the safety and efficacy of VNS in depression has been demonstrated in numerous observational studies as can be seen below."
While evidence does suggest vagus nerve stimulation can be helpful for treating patients whose depression is resistant to traditional medications, the mechanism for this effect is not yet entirely clear.
More research is required, however, with "chronic VNS for depression, PET scans showed a decline in resting brain activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), which projects to the amygdala and other brain regions modulating emotion. VNS results in chemical changes in monoamine metabolism in these regions possibly resulting in antidepressant action."
Inflammatory bowel disease
Another interesting finding in the study has to do with VNS for treating or managing the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease. IBD consists of two primary disorders: Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. There are many risk factors for these disorders, including psychosocial stress at work, which is something many veterans experience. Unfortunately, the physical effects of IBD often result in mental health challenges, including anxiety and depression.
As for how VNS can assist with managing IBD symptoms, the study finds:
"Vagus nerve stimulation attenuates the systemic inflammatory response to endotoxin and intestinal inflammation. The VNs also indirectly modulates immune activity of the spleen through connections with the splenic sympathetic nerve. In rats with colonic inflammation, the 3 h long daily VNS for a period of 5 days led to a reduction in inflammatory markers and an improvement in symptoms of colitis."
Gulf War Illness
Many veterans (approximately one-third) of the 1990-1991 Gulf War have been diagnosed with what is called Gulf War Illness (GWI). This illness involves, "a cluster of medically unexplained chronic symptoms that can include fatigue, headaches, joint pain, indigestion, insomnia, dizziness, respiratory disorders, and memory problems."
Although there are several treatment options available, including therapy and medication, they aren't always effective. Or, if they are effective, the results aren't long-lasting. Further, the side effects of these treatments can be extreme.
But there have been advancements for Gulf War Illness treatment options, including promising research about vagus nerve stimulation.
This 2021 study from Sage Journals reports:
"VNS is widely used in clinical populations, is well-established as a safe and effective treatment, and may be worth exploring as a viable treatment option for GWI patients. The beneficial effects of chronic VNS were also observed in patients with migraines, another symptom domain seen in some GWI patients. VNS reduced the frequency and severity of migraine headaches and antinociceptive effects were also observed. In a previous study, we reported that VNS treatment lowered the nociceptive threshold in this GWI model."
Try Vagus Nerve Stimulation For Yourself
Whether you are a veteran yourself or you are simply curious about vagus nerve stimulation, we have some good news: it's easier than ever to experience the benefits of VNS for yourself.
Many conditions require surgical implantation of a vagus nerve stimulating device. However, vagus nerve stimulating headphones from Neuvana give you the power of VNS right at your fingertips. This reliable and efficient method of VNS was created by a top surgeon and inventor, Richard Cartledge, MD.
As for how it works? Xen delivers gentle micropulses through headphones directly to the vagus nerve in your ear. It pairs wirelessly to your Neuvana app, where you can customize your sessions however you'd like. The result? Feeling more calm and focused, sleeping better, a brighter mood, and more. Of course, you could also experience some of the other benefits we just covered, including managing depression and pain.
Researchers are constantly discovering new benefits of VNS. Why wait to experience them for yourself? Click here to shop Xen by Neuvana, or learn even more about the science of vagus nerve stimulation here.