When the vagus nerve is stimulated, it can have a profound effect on the body, including decreasing heart rate in times of stress and improving digestive activity, among many other things.
In today's post, we'll talk more about what happens when the vagus nerve is stimulated, how it can be beneficial for your health, and some ways to stimulate this important nerve.
Understanding the Function of the Vagus Nerve
We'll begin by discussing the vagus nerve and its function.
The vagus nerve is the longest and most complex of all the cranial nerves. It starts at the base of your skull and extends all the way down to your abdomen. This nerve is responsible for a variety of functions, including:
- Controlling the movement of food through your digestive system
- Regulating heart rate
- Stimulating production of stomach acid
- Assisting with swallowing and speaking
- Reducing Inflammation throughout the body
One of the critical roles your vagus nerve plays is also as the modulator of the gut-brain axis. In other words, it helps to send signals from your gut (or gastrointestinal tract) to your brain and vice versa.
(Speaking of the gut-brain axis, here are some helpful strategies for improving your gut health)
As this 2018 study explains:
"The vagus nerve is responsible for the regulation of internal organ functions, such as digestion, heart rate, and respiratory rate, as well as vasomotor activity, and certain reflex actions, such as coughing, sneezing, swallowing, and vomiting (17). Its activation leads to the release of acetylcholine (ACh) at the synaptic junction with secreting cells, intrinsic nervous fibers, and smooth muscles (18). ACh binds to nicotinic and muscarinic receptors and stimulates muscle contractions in the parasympathetic nervous system."
How Your Body Is Affected By The Vagus Nerve
Now, we will get more into detail about how the vagus nerve affects your body. As we mentioned, this nerve is responsible for regulating many of your body's most critical functions.
When the vagus nerve is functioning properly, it helps to keep our bodies in a state of homeostasis or balance. However, when this nerve is not functioning optimally, it can lead to a variety of problems.
For example, vagus nerve dysfunction has been linked to:
- Migraines and headaches
- Digestive disorders like IBS and GERD
- Chronic inflammation
- Anxiety and depression
- Autoimmune diseases
- Trouble sleeping
- Memory loss
- Alzheimer's disease
- Parkinson's disease
As you can see, vagus nerve dysfunction can wreak havoc on your health in many different ways. This is why it's so important to ensure this nerve is functioning properly—which we'll discuss later in this post.
The Anatomy & Understanding Of the Important Of The Vagus Nerve
You might think "it's just a nerve like any other nerve" but the vagus nerve is anything but ordinary. In fact, it's unlike any other nerve in your body.
The vagus nerve starts at the base of your brainstem (in the medulla oblongata portion) and extends all the way down to your abdomen. Although we often refer to it in singular form, the vagus nerve is actually a pair of nerves. It has two main branches: the right vagus nerve and the left vagus nerve. Each of these nerves innervates (or supplies) different organs in your body.
The vagus nerve is also unique because it's the only cranial nerve that extends below the head and neck. Most other cranial nerves are confined to the head and neck region.
The right vagus nerve innervates your heart, lungs, and digestive system. The left vagus nerve innervates your voice box, esophagus, and stomach.
This nerve also has a special type of ganglion (or cluster of cells) called the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus (DMNV). This ganglion helps control many of your body's autonomic functions, including heart rate, digestive activity, and more.
The vagus nerve is a big part of what's known as the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). This system is responsible for the "rest and digest" functions in your body. In other words, it's responsible for functions that help your body to relax and heal.
In contrast, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is responsible for "fight or flight" functions. This system helps you to deal with stress and danger.
Ideally, your PNS and SNS should be in balance. However, many factors can lead to vagus nerve dysfunction and an imbalance between these two systems.
Vagus Nerve Stimulation & The Many Benefits
Now that we've gone over the vagus nerve's anatomy and function, let's discuss vagus nerve stimulation (VNS).
Surgical VNS is a therapy that involves stimulating the vagus nerve with electrical impulses with a device placed under the skin on the chest. This type of vagus nerve stimulation is used to treat epilepsy and depression.
However, other ways to stimulate the vagus nerve don't require surgery. These methods are much less invasive and can be done at home.
Some of the most well-known ways to stimulate the vagus nerve include:
- Chewing gum
- Massaging the neck
- Exercising (particularly yoga and Tai Chi)
- Taking a cold shower or dunking your face in cold water
- Using a handheld vagus nerve stimulation device
(You can also read more about daily vagus nerve exercises in this post)
We'll detail some of these methods later in this post, but let's first discuss the benefits of stimulating the vagus nerve.
There are many vagus nerve stimulation benefits, including:
The vagus nerve and inflammation are intimately connected. In fact, vagus nerve stimulation has been shown to be an effective treatment for inflammation-related conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
One study found vagus nerve stimulation reduced markers of inflammation in people with rheumatoid arthritis. This suggests that VNS may help to reduce inflammation throughout the body.
Another study looked at the effects of vagus nerve stimulation on inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). This study found that VNS could significantly reduce IBD symptoms and improve quality of life.
Improved mental health
Mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression are often characterized by chronic inflammation. Therefore, it's not surprising that vagus nerve stimulation can also help to improve mental health.
A 2006 study found that vagus nerve stimulation was an effective treatment for people with treatment-resistant depression. The results showed VNS played a beneficial role in minimizing the symptoms of depression.
This study and others like it suggests that vagus nerve stimulation may be a helpful treatment for people with mental health disorders that other treatments haven't helped.
Improved heart health
The vagus nerve is intimately connected with the cardiovascular system. As a key player in the autonomic nervous system, the vagus nerve helps to regulate heart rate.
Studies have shown VNS can help improve heart health. For example, one study found that vagus nerve stimulation was able to reduce heart rate and blood pressure in people with hypertension.
Another study from 2010 looked at the effects of vagus nerve stimulation on people with heart failure. It found VNS could improve the quality of life and exercise tolerance in people with heart failure.
Interestingly, vagus nerve stimulation can also help to reduce pain. This 2013 study reports that vagus nerve stimulation was an effective treatment for people with chronic pain, significantly reducing pain symptoms and improving quality of life.
These are just a few examples of the many vagus nerve stimulation benefits. As you can see, this therapy offers a wide range of potential health benefits. Some that we didn't explore in greater detail include a better sleep, faster recovery, and promoting your overall well-being.
Let's now discuss some of the best ways to stimulate the vagus nerve and experience these benefits for yourself.
5 Ways to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve (At Home)
Now that we've gone over some of the potential vagus nerve stimulation benefits, let's move on to some of the best ways to stimulate the vagus nerve at home.
As we mentioned earlier, there are many vagus nerve stimulation benefits. And there are also many different ways to stimulate the vagus nerve.
Here are five of the best vagus nerve stimulation activities:
Gargling is one of the simplest and most effective ways to stimulate the vagus nerve. All you need is a cup of water and you're good to go.
Gargling for 30 seconds can effectively stimulate the vagus nerve and offer a host of health benefits. These benefits include reducing inflammation, improving mental health, and promoting heart health.
Breath work and deep breathing
Breath work is another simple and effective vagus nerve stimulation activity. All you need to do is take some deep breaths and focus on your breath.
There are many different types of breath work that you can do. One of the most popular is 4-7-8 breathing. This involves breathing in for four seconds, holding your breath for seven seconds, and then exhaling for eight seconds.
Studies show how certain breathing practices stimulate the vagus nerve and offer a host of health benefits. These benefits include reducing pain and inflammation, improving mental health, and promoting heart health.
Singing is another option for promoting vagus nerve stimulation activity. When you sing, the vibrations from your voice travel through your throat, targeting and stimulating the vagus nerve.
Singing can effectively stimulate the vagus nerve and it offers various health benefits. These benefits include reducing stress, improving mental health, and promoting heart health. Humming and chanting have the same effects!
Cold exposure is yet another vagus nerve stimulation activity that offers a wide range of health benefits. These benefits include reducing inflammation, improving mental health, and boosting your immune system. There are many different options for exploring cold exposure. For example, you can take a cold shower, jump into a cold pool, or even put ice on your skin.
Vagus nerve stimulation device
Then, this device wirelessly syncs to your smartphone where you can control your VNS sessions, including customizing your sessions, intensity, and patterns. You can also use it while you listen to your favorite songs or sounds or simply listen in peace and quiet.
If you're looking for a vagus nerve stimulation device that is easy to use and offers a wide range of health benefits, look no further than Xen by Neuvana!
We've covered a lot in today's post, from what happens when the vagus nerve is stimulated to vagus nerve stimulation benefits and the best ways to stimulate the vagus nerve at home.
Whether you're using a vagus nerve stimulation device or simply gargling, deep breathing, or singing, vagus nerve stimulation is a great way to improve your overall health and well-being. From boosting your mood to helping mitigate the symptoms of severe conditions like depression and anxiety, vagus nerve stimulation is a powerful tool that most could benefit from incorporating into their daily lives.