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Healing the Vagus Nerve

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Updated on August 2, 2022
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Deliberate Breathing

Current research is greatly focused on the optimum function of the vagus nerve or in other words the vagal tone, especially with respect to its relationship with the management and treatment of chronic diseases. The vagus nerve spans from the brain stem up to the gut and provides power to the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS controls the heart rate, digestion, gastrointestinal activities, sexual arousal, and urination. Scientists suggest that dysfunction of the vagus nerve is linked with chronic inflammation, obesity, anxiety, seizures, depression, fainting, abnormally decreased heartbeat, and gastrointestinal issues. Digestion, mood, and overall well-being can be improved just by simply stimulating the vagus nerve. There are natural techniques through which vagal tone can be healed.

Cold Exposure

It has been observed that the vagus nerve stimulates when exposed to acute cold and through vagus nerve pathways, cholinergic neurons are activated by it (1). Scientific study suggests that parasympathetic activity increases through the vagus nerve and the sympathetic response of “fight or flight decreases when the body is exposed regularly to cold (2). You can simply use ice-cold water to stick your face into it.

Slow & Deep Breathing

Another way to heal the vagal tone is through slow and deep breathing as it decreases anxiety and improves the PNS by stimulating the vagus nerve (3). Normally, individuals breathe about ten to fourteen times in a minute. Breathing six times a minute helps to reduce stress. Your breath should come from deep within your diaphragm and while you are doing this, your stomach should come out. Exhale the breath in slowly.

Humming, Singing, Gargling & Chanting

The muscles present at the rear of your throat and your vocal cords are connected with the vagus nerve. The muscles are stimulated when you chant, hum, sing or gargle and in turn, it heals the vagal tone (4). You can simply gargle water a little before swallowing it.

Probiotics

It has been established that bran function is improved by the gut bacteria by impacting the vagus nerve (5). In an animal study, Lactobacillus Rhamnosus was used as probiotic and it was observed that positive changes occur in the brain of animals with respect to their GABA receptors. There was decreases in the level of stress hormones, and depression along with anxiety-like behavior was reduced. The researchers suggested that these positive changes in the brain and gut were aided by the vagus nerve because when the same probiotic was introduced in animals in which the vagus nerve was removed, there was no change in the mood, stress and anxiety (6).

Meditation

A relaxation technique that can impact the vagus nerve resulting in increased vagal tone. Scientific studies suggest that positive emotions and vagal tone increases with meditation and it also encourages goodwill feeling towards oneself (7,8). In another study, it was observed that “fight or flight” sympathetic response decreases with meditation while on the other hand, vagal modulation increases (9).

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Human body cannot form these essential fatty acids by itself and need to be acquired from an external source such as fish. The nervous system and normal electrical operations of the brain require omega-3 fatty acids. These are the fatty acids that can help people to leave their addictions, reverse a decline in cognitive functions and repair “leaky brain” as well as increase vagal activity and tone (10–13). Omega-3 fatty acids slow the heart rate and escalates the heart rate variability meaning likely stimulation of vagus nerve (14–16). Parasympathetic predominance and increased activity of the vagus nerve is also associated with high consumption of fish (10).

Exercise

Vagus nerve is stimulated by the exercise (17). Brain health experts for the optimal health of brain recommends exercise as their best advice. You can walk, sprint, or lift weights. You can choose any exercise or sport that you enjoy and can stick with it consistently.

Massage

According to scientific studies, vagus nerve gets activated by the massage resulting in enhanced vagal tone and activity (18,19). Massage of specific body areas can stimulate the vagus nerve. Heart rate variability and vagal modulation increases with refexology or foot massages while the sympathetic response of “fight or flight” decreases (20). Carotid sinus, the right side area of the throat, when massaged activates vagus nerve reducing seizures (21). You can simply book a professional massage therapist and while enjoy a relaxing massage, can activate your vagus nerve.

Laughing & Socializing

The stress hormones reduces when you laugh and socialize and this is similar for the vagus nerve. Studies have observed that positive emotions increase as well as vagal tone improves when positive social connections are maintained (22). Mood and heart-rate variability have been to improve due to laughter (23). Similarly, laughter is often followed by the vagus nerve stimulation showing a connection between the two (24). Laugh and hang out with friends as much as you can.

Vagus Nerve Stimulator

In addition to all the above mentioned natural techniques, you can also take help from a vagus nerve stimulator. Surgically, the device is implanted under the skin near the left vagus nerve. Along with the device, there is also a VNS therapy lead and a therapy pulse generator. The pulse generator produces electrical signals that are transmitted through the VNS lead to the vagus nerve. However, if you do not want to opt a surgical implant, you have the option to choose tVNS Stimulator - Vagus Nerve Stimulation Device that works externally.

The Bottom Line

Your mind and body do not have any control over you. Instead to possess the power to tell them how they should work. You can convey messages to your whole body by simply stimulating the vagus nerve that now the body should de-stress and relax. The outcome of this will be for longer durations in terms of resilience, mood, and overall wellbeing. You will be able to better manage your depression or anxiety by enhancing your vagal tine by adopting some of the points discussed here in your daily lives.

 

Refernces

1. Yuan PQ, Taché Y, Miampamba M, Yang H. Acute cold exposure induces vagally mediated Fos expression in gastric myenteric neurons in conscious rats. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2001 Aug;281(2):G560-568.
2. Mäkinen TM, Mäntysaari M, Pääkkönen T, Jokelainen J, Palinkas LA, Hassi J, et al. Autonomic nervous function during whole-body cold exposure before and after cold acclimation. Aviat Space Environ Med. 2008 Sep;79(9):875–82.
3. Mason GS, Shuman TR, Cook KE. Comparing the Effectiveness of an Inverted Classroom to a Traditional Classroom in an Upper-Division Engineering Course. IEEE Trans Educ. 2013 Nov;56(4):430–5.
4. Vickhoff B, Malmgren H, Åström R, Nyberg G, Ekström SR, Engwall M, et al. Music structure determines heart rate variability of singers. Front Psychol. 2013 Jul 9;4:334.
5. Carabotti M, Scirocco A, Maselli MA, Severi C. The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems. Ann Gastroenterol Q Publ Hell Soc Gastroenterol. 2015;28(2):203–9.
6. Bravo JA, Forsythe P, Chew MV, Escaravage E, Savignac HM, Dinan TG, et al. Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Sep 20;108(38):16050–5.
7. Kok BE, Coffey KA, Cohn MA, Catalino LI, Vacharkulksemsuk T, Algoe SB, et al. How positive emotions build physical health: perceived positive social connections account for the upward spiral between positive emotions and vagal tone. Psychol Sci. 2013 Jul 1;24(7):1123–32.
8. Szalavitz M. The Biology of Kindness: How It Makes Us Happier and Healthier. Time [Internet]. 2013 May 9 [cited 2022 Jul 18]; Available from: https://healthland.time.com/2013/05/09/why-kindness-can-make-us-happier-healthier/?iid=hl-main-lead
9. Telles S, Raghavendra BR, Naveen KV, Manjunath NK, Kumar S, Subramanya P. Changes in Autonomic Variables Following Two Meditative States Described in Yoga Texts. J Altern Complement Med. 2013 Jan;19(1):35–42.
10. Christensen JH. Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Heart Rate Variability. Front Physiol. 2011 Nov 16;2:84.
11. O’Keefe JH, Abuissa H, Sastre A, Steinhaus DM, Harris WS. Effects of omega-3 fatty acids on resting heart rate, heart rate recovery after exercise, and heart rate variability in men with healed myocardial infarctions and depressed ejection fractions. Am J Cardiol. 2006 Apr 15;97(8):1127–30.
12. Singer P, Shapiro H, Theilla M, Anbar R, Singer J, Cohen J. Anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids in critical illness: novel mechanisms and an integrative perspective. Intensive Care Med. 2008 Sep;34(9):1580–92.
13. Skulas-Ray AC, Kris-Etherton PM, Harris WS, West SG. Effects of Marine-Derived Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Systemic Hemodynamics at Rest and During Stress: a Dose–Response Study. Ann Behav Med Publ Soc Behav Med. 2012 Dec;44(3):301–8.
14. von Schacky C. A review of omega-3 ethyl esters for cardiovascular prevention and treatment of increased blood triglyceride levels. Vasc Health Risk Manag. 2006;2(3):251–62.
15. Kang JX. Reduction of heart rate by omega-3 fatty acids and the potential underlying mechanisms. Front Physiol. 2012 Oct 30;3:416.
16. Harris WS, Gonzales M, Laney N, Sastre A, Borkon AM. Effects of omega-3 fatty acids on heart rate in cardiac transplant recipients. Am J Cardiol. 2006 Nov 15;98(10):1393–5.
17. Wang Y, Kondo T, Suzukamo Y, Oouchida Y, Izumi SI. Vagal nerve regulation is essential for the increase in gastric motility in response to mild exercise. Tohoku J Exp Med. 2010 Oct;222(2):155–63.
18. Field T, Diego M, Hernandez-Reif M. Potential Underlying Mechanisms for Greater Weight Gain in Massaged Preterm Infants. Infant Behav Dev. 2011 Jun;34(3):383–9.
19. Field T, Diego M, Hernandez-Reif M. Preterm Infant Massage Therapy Research: A Review. Infant Behav Dev. 2010 Apr;33(2):115–24.
20. Lu WA, Chen GY, Kuo CD. Foot reflexology can increase vagal modulation, decrease sympathetic modulation, and lower blood pressure in healthy subjects and patients with coronary artery disease. Altern Ther Health Med. 2011 Aug;17(4):8–14.
21. Laine Green A, Weaver DF. Vagal stimulation by manual carotid sinus massage to acutely suppress seizures. J Clin Neurosci Off J Neurosurg Soc Australas. 2014 Jan;21(1):179–80.
22. Kok BE, Coffey KA, Cohn MA, Catalino LI, Vacharkulksemsuk T, Algoe SB, et al. How Positive Emotions Build Physical Health: Perceived Positive Social Connections Account for the Upward Spiral Between Positive Emotions and Vagal Tone. Psychol Sci. 2013 Jul 1;24(7):1123–32.
23. Dolgoff-Kaspar R, Baldwin A, Johnson MS, Edling N, Sethi GK. Effect of laughter yoga on mood and heart rate variability in patients awaiting organ transplantation: a pilot study. Altern Ther Health Med. 2012 Oct;18(5):61–6.
24. Smyth MD, Tubbs RS, Bebin EM, Grabb PA, Blount JP. Complications of chronic vagus nerve stimulation for epilepsy in children. J Neurosurg. 2003 Sep;99(3):500–3.

 

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