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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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