The Vagus Nerve
Learn about your Vagus Nerve
The wandering nerve: the name ‘vagus’ comes from the Latin meaning “wandering”.
The vagus nerve is one of the longest nerves in the body. It extends from the base of the brain and branches to parts of the face and neck before passing down into the core of the body and connecting to all the major organs. The nerve is crucial in regulating much of the involuntary processes of the body, such as heart rate, breathing, digestion and immune system response. Sensory feedback loops between the major organs and the brain are also known to play a crucial role in regulating a surprisingly broad array of processes such as memory formation, mood and our capacity to exercise.
Studies have shown that declining activity in the vagus nerve is the cause of many bodily imbalances which can lead to many of the minor health issue we can all experience, particularly as we age. In extreme cases, medics will implant an electrical simulator to directly target the major branch of the vagus nerve that passes down the neck. But recent evidence shows that less serious cases can be greatly mitigated by stimulating a branch of the nerve which extends into the ear; this is known as the auricular branch of the nerve and the tragus of the ear is an ideal location to reach the nerve.
So what does the vagus nerve do?
Changes in the activity of the vagus nerve have long been associated with the onset of dementia and general cognitive decline. But recent studies have further show that stimulation of the nerve in healthy people improved memory performance; because stimulation activates regions of the brain which are important in the consolidation memories.
A branch of the vagus nerve extends into the ear and so the ear presents convenient access to the nerve. Stimulating the nerve via the ear stimulates the vagus nerve throughout the body.
Signals from the brain pass along the vagus nerve and control the action of your lungs as you breath. This is why you can stimulate your vagus nerve naturally with deep breathing.
The vagus nerve plays an active role in regulating your heart rate. Other parts of the nervous system accelerate your heart rate while the vagus nerve is responsible for returning your body to a calm and relaxed state. Under activity in the nerve can lead to hypertension and depression.
Inflammation is a natural and necessary reaction to injury or illness, but excessive inflammation can cause many dangerous or harmful conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or sepsis. The vagus nerve works to prevent excessive inflammation by alerting the brain to the presence of cytokines which then triggers the release of anit-inflammatory molecules that reduce the inflammation and maintain a healthy balance.
The expression "gut reaction" comes from the strong link between your intestine and your brain. However, the extent of this connection is only now being fully understood through scientific research. Communication between the guts and the brain obviously plays an important role in managing appetite and reducing obesity; but recent science has demonstrated that it also regulate general mood, cognition and immune function.
So the wonderful wandering Vagus nerve is very important to your wellbeing.
The exciting news is that it is now possible to take charge of your Vagus nerve by electrically stimulating it.
The technology is called tVNS and it is a way to electrically stimulate to boost the nerves performance.