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Non invasive vagus nerve stimulation

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Updated on August 23, 2022
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Do you know what the vagus nerve is? The function of this cranial nerve is crucial to stress management. Health and fitness level can be improved with noninvasive Vagus Nerve Stimulation. The parasympathetic nervous system comprises 75% of the body's total length, which is the vagus nerve, involved in digestion,sleep and feeling of well-being.

What Does Vagus Nerve Do?

To stimulate Vagus nerve, invasive devices were usually implanted to send electrical impulses directly. The purpose of this article is to discuss the effects of cold water immersion (CWI),and a non-invasive alternative to vagus nerve stimulation.
In the human body, there are twelve cranial nerves, including the vagus nerve. Vagus nerve also known as cranial nerve X is a sensory and motor nerve. A critical part of the autonomic nervous system is that it communicates between the brain and digestive system. Among the functions of the vagus nerve are as follows:

  • Heart rate regulation
  • Ensure proper digestion
  • Breathe normally
  • Provides support for other cardiovascular activities
  • Improves reflexes (e.g., sneezing, coughing, swallowing)

It branches from your brainstem to the lower part of your colon, making it the longest cranial nerve. The muscle groups and reflexes are stimulated by it as mentioned above. As well as providing sensory functions, it also provides:

  • Ear and throat somatic sensations
  • Digestion-related visceral sensations
  • Taste

Vagus nerves are not involved in taste, but they are crucial to gag reflexes. A gag reflex test can help physicians narrow down problems related to the vagus nerve. The presence of vagal nerve damage can be detected further by swabbing cotton against the back of the patient's throat if a gag is not elicited with a cotton swab.

 

Lack of Vagal Stimulation

Damage to the vagal nerve or a lack of nerve activity may lead to a variety of symptoms. Multiple branches emerge from the vagus nerve as it leaves the brainstem.

Identifying where these branches are located can provide insight into why symptoms occur. The following are some of the most important vagal nerve branches:

  • Meningeal and auricular branches of the jugular fossa
  • Pharyngeal branch
  • Esophageal branches
  • Inferior cardiac nerve
  • Bronchial branches
  • Laryngeal nerve
  • Superior cardiac branches
  • Hepatic branches
  • Gastric branches
  • Celiac branches

It is common for some people to experience vagal damage as a result of a lack of vagus activity, including:

  • The gastroparesis
  • Speaking impairment
  • Voice change
  • Specific reflexes are lost
  • Blood pressure and heart rate are lower
  • The depression

VND is also known as vagus nerve dysfunction. Your mental health can be affected by VND, which causes debilitating and life-changing effects.

 

What Is Non Invasive Vagus Nerve Stimulation?

The vagus nerve stimulation technique is exactly what it sounds like: it stimulates the vagus nerve. In patients with an inactive or underactive vagus nerve, it is typically used.
Electrical stimulation or neuromodulation is used to stimulate the vagus nerve noninvasively. Vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS) is another term for these devices.

What is tVNS?

An electrical stimulation device is usually placed behind the ear or neck to stimulate the skin. With the tVNS device, electrical currents are sent through the body in order to reengage the vagus nerve. There are a number of symptoms that could benefit from a tVNS device, including:

  • Digestion
  • Response to flight or fight
  • Parasympathetic nervous system
  • Immune system

With a tVNS device, you can help rebalance your body's functions, hormones, and health by reestablishing your parasympathetic nervous system

What Is tVNS Used For?

Medical conditions cannot be diagnosed or treated with a tVNS device. Therapeutic uses include managing symptoms associated with:

  • Depression is difficult to treat
  • Epilepsy types
  • Disorders of anxiety
  • Having headaches
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • And more

According to two studies, further research is needed to determine the full effects of tVNS devices. A study was conducted to see if VNS therapy could be used to treat depression, a difficult condition to treat. The study focuses on implanted vagal nerve stimulation devices (which will be discussed in a later section), but it sheds light on the importance of vagal nerve stimulation to help with both physical and mental health symptoms.

The FDA has approved implanted VNS devices as a treatment option for depression and they have a lower risk of side effects than electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). It has been suggested, however, that the effects may take longer to appear.

It has been recommended by experts that VNS therapy should be used as a complementary option to conventional treatment and that there are some risks involved in implanting a device. It is important to note that implantable VNS devices are safe for the following reasons:

  • Complications of surgery
  • Symptoms of acute illness
  • Hypomania

Long-term devices implants need to be studied further to determine their safety and efficacy. Second, external stimulation devices were used to stimulate the auricular vagus nerve. Auricular vagus nerve stimulation was intended to improve symptoms of fibromyalgia, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Pain

A control group that participated only in home exercises as opposed to the tVNS group was compared to the group that received both tVNS and home exercises. Across the three factors (depression, pain, anxiety), both groups showed improvements. Due to the fact that both groups participated in exercise, further research is recommended.

In terms of test scores, the tVNS group showed slightly greater improvements. A longer study and treatment guidelines with more specific recommendations are needed, based on this finding.

Where Is a tVNS Device Placed?

The most common location for a tVNS device is the ear. The effects of tVNS have been studied in detail using functional MRIs. Vagal modulation could occur in the tragus and concha, according to their study.

Vagus nerve stimulation can be controlled at home with these devices. Easy-to-read instructions make the device user-friendly and safe. The following are the steps to placing and using tVNS effectively:

  • Water or a wipe can be used to clean the tragus area
  • Electrodes should be attached firmly
  • Increase intensity slowly
  • 15 minutes of wearing

TVNS enhances vagal tone and vagus activity in the tragus. A healthy vagal tone helps regulate blood pressure, improve heart rate variability, relax the body, and enhance overall wellbeing. However, participants have reported improvements in their health and wellbeing, though some results are harder to quantify and measure.

 

Non-Invasive Vagus Nerve Stimulation Methods

Various non-invasive methods of calming the vagus nerve (nVNS) can be used, such as breathing exercises, exercise, meditation, yoga, and focused massage therapy. It is also possible to take supplements to support the brain, digestion, and nervous system, such as probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids. Alternatively, more intensive approaches can be used to stimulate specific areas of the body using non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation methods.

Options for Non-Invasive Vagus Nerve Stimulation In The Head and Neck

Migraines and cluster headaches can now be treated non-invasively with a device that stimulates the vagus nerve using impulses sent from a device pressed against the neck.

Through the skin on the ear, other devices stimulate the auricular branch of the vagus nerve. HRV is increased as a result of auricular branch stimulation, along with headaches and migraines being reduced.

Options for Vagus Nerve Stimulation For Back Pain Relief

As an adjunct therapy to pain management, Percutaneous auricular VNS (pVNS), a similar emerging technology, shows promise for treating chronic back pain patients by stimulating the vagus nerve in the pinna of the ear. Minimally invasive electrodes are implanted to the auricle nerve, but research indicates that this is more effective than dermal stimulation in providing the desired level of stimulation.

 

Non-Invasive Cold Water Therapy For Vagus Nerve Stimulation

For non-invasive stimulation of the vagus nerve, cold therapy is the best option. Immersion in cold water (CWI) has been practiced for centuries without electrical stimulation. Whole-body CWI stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system in organs influenced by it such as the neck, chest, and back. Several studies have demonstrated that routine exposure to cold increases parasympathetic activity and reduces sympathetic "fight or flight" responses. There is a greater sense of well-being among practitioners of CWI and fewer instances of disease and illness, such as headaches and back pain.

There is extensive research to support the connection between cold water stimulation and the vagus nerve, which has been shown to improve health in specific body parts, including the heart, lungs, and stomach, as well as immune system performance, as well as stress and psychological symptoms.

A cold stimulus at the lateral neck region increased heart rate variability and decreased heart rate in comparison to a control condition. An improvement in these parameters indicates an improvement in physical and mental health.

 

Pain Relief through Cold Water Vagus Nerve Stimulation:

The use of cold therapy has been proven to relieve back pain and sciatica pain in patients. A study also shows that CWI has an advantage over warm water immersion in speeding recovery post-exercise by activating the parasympathetic nerve. The vagus nerve can also be stimulated through CWI to improve neck pain including headaches and migraines.

Aside from treating mental health issues, whole-body cold therapy can also be used for a number of other vagus nerve-related problems, especially depression and mood disorders.

Cold water swimming, a method that has been proven to stimulate the intestines and immune system, is also effective for stimulating the vagus nerve.

Conclusion

Chronic stress can be reduced with noninvasive vagus nerve stimulation. The vagus can be improved by reducing the sympathetic nervous system activity, promoting homeostasis, and aiding in general health and well-being.

There are numerous physical and mental health concerns for which VNS therapy can be used, even though it has been widely used for epilepsy and depression. A home unit gives more people the opportunity to test the benefits for themselves.

 

How does Vagus Nerve Stimulation Work?

Vagus nerve stimulation(VNS) requires the use of a device to send mild pulses of electrical energy through the vagus nerve in your neck to your brainstem. After it reaches the brainstem, the electrical impulse is discharged to various parts of the brain to alter how the brain cells act.

How long does it take for vagus nerve stimulation to work?

Some people respond quickly, while others need more time to allow the increase in the frequency of stimulation to reach therapeutic levels. It might take weeks, months, a year, or even longer depending on how well the body responds to it. 

How many times a day should you stimulate the vagus nerve?

Stimulation varies for different conditions. Your physician determines the time and duration you stimulate your vagus nerve.

What happens if you overstimulate your vagus nerve?

Over stimulation of the vagus nerve causes vasovagal syncope. When the vagus nerve is overstimulated, the body's blood vessels dilate, especially those in the lower extremities, and the heart temporarily slows down. The brain is deprived of oxygen, causing the patient to lose consciousness.

How effective is the vagus nerve stimulation? 

It has been approved by the FDA, for the treatment of epilepsy, obesity, cluster headache, inflammatory bowel disease, and psychological disorders like anxiety and depression.

 

References

https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/vagus-nerve-stimulation/about/pac-20384565

https://icebarrel.com/blog/non-invasive-stimulation-of-the-vagus-nerve-and-its-effects/

https://vagus.net/noninvasive-vagus-nerve-stimulation-vs-invasive/

 

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