Vagus Nerve Is The Key To Lower Stress And Anxiety
Health

Vagus Nerve Is The Key To Lower Stress And Anxiety

The vagus nerve is the main nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system; the function of to control involuntary body functions such as digestion, heart rate, and the immune system. The vagal nerve has a right and left side, running down either side of the body; it is the longest-running cranial nerve and runs from the medulla oblongata in the lower brainstem through the neck, chest (thorax), heart, lungs, and finishing in the abdomen and digestive tract.

The parasympathetic nervous system controls “rest and digest” functions, whereas the sympathetic nervous is responsible for the system’s “fight or flight.” 

Because the vagus nerve plays such a key role in many of the body’s functions, researchers have continually investigated it, how it works, and how science can leverage its function for medical health benefits.

Effects of Vagus Nerve Stimulation VNS

Laying path through so much of the body, it’s long been suspected that the vagus nerve could be linked to other functions. As early as the 1800’s, experiments were being conducted to find out if stimulating the nerve could work as a potential treatment for epilepsy.

The research, conducted in the 1880s by J.L. Corning, involved the creation of two devices designed to stimulate the vagus nerve: a two-pronged instrument known as the “carotid fork” that applied temporary pressure to be used as an abortive treatment and an adjustable belt worn around the neck to apply continual pressure to be used as a prophylactic treatment.

While these experiments showed promise, the observations were uncontrolled and, ultimately, didn’t catch on amongst the wider medical community. Nevertheless, these early vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) experiments paved the way for further research into the many other potential benefits the treatment could offer. For example, researchers later found an unexpected side effect of VNS treatment was improved mood.  

Research is providing more insight into how this nerve can improve life.

Vagus Nerve Research

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Eric Porges, an assistant professor in the department of clinical and health psychology at the University of Florida who studies the vagus nerve, said:

“It can sound sort of magical with all the things it does,”

He explained that our understanding of the vagus nerve “continues to grow in richness and depth,” but that there is still much to discover to gain the full picture.

In the early 2000s, studies were published that showed vagus nerve stimulation could help treat severe depression in patients who had not responded to other treatments. This seemingly kick-started a new wave of research with many more studies following. By 2005, the FDA had approved implantable pulse-generating devices that send electric signals to the vagus nerve, typically used for obesity, for the treatment of depression and epilepsy. Of course these devices aren’t cheap and require surgery that is expensive and can take months to begin working; making it unsuitable for some cases.

Researchers are now recruiting patients for the largest clinical trial to investigate what degree vagus nerve stimulation can truly treat depression, especially in patients who do not respond well to other treatments. The clinical trial will examine the effectiveness of FDA approved vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) devices for treatment resistant depression (TRD), and will monitor participant for 12 months.

Dr. Scott Aaronson, one of the senior psychiatrists involved in the clinical trial and the chief science officer of the Institute for Advanced Diagnostics and Therapeutics, expects the device to be “especially helpful for those with bipolar depression because so few treatments exist for them,” he continues:

Trending TikTok Hacks Reset Vagus Nerve

Improved mood and combat depression are two reasons VNS has seen a huge uptick on social media over recent months. Trending, mainly on TikTok, with the hashtag “#vagusnerve,” a slew of videos touting a range of hacks designed to reset the vagus nerve with the goal of reducing anxiety, combating strength, regulating the nervous system and helping the body to relax, have been circulating on the platform; while gathering millions of likes, shares, and comments.

Some of these techniques include plunging the face into ice baths or placing ice packs on the chest for short periods of time. There are also breathwork exercises, ear and neck massages, and even eye exercise videos, as well as Vagus massage oil, pillow mists, and even vibrating bracelet products that all claim to stimulate the vagus nerve to gain numerous health benefits. Many of these items haven’t been approved or even tested to credible standards, so purchase them and proceed with caution.

True or False?
In short, can resetting the vagus nerve using VNS provide numerous health benefits? Yes, it can.

Do these hacks for resetting the vagus nerve work? Yes and No. Many simply do not adequately stimulate the vagus nerve and thus will not work. However, those treatments that do can provide benefits.

So whether or not the latest trending video has claims that are true, or invented simply to capitalize on the trend for financial gain, larger depends on the treatment/device, and is probably a bit of both. That said, TikTok isn’t known as a powerhouse of credible medical information, so take information published there with a pinch of salt; and stick with reputable sources to save confusion and time.

Vagus Nerve Lower Stress And Anxiety

Medical Health Benefits of VNS

In addition to depression, evidence suggest that VNS can also treat epilepsy, diabetes, and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as inflammatory autoimmune conditions such Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Some preliminary studies even suggest the technology might help to treat symptoms of long covid since it’s believed that they could originate, in part, from the vagus nerve.

Dr. Kevin J. Tracey, a neurosurgeon and president of the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, Northwell Health’s research center in New York, utilizes VNS to treat inflammation, and this research is thought to be useful in the treatment of PTSD, since the psychiatric disorders is characterized by inflammation in the blood, which interferes with circuits in the brain, according to Dr. Andrew H. Miller, the director of the Behavioral Immunology Program at Emory University.

Unfortunately the new technology is currently out of the reach of most people, largely due to the high cost and decline from most insurers to cover the procedure. Whether this stands to change in the future only time will tell. However in meantime, is there anything you can do to stimulate the vagus nerve at home? Should you be following any of the vagus nerve hacks you see online?

VNS Exercises at Home

When it comes to VNS at home, there are several exercises you can do. These include:

Breathwork

  • Breathe slowly: six breaths per minute
  • Breathe even deeper, from the belly; expand your abdomen, widening rib cage when inhaling
  • Exhale longer than inhaling: exhale triggers the relaxation response, extend that period as long as is comfortable

Other Activities

  • Gargle loud with water: activates vocal chord, which in turn stimulates the vagus nerve
  • Loud singing: also activates our vocal cords
  • Foot massage: increase blood flow and stimulates the vagus nerve
  • Cold water plunge: immerse your face cold water, this decreasing heart rate, stimulates the intestines and boasts immune system
  • Eating fiber; slowing the gut movements, stimulates vagus impulses to the brain
  • Laughter: lifts your mood, boosts your immune system and stimulates the vagus nerve

In Conclusion

Until medical science overcomes the financial hurdle surrounding the new vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) devices, or develop alternative technology that can be brought to market in a timely, affordable manner, then we may all have to resort to in-home exercises and activities to stimulate the vagus nerve to reap the numerous health benefits.