What is the Vagus Nerve and the benefits of its stimulation?
The vagus nerves are the two longest nerves in your body, connecting important organs such as the brain, heart, lungs, and gut. They are important for managing the parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) system which is responsible for digestive function, heart health, and mental health. An increase in vagal tone, its activity, through stimulation can provide benefits in these areas. Stimulation of the vagus nerves can also prevent and reduce the pain associated with cluster headaches and migraines.
How can the Vagus Nerve be Stimulated?
There are many ways to stimulate the vagus nerves. One direct way is through the non-invasive gammaCore SapphireTM device, which offers gentle electrical stimulation through the skin. Here are other methods of stimulation.
- Exposure to cold – Cold showers, quick ice baths, or going outside in the cold has been shown to lower the activity of the sympathetic (“fight or flight”) nervous system and heighten the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system through the vagus nerves.
- Slow and deep breathing – Slow and deep breathing that expands your abdomen can increase the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing anxiety and stress. Try to take 6 breaths in a minute.
- Use the muscles in the back of your throat – These muscles are connected to your vagus nerves, and actions such as singing, chanting, or gargling, can increase vagal tone. Additionally, socialization and laughter promote positive feelings on top of vagus nerve stimulation.
- Probiotics – Healthy gut bacteria improve brain function through the vagus nerves. Lactobacillus Rhamnosus is a strain of bacteria that has shown a decrease in stress, anxiety, and depression. Bifidobacterium Longum has shown a decrease in anxiety-like symptoms.
- Meditation – Meditation reduces sympathetic nervous system activity and stimulates the vagus nerves, leading to an increase of vagal tone and positive emotions.
- Omega-3 fatty acids – These essential fats, found primarily in fish, not only help with cholesterol management but are also critical for brain and mental health through vagus nerve stimulation.
- Exercise – On top of its well-known benefits, exercising stimulates the vagus nerves, promoting optimal brain and mental health.
- Massage – Certain massages can help stimulate the vagus nerves while decreasing sympathetic nervous system activity. Foot and carotid sinus (along the carotid arteries in the neck) massages increase vagal tone and activity.