Vagus Nerve Stimulation for Better Mental Health
Are you new to the vagus nerve? You won’t be for long! You’re about to learn everything you need to know about this amazing nerve, including how it can be a key player in improving your mental health.
What is the Vagus Nerve?
The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in your body. It starts in your brainstem and runs all the way down your spine to your abdomen. This nerve is responsible for many vital functions, including:
- Controlling the muscles of your voice box (larynx)
- Regulating your heart rate
- Stimulating digestion
- Managing the production of stomach acid
As you can see, the vagus nerve is essential for keeping your body functioning properly. But what exactly does it do? Let’s take a closer look.
How it Works
The vagus nerve comes from the Latin word “vagus,” which means “wandering.” This is because the vagus nerve wanders through your body, sending signals from your brain to all of your organs.
These signals help your organs to function correctly. For example, the vagus nerve tells your heart to beat slower when you’re resting and faster when you’re exercising. It also tells your stomach to produce stomach acid when you eat, stimulating digestion by contracting the muscles in your intestines.
The vagus nerve is a big player in the autonomic nervous system that controls all of the automatic functions of your body (like heart rate and digestion). This system is divided into two components: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
The SNS is responsible for the “fight or flight” response, which prepares your body for danger. The PNS is in charge of the “rest and digest” response, which allows your body to relax and heal.
The vagus nerve is the primary connection between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. This means that it’s responsible for keeping your body in balance.
The Vagus Nerve and Mental Health
Interestingly, one of the key functions of the vagus nerve is regulating the stress response. When you’re stressed, your body releases the hormone cortisol. Cortisol increases heart rate and blood pressure and suppresses the immune system.
In small doses, cortisol is beneficial. It gives you the energy you need to deal with a stressful situation. But when cortisol levels are chronically high (like they are in people with anxiety and depression), it can result in serious health problems, including:
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Autoimmune diseases
- Memory problems
The good news is that vagus nerve stimulation can help to regulate cortisol levels and reduce stress. This can result in an improvement in your mental health.
Vagus nerve stimulation is a treatment that uses electrical impulses to stimulate the vagus nerve. In serious cases, this treatment can be done using a device implanted under the skin, but it can also be done using a handheld device such as Xen by Neuvana headphones.
How Vagus Nerve Stimulation Helps with Fighting Stress
VNS works by sending electrical impulses to the vagus nerve. These impulses are generated by a device implanted under the skin, similar to a pacemaker, or through the skin with vagus nerve-stimulating headphones.
When it comes to fighting stress, it’s thought that VNS helps to improve mental health by modulating the activity of various neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters play an integral role in mood regulation. So by modulating their activity, neurostimulation (in this case, VNS) may help to improve mood and ease symptoms of mental illness.
What Does the Research Say?
A number of studies have looked at the efficacy of VNS in treating mental illness. For example, in one study of patients with treatment-resistant depression, researchers found that those who received VNS significantly reduced symptoms after one year of treatment. In another study of patients with PTSD, researchers found that those who received VNS had fewer intrusive thoughts and fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression than those who did not receive VNS.
There is also some evidence suggesting VNS may help treat other mental health conditions, such as OCD and bipolar disorder. However, more research is needed before any conclusions can be made about its efficacy for these conditions.
Other Reasons Vagus Nerve Stimulation is Beneficial
A toned vagus nerve helps your body’s systems work together efficiently. For example, when the vagus nerve is toned, it signals the release of enzymes that help with digestion and the production of stomach acid. It also sends signals to the brain that help regulate heart rate and blood pressure.
A toned vagus nerve is also vital for maintaining a healthy immune system. The vagus nerve signals the release of cytokines, which are substances that help to fight infection.
Cytokines are essential for keeping your body healthy, but too much can lead to inflammation. This is why it’s crucial to balance sympathetic and parasympathetic activity. If the sympathetic nervous system is always in activation mode, it can lead to chronic inflammation and a weakened immune system.
Conversely, if the vagus nerve is overactive, it can increase stomach acid and digestive problems. Therefore, it’s important to find a balance between these two systems in order to maintain good health.
There are many ways to tone the vagus nerve. Some of the most popular methods include:
- Breathing exercises
- Stimulating the vagus nerve with electrical currents (known as vagus nerve stimulation, or VNS)
These methods can help to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which in turn can help to improve your overall health.
Overall, the research suggests that VNS is a safe and effective treatment for mental illness for many people. If you’re struggling with mental illness and traditional treatments haven’t worked for you, speak to your doctor about whether VNS might be right for you.