An increasing number of studies is revealing the close connection between our physical and mental health.
A new paper published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences earlier this year looks at how inflammation affects the amount of energy available to perform various functions of the body. The results suggest that inflammation negatively impacts the functioning of the dopamine-releasing neurons in the brain responsible for our willingness to work hard for the sake of a reward. Thus, there is a link between chronic inflammatory states and a lack of motivation in conditions such as schizophrenia and depression.
So, one problem to pay close attention to and systematically work on its reduction is CHRONIC INFLAMMATION that, apparently, causes not only painful rheumatic and many other disorders, but also mental conditions like anxiety and depression.
Even "fall blues" is not just a poetic term, it's a mild depression called SAD (seasonal affective disorder), affecting energy levels and mood of millions of people every year.
We have already discussed the positive effects on cryo-stimulation on blood circulation enhancement and inflammation reduction. Today, let's take a closer look at the benefits of vagus nerve stimulation, responsible for our ability to unwind and relax, among many other things.
The fall blues that are coming in season can also be avoided by using a few simple techniques discussed below.
The vagus nerve is the longest and most complex of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves that emanate from the brain. It transmits information to and from the surface of the brain to tissues and organs in many parts of the body. Essentially, it is part of a circuit that links the neck, heart, lungs, and the abdomen to the brain.
The name "vagus" comes from the Latin term for "wandering", due to its broad impact.
The nervous system can be divided into two areas: sympathetic and parasympathetic.
The sympathetic side INCREASES alertness, energy, blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate.
The parasympathetic side or the “rest and digest” nervous system in which the vagus nerve is heavily involved DECREASES alertness, blood pressure, and heart rate, and helps with calmness, relaxation, digestion, bladder, bowel, and sexual functions.
It not only influences our breathing and heart rate, but also has a scientifically proven ability to control inflammation within the body, thus having a huge impact on our physical and mental health.
Important vagus nerve effects include:
All the above stresses the importance of a healthy vagus nerve function.
Poor vagal tone is associated with spending too much time in the sympathetic (fight/flight/freeze) side of the nervous system and, in a long term, can lead to chronic autoimmune disease, pulmonary disease and neurological disorders.
Stimulation of the vagus nerve can result in numerous benefits for the most vital functions of the body. The short-term benefits include wakefulness, consciousness, sharper memory, lower blood pressure, reduction of stress, anxiety, and brain fog.
Vagus nerve can be stimulated through electrical pulses delivered through an implantation. It ensures that controlled electrical shocks are sent to the nerve.
The approach has been tested through clinical trials. Consequently, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved its use to treat two different conditions: epilepsy and mental illness (depression).
This is how a vagus nerve stimulating implant works:
With the vagus nerve having pathways to almost every organ in the body, researchers are looking to see if stimulation can help other conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis.
A 2016 study showed that vagus nerve stimulation COULD help reduce rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Individuals who had failed to respond to other treatment reported significant improvements, while no serious adverse side effects were noted. This was considered a real breakthrough in how vagus nerve stimulation might not only treat rheumatoid arthritis but also other inflammatory diseases, including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
Getting an implant is a medical procedure that involves a minor surgery.
There are many other (non-medical) means to stimulate the vagus nerve.
Cold exposure is one of the most effective ones, because the body’s natural response in the cold is to use the breath to calm down. We go from our sympathetic to parasympathetic nervous system once passing a certain time frame (45-75 seconds for the average person).
Biohacking has become a popular topic in the 21st century. It means taking control of our biology through better understanding of the body and mind we have been given and then using science, various tools and technology in order to become the best version of ourselves. Cold thermogenesis is one of the biohacking methods promoted by well-known authors such as Dr. Jack Kruse, Dave Asprey and “the Iceman” Wim Hof, to name just a few.
According to a 2001 study, acute cold exposure activates the vagus nerve and cholinergic neurons and nitrergic neurons through its pathways. When the body adjusts to cold, sympathetic activity of the nervous system decreases while the parasympathetic system gets activated. Among other things, it makes us feel recharged and energized.
The Wim Hof Method is increasingly popular, but extreme. It is based on 3 pillars: cold training (in an ice bath), breathing, and commitment, and usually starts with a “cold shower” challenge. Mastering it takes gradual approach, time and dedication.
Whole body cryotherapy is a much faster and painless alternative that also stimulates the vagus nerve - through exposure to extremely low temperatures. It delivers proven by numerous studies health benefits that include but are not limited to inflammation and pain reduction in short and dry 3-minute-max sessions that do not require any preparation. Migraine relief has been reported.
Also, research shows that just 3 weeks of daily cryotherapy treatments can deliver more than 50% reduction in symptoms of anxiety and depression.
In between cryotherapy treatments, drinking ice-cold water, face dunking in it, as well as deep breathing and simple exercises can improve vagal tone and help to reap maximum benefits.
In addition to medical or cryo-stimulation of the vagus nerve, numerous other beneficial practices can be adopted, like:
Deep diaphragmatic breathing with an emphasis on the exhale can reduce anxiety and stress, increasing heart rate during the inhale and decreasing it with the out breath. This is the simplest means of vagus nerve stimulation that requires very little time and can be performed even during a lunch break at work.
Meditation and yoga poses which incorporate deep breathing.
Any exercise. The positive effects include healthier brain and cognitive function support, in line with better gut flow which is mediated by the vagus nerve.
Massage. Vagus nerve can be stimulated by massaging feet and neck along the carotid sinus, located along the carotid arteries on either side of the neck, or by a pressure massage. A neck massage can also help reduce seizures, while a foot massage is good for lowering heart rate and blood pressure.
Gargling with water. It may sound surprising but gargling actually stimulates the muscles of the pallet which are fired by the vagus nerve.
Positive Social Relationships. A study had participants think compassionately about others while silently repeating positive phrases about friends and family. Compared to the control group, the results showed an overall increase in positive emotions like serenity, joy, and hope. These positive thoughts of others led to an improvement in vagal function as seen in heart-rate variability and also resulted in a more toned vagus nerve than when simply meditating.
Other mentioned in literature factors positively influencing the vagus nerve function include laughter, singing, chanting, and any kind of relaxing activities.
"Autonomic nervous function during whole-body cold exposure before and after cold acclimation"; Aviation, space, and environmental medicine, Sep 2008; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18785356
"Vagus nerve stimulation inhibits cytokine production and attenuates disease severity in rheumatoid arthritis"; PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America), Jul 2016; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1605635113
"Vagus Nerve Stimulation Quickly and Consistently Reduces Pain Intensity, Rescue Medication Use in Migraine"; AJMC, Nov 2018; https://www.ajmc.com/newsroom/vagus-nerve-stimulation-quickly-and-consistently-reduces-pain-intensity-rescue-medication-use-in-migraine
“Can’t or Won’t? Immunometabolic Constraints on Dopaminergic Drive”. Trends in Cognitive Sciences; 2019; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2019.03.003
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