What Is the Vagus Nerve?

What Is the Vagus Nerve?


The vagus nerve has been a topic of fascination and thriller all through historical past. In historic occasions, Greek and Roman physicians believed that it helped regulate respiration and management the voice. Within the Center Ages, the vagus nerve was considered a religious channel between the physique and the soul.

The vagus nerve was additionally believed to play a job within the manufacturing of tears, with the time period “vagus” getting used to explain a wandering particular person.

It wasn’t till the nineteenth century that the true nature of the vagus nerve started to unfold.

“Scientific research started to supply extra detailed insights into the features of the vagus nerve,” stated Megan Donnelly, D.O., lead neurologist and ladies’s headache specialist at Novant Well being.

What’s the vagus nerve and what does it do? 

The vagus nerve is split into two fundamental branches — the left and proper vagus nerves — and it travels all the way in which down out of your mind via your neck into your chest and stomach. This nerve is a vital factor of our parasympathetic nervous system, the a part of our mind that, to place it merely, calms issues down.

“Consider the vagus nerve as the primary nerve for relaxation and digestion,” Donnelly stated. “It turns down the guts fee and blood stress and causes digestion.”

The vagus nerve additionally regulates respiratory fee and some reflex actions like coughing, sneezing, swallowing and vomiting.

What occurs when the vagus nerve isn’t working proper?

When the vagus nerve isn’t functioning usually — also referred to as irregular vagal tone — your well being can undergo in some ways.

A vagus nerve that’s overactive, or too responsive, may cause fainting, decreased coronary heart fee and nausea. An underactive vagus nerve can result in speedy coronary heart fee, decreased digestion and gastroparesis, a situation that retains your abdomen from emptying all the way in which.

Moreover, abnormal vagal tone, which is what it’s referred to as when your vagus nerve isn’t working appropriately, may cause:

  • Dizziness
  • Belly ache
  • Acid reflux disease
  • Issue swallowing
  • Speech issue or hoarseness
  • Lack of urge for food
  • Weight reduction
  • Adjustments in blood stress
  • Migraine assaults
  • Epilepsy
  • Anxiousness
  • Despair

An underactive vagus nerve can also be linked to anxiety and depression. That’s why stimulation of the vagus nerve is typically used as remedy for these psychological well being circumstances.

“There are a number of handheld gadgets [on the market],” Donnelly stated. “They’re held to the neck space and emit mild electrical pulses.”

Autoimmune circumstances can also be tied to a vagus nerve that isn’t working correctly, though they could be the trigger moderately than the results of the malfunctioning vagus nerve.

“If something, autoimmune illness can have an effect on nerves all through our physique and the vagus nerve is the most important and the longest,” Donnelly stated.

Lengthy Covid, for instance, may trigger an autoimmune reaction, which may have an effect on the vagus nerve.

Does icing the vagus nerve assist nervousness?

Activating the vagus nerve has been proven to help reduce anxiety — not less than within the second of an nervousness flare-up. So, stimulating the vagus nerve throughout say, a panic assault, may help calm the physique down.

One of the best ways to stimulate the vagus nerve, which you’ll’t bodily contact, is by exposing your self to ice-cold temperatures.

“Chilly water immersion has been proven, with some combined outcomes, to reinforce vagal tone and enhance HRV (heart rate variability),” stated Sarah-Nicole Bostan, Ph.D., a scientific well being psychologist who’s board-certified in biofeedback. “The parasympathetic nervous system rapidly kicks in, which leads to slowed coronary heart fee. This may really feel grounding for an individual experiencing the bodily signs of tension, like racing coronary heart and issue respiration.”

Ice is a superb software to make the vagus nerve kick in. Jennifer Surak-Zammitti, LCSW, a psychotherapist, recommends “icing” as an nervousness coping mechanism to her sufferers.

“After they’re feeling anxious, I’ll inform them to carry and squeeze ice cubes of their hand,” Surak-Zammitti stated.

She additionally recommends icing to folks vulnerable to self-harm.

“I inform them to carry an ice dice to their wrists,” Surak-Zammitti stated. “It provides them the sensation of one thing on their wrists that they’re craving. It additionally buys them time to get to a different coping ability to get out of the state of affairs [that is] inflicting them to wish to self-harm.”

When you’re feeling anxious, one thing so simple as super-cold air may help as properly.

“If it’s winter, open a window and let the chilly air hit your face,” stated Surak-Zammitti. “It’s extraordinarily calming.”

How are you going to enhance your vagal nerve tone?

Vagal tone decreases with age (which you’ll’t assist), however you possibly can enhance your bodily exercise. Research exhibits that train results in a better and more healthy tone.

“This contains not simply specializing in frequency of train, however progressively growing depth and size of time spent, and ranging the kind of workout routines carried out,” Bostan stated.

One other strategy to get vagal toned: deep respiration. One recent study discovered that simply 5 minutes of sluggish, deep breaths reduces nervousness and will increase vagal tone.

The vagus nerve continues to be mysterious in some methods

Though we perceive extra in regards to the vagus nerve at this time, there’s a facet to it that’s nonetheless, properly, imprecise. For instance, we don’t know if irregular vagal tone is extra frequent in ladies than in males.

“General, the connection between gender and vagal tone is advanced, and extra analysis is required to totally perceive how these components are associated,” Donnelly stated.

Within the meantime, it’s all the time a good suggestion to maneuver extra — particularly as we age. And we should always remember, when within the grips of tension, that our moms had been proper all alongside: A chilly compress in your brow really may help make all of it higher.

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