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The Vagus Nerve and Stress: Understanding The Vagus Nerve and Stress

What Is The Vagus Nerve?
The Vagus nerve is the the longest of the cranial nerves. It “wanders” like a vagabond, sending out fibers from your brainstem to the organs. The vagus nerve is the leader of your inner nerve center the home the parasympathetic nervous system. It's function is to overseeing a crucial functions, communicating nerve impulses to every organ in your body. New research has revealed that it may also be the missing link to treating chronic inflammation, and the beginning of an exciting new field of treatment that leaves medications behind. Here are nine facts about this powerful nerve bundle. 

What Does the Vagus Nerve Do?

  • Prevents inflammation
    The vagus nerve recognizes inflammation cytokines or the inflammatory substance tumor necrosis factor (TNF). Then it alerts the brain and starts anti-inflammatory neurotransmitters via the cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway. A certain amount of inflammation after injury or illness is normal. Too much inflammation is linked to many diseases and conditions, including autoimmune conditions.

  • Helps you make memories.
    The vagus nerve improves memory. When stimulated it releases the neurotransmitter norepinephrine into the amygdala and this helps consolidating memories.

  • Helps you breathe. The neurotransmitter acetylcholine, elicited by the vagus nerve, gives you the breath of life by telling your lungs to breathe. You can also manually stimulate your vagus nerve by doing abdominal breathing or holding your breath for four to eight counts.

  • Closely involved with your heart. The vagus nerve is responsible for controlling the heart rate via electrical impulses to the sinoatrial node of the heart, where acetylcholine release slows the pulse. The way medical tests determine the “tone” or “strength” of your vagus nerve (and your cardiac health) is by measuring the time between your individual heart beats and then plotting this on a chart over time. This is known as your “heart rate variability.”

  • Initiates your body’s relaxation response. When your always alert sympathetic nervous system revs up the "fight or flight responses" it pours out the stress hormones called cortisol and adrenaline into your body. The  vagus nerve tells your body to slow down and try to relax, by releasing acetylcholine. The vagus nerve has tendrils that extend to many organs. These send  instructions to release enzymes and proteins like prolactin, vasopressin, and oxytocin, which are the enzymes that calm you down. People with a stronger vagus response may be more likely to recover more quickly after stress, injury or illness. Those with a weaker vagus response will likely take more time to recover.

  • Translates between your gut and your brain. Your gut uses the vagus nerve to tell your brain how you’re feeling via electric impulses which are called action potentials. This means that your "gut feelings" are actually very real.

  • Overstimulation of the vagus nerve is the most common cause of fainting. If you tremble or get queasy at the sight of blood or needles, you’re not weak; you’re experiencing what is know a vagal syncope. Your body is responding to stress and this over stimulates the vagus nerve, causing your blood pressure and heart rate to drop. During extreme vagal syncope, blood flow is restricted to your brain and you can lose consciousness. But most of the time you just have to sit or lie down for the symptoms to subside.

  • Electric stimulation of the vagus nerve reduces inflammation and may inhibit it altogether. It has been proven that stimulating the vagus nerve can significantly reduce inflammation. In experiments that involved implants to stimulate the vagus nerve via electronic implants showed a drastic reduction, and even remission, in rheumatoid arthritis.  This is significant because rheumatoid arthritis is often treated with the toxic cancer drug methotraxate, which results in —hemorrhagic shock and other serious inflammatory syndromes.

  • Vagus nerve stimulation has created a new field of medicine.  The field of “bioelectronics” involved using of vagal nerve stimulation to treat inflammation and epilepsy. Some believe it may be the future of medicine. Bioelectronic implants that will deliver electric impulses to various body parts will stimulate healing to treat illness with fewer medications and fewer side effects....the a similar way to how we use homeopathy for gentle, energetic recovery!

Diagram of the Parasympathic System and the Vagus Nerve's connection to other organs.

Video by Dr. Stephen Porges - Human Nature and Early Experience
Understanding The Vagus Nerve and Stress
(46:38 minutes)


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