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 historical instances, Greek and Roman physicians believed that it helped regulate respiration and management the voice. Within the Center Ages, the vagus nerve was regarded as a religious channel between the physique and the soul.

The vagus nerve was additionally believed to play a task 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 offer extra detailed insights into the capabilities of the vagus nerve,” stated Megan Donnelly, D.O., lead neurologist and girls’s headache specialist at Novant Well being.

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

The vagus nerve is split into two foremost branches — the left and proper vagus nerves — and it travels all the best way down out of your mind via your neck into your chest and stomach. This nerve is a important 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 principle nerve for relaxation and digestion,” Donnelly stated. “It turns down the center charge and blood strain and causes digestion.”

The vagus nerve additionally regulates respiratory charge 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 called irregular vagal tone — your well being can endure in some ways.

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

Moreover, irregular vagal tone, which is what it’s known as when your vagus nerve isn’t working accurately, could cause:

  • Dizziness
  • Belly ache
  • Acid reflux disorder
  • Issue swallowing
  • Speech issue or hoarseness
  • Lack of urge for food
  • Weight reduction
  • Modifications in blood strain
  • Migraine assaults
  • Epilepsy
  • Nervousness
  • Melancholy

An underactive vagus nerve can be linked to anxiousness and despair. That’s why stimulation of the vagus nerve is usually used as remedy for these psychological well being situations.

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

Autoimmune situations might also be tied to a vagus nerve that isn’t working correctly, though they is perhaps the trigger somewhat 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, might set off an autoimmune response, which might have an effect on the vagus nerve.

Does icing the vagus nerve assist anxiousness?

Activating the vagus nerve has been proven to assist cut back anxiousness — at the very least within the second of an anxiousness flare-up. So, stimulating the vagus nerve throughout say, a panic assault, may help calm the physique down.

The easiest way 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 blended outcomes, to boost vagal tone and enhance HRV (coronary heart charge variability),” stated Sarah-Nicole Bostan, Ph.D., a medical well being psychologist who’s board-certified in biofeedback. “The parasympathetic nervous system rapidly kicks in, which ends up in slowed coronary heart charge. This could really feel grounding for an individual experiencing the bodily signs of tension, like racing coronary heart and issue respiration.”

Ice is a superb device to make the vagus nerve kick in. Jennifer Surak-Zammitti, LCSW, a psychotherapist, recommends “icing” as an anxiousness 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 individuals prone 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 scenario [that is] inflicting them to wish to self-harm.”

In the event you’re feeling anxious, one thing so simple as super-cold air may help as nicely.

“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 may improve your bodily exercise. Analysis exhibits that train results in the next and more healthy tone.

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

One other solution to get vagal toned: deep respiration. One current examine discovered that simply 5 minutes of gradual, deep breaths reduces anxiousness 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 right this moment, there’s a side to it that’s nonetheless, nicely, imprecise. For instance, we don’t know if irregular vagal tone is extra frequent in ladies than in males.

“Total, the connection between gender and vagal tone is complicated, and extra analysis is required to totally perceive how these elements 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 be mindful, when within the grips of tension, that our moms have been proper all alongside: A chilly compress in your brow truly may help make all of it higher.

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