The Vagus Nerve: Top Nine Benefits & Facts
The vagus nerve is a wandering bundle of nerves that extends from the medulla oblongata in the brain stem. It helps to control your organ systems, digestion, and certain body functions. The vagus nerve is also in charge of many crucial body functions like communicating motor and sensory impulses to all body organs. The vagus nerve is now the focus of many scientific research studies to prove if it has any handle on autoimmune conditions and inflammation. Here are the top known benefits and facts about the vagus nerve.
1. THE VAGUS NERVE PREVENTS INFLAMMATION.
A certain amount of inflammation after injury or illness is normal. But an overabundance is linked to many diseases and conditions, from sepsis to the autoimmune condition rheumatoid arthritis. The vagus nerve operates a vast network of fibers stationed like spies around all your organs.
2. IT HELPS YOU MAKE MEMORIES.
A University of Virginia study in rats showed that stimulating their vagus nerves strengthened their memory. The action released the neurotransmitter norepinephrine into the amygdala, which consolidated memories. Related studies were done in humans, suggesting promising treatments for conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
3. IT HELPS YOU BREATHE.
The neurotransmitter acetylcholine, elicited by the vagus nerve, tells your lungs to breathe. It is one of the reasons that Botox can be potentially dangerous, because it interrupts your acetylcholine production. You can, however, also stimulate your vagus nerve by doing abdominal breathing or holding your breath for four to eight counts.
4. IT IS INTIMATELY INVOLVED WITH YOUR HEART.
The vagus nerve is responsible for controlling the heart rate via electrical impulses to specialized muscle tissue in the right atrium, where acetylcholine release slows the pulse. By measuring the time between your individual heart beats, and then plotting this on a chart over time, doctors can determine your heart rate variability, or HRV. This data can offer clues about the resilience of your heart and vagus nerve.
5. IT INITIATES YOUR BODY'S RELAXATION RESPONSE.
When your sympathetic nervous system revs up the fight or flight responses the vagus nerve tells your body to chill out by releasing acetylcholine. The vagus nerve’s tendrils extend to many organs, acting like fiber-optic cables that send instructions to release enzymes and proteins like prolactin, vasopressin, and oxytocin, which calm you down. People with a stronger vagus response may be more likely to recover more quickly after stress, injury, or illness.
6. IT TRANSLATES BETWEEN YOUR GUT AND YOUR BRAIN.
Your gut uses the vagus nerve like a connector to tell your brain how you are feeling via electric impulses called “action potentials". Your gut feelings are very real.
7. OVERSTIMULATION OF THE VAGUS NERVE IS THE MOST COMMON CAUSE OF FAINTING.
If you tremble or get queasy at the sight of blood or while getting a flu shot, you are not weak. You are experiencing “vagal syncope.” Your body, responding to stress, overstimulates the vagus nerve, causing your blood pressure and heart rate to drop. During extreme syncope, blood flow is restricted to your brain, and you lose consciousness. But most of the time you just must sit or lie down for the symptoms to subside.
8. ELECTRICAL STIMULATION OF THE VAGUS NERVE REDUCES INFLAMMATION AND MAY INHIBIT IT ALTOGETHER.
Neurosurgeon Kevin Tracey was the first to show that stimulating the vagus nerve can significantly reduce inflammation. Results on rats were so successful, he reproduced the experiment in humans with stunning results. The creation of implants to stimulate the vagus nerve via electronic implants showed a drastic reduction, and even remission, in rheumatoid arthritis hemorrhagic shock, and other equally serious inflammatory syndromes.
9. VAGUS NERVE STIMULATION HAS CREATED A NEW FIELD OF MEDICINE.
Spurred on by the success of vagal nerve stimulation to treat inflammation and epilepsy, a growing field of medical study, known as bioelectronics, may be the future of medicine. Using implants that deliver electric impulses to various body parts, scientists, and doctors hope to treat illness with fewer medications and fewer side effects.
University of Virginia Studies