I don’t know about you, but even though I’ve heard of the vagus nerve, I really didn’t know much about what it was and why it was so important. So I was glad to come across this article featured on RealFarmacy.com, which includes helpful information and easy ways to influence “vagal tone” and improve a number of health conditions……
6 WAYS TO INSTANTLY STIMULATE YOUR VAGUS NERVE TO RELIEVE INFLAMMATION, DEPRESSION, MIGRAINES AND MORE
I read an article yesterday that has me extremely excited about the implications. The article is called “Hacking the Nervous System” by Gaia Vince (http://mosaicscience.com/story/hacking-nervous-system). In the article, the author describes the experience of a woman who suffered from severe, debilitating rheumatoid arthritis and her eventual treatment with a device which minimized inflammation by simply stimulating the vagus nerve. What this means, is that by activating the vagus nerve, which works through the parasympathetic nervous system, we can greatly influence inflammation and the immune system. The role of the brain on body inflammation can be profound. If you suffer from digestive complaints, high blood pressure, depression or any inflammatory condition, please read on. Let me explain the possible implications step by step.
What is the vagus nerve?
First of all, the vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body which originates in the brain as cranial nerve ten, travels down from the neck and then passes around the digestive system, liver, spleen, pancreas, heart and lungs. This nerve is a major player in the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the ‘rest and digest’ part (opposite to the sympathetic nervous system which is ‘fight of flight’).
The tone of the vagus nerve is key to activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Vagal tone is measured by tracking your heart-rate alongside your breathing rate. Your heart-rate speeds up a little when your breathe in, and slows down a little when you breathe out. The bigger the difference between your inhalation heart-rate and your exhalation heart-rate, the higher your vagal tone. Higher vagal tone means that your body can relax faster after stress.
What is high vagal tone associated with?
High vagal tone improves the function of many body systems, causing better blood sugar regulation, reduced risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure, improved digestion via better production of stomach basic and digestive enzymes, and reduced migraines. Higher vagal tone is also associated with better mood, less anxiety and more stress resilience. One of the most interesting roles of the vagus nerve is that it essentially reads the gut microbiome and initiates a response to modulate inflammation based on whether or not it detects pathogenic versus non-pathogenic organisms. In this way, the gut microbiome can have an affect on your mood, stress levels and overall inflammation.
What is low vagal tone associated with?
Low vagal tone is associated with cardiovascular conditions and strokes, depression, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, cognitive impairment, and much higher rates of inflammatory conditions. Inflammatory conditions include all autoimmune diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, endometriosis, autoimmune thyroid conditions, lupus and more).
How do we increase vagal tone?
In the article above, vagal tone was increased through a device that stimulated the vagus nerve. The good news is that you have access to this on your own, but it does require regular practice. To some degree, you are genetically predisposed to varying levels of vagal tone, but this still doesn’t mean that you can’t change it. Here are some ways to tone the vagus nerve:
1. Slow, rhythmic, diaphragmatic breathing. Breathing from your diaphragm, rather than shallowly from the top of the lungs stimulates and tones the vagus nerve.
2. Humming. Since the vagus nerve is connected to the vocal cords, humming mechanically stimulates it. You can hum a song, or even better repeat the sound ‘OM’.
3. Speaking. Similarly speaking is helpful for vagal tone, due to the connection to the vocal cords.
4. Washing your face with cold water. The mechanism here is not known, but cold water on your face stimulates the vagus nerve.
5. Meditation, especially loving kindness meditation which promotes feelings of goodwill towards yourself and others. A 2010 study by Barbara Fredrickson and Bethany Kik found that increasing positive emotions led to increased social closeness, and an improvement in vagal tone.
6. Balancing the gut microbiome. The presence of healthy bacteria in the gut creates a positive feedback loop through the vagus nerve, increasing its tone.
The implications of such simple and basic practices on your overall health, and in particular on inflammation, are far-reaching. If you suffer from an inflammatory condition, digestive upset, high blood pressure or depression, a closer look at vagal tone is highly recommended. We’ve known for years that breathing exercises and meditation are helpful for our health, but it is so fascinating to learn the mechanism by which they work. I hope this short article has inspired you to begin a meditation practice, as it has for me, and also to look for other means to manage the body’s inflammatory response.
Go here for more on the vagus nerve and its connection with emotional health, rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions, and go here for more ways to stimulate the vagus, including a chart showing reflexology points to use.
And here’s a tasty-looking, healthy recipe from Dr. Mercola’s site for you to try…..
Potatoes can be turned into delicious and savory treats, but common choices like fries and chips are cooked in harmful trans-fats. For a nutritious version, try this Loaded Southwestern Stuffed Sweet Potatoes recipe from Greatist. This baked dish can be served as a game day snack or as a side dish for the whole family.
- 2 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed clean
- ½ cup diced bell peppers
- 2/3 cup black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon chili powder
- 2 limes, juiced
- ½ avocado, diced
- Cilantro, to garnish (optional)
Be sure to use organic ingredients!
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a fork to prick holes in potatoes. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until flesh is soft.
- Meanwhile, combine peppers, black beans, cumin, chili powder, and lime juice in a bowl. Set aside to let flavors develop.
- Remove sweet potatoes from oven. Cut slits down each lengthwise, and pull apart to create a well for fillings.
- Spoon 2 tablespoons salsa and bean mixture into each potato. Top with avocado and cilantro, if desired.
Get Your Fill of Health Benefits With Loaded Southwestern Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are a great alternative to potatoes because they have more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which can improve eye health. Plus, beta-carotene, the antioxidant responsible for sweet potatoes’ orange hue, fights cell-damaging free radicals, supports your immune system, and lessens your risk of heart disease and cancer. Just make sure to eat sweet potatoes in moderation, because they contain fructose.
Bell peppers’ health benefits are as abundant as their different colors. These vibrant veggies give your body an extra dose of protection against free radicals, scurvy, and artery inflammation, which can lead to heart disease, diabetes, and cholesterol build-up if not prevented. Bell peppers also contain healthy plant compounds, vitamins A and K, B vitamins, and minerals like copper and magnesium.
This recipe also makes use of flavorful spices like chili powder and cumin. Chili powder and other spicy food contain capsaicin, a compound well-known to help with weight loss and obesity, while promoting heart protection, satiety (making you feel full longer), and pain relief.
Cumin (not to be confused with curcumin), meanwhile, is known to help treat diarrhea, flatulence, and respiratory diseases, although more studies are now highlighting its extraordinary impacts. The spice was found to have antioxidant capabilities and may help relieve stress.
Cumin seeds, meanwhile, have been shown to be beneficial for diabetics and those who struggle with asthma. These can also lessen symptoms of allergic rhinitis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Salud…..and Happy Valentine’s Day!
p.s. Be sure to subscribe to Self-help Health so you don’t miss any future posts. Also check out my Evolution Made Easier website’s To Your Health page and my other blog for more helpful information, tips, tools and resources.
Disclaimer: Please note that any information here is provided as a guideline only, and is not meant to substitute for the advice of your physician, nutritionist, trained healthcare practitioner, and/or inner guidance system. Always consult a professional before undertaking any change to your normal health routine.