The vagus nerve is a neural highway that spreads in our entire body and connects to our internal organs. This is the main reason why its stimulation is thought to have amazing benefits on our physical and mental health.
The vagus nerv is part of our 12 cranial nerves, which enable us to smell, taste, hear and feel sensations. It also known as the 10th cranial nerve and it is the longest and most complex of the twelve.
The stimulation of the vagus nerve activates our parasympathetic nervous system, which is tasked with the role of keeping our body functioning at optimal levels. According to Healthline, the parasympathetic system “starts in your brain and extends out via long fibers that connect with special neurons near the organ they intend to act on”. Therefore, the parasympathetic nerves are responsible with functions such as stimulating digestion, controlling the heart rate, inhibiting adrenaline production, and influencing our mood and immune system.
At the end of the 1800s, the vagus nerve was thought to have the potential of curing epilepsy, reason for which it was closely studied by researchers. During their studies, the scientists observed that stimulating the vagus nerve also influenced the mood, visibly improving it. Modern day studies now aim at revealing whether this nerve can also have an impact in psychiatric diseases.
But is it as miraculous as it is considered?
The scientific research performed so far on the vagus nerve has shown that its stimulation can improve the life of people suffering from illnesses such as epilepsy, diabetes and inflammatory autoimmune diseases. At the same time, the stimulation of the vagus nerve also improved the state of people diagnosed with depression, who didn’t respond to treatment. In their case, following the positive results of various studies, the FDA approved a range of devices that can generate electrical pulses to the vagus nerve, thus impacting the mood of the patients.
The stimulation of the vagus nerve is considered to reduce pain and have an anti-inflammatory effect. At the same time, it is believed that it can decelerate cellular degradation and cand even stimulate the regeneration of cells.
So, how can we stimulate our vagus nerve? Is it even possible?
While the results may not be spectacular, the vagus nerve can be stimulated through simple and non-invasive procedures, that we can try at home. Some of the most effective methods are:
- Singing and humming – as the vagus nerve is connected to the vocal cords and the muscles behind your throat, singing, humming and even gargling may stimulate it.
- Cold and cold water – if your heart rate is elevated and you wash your face with ice cold water for about 1 minute, the vagus nerve will be activated, decreasing the heart rate in order to preserve oxygen. This is a good way of rapidly calming anxiety and panic, reducing stress and inflammation, and improving your mood.
- Breathing – taking deep, slow breaths will stimulate de vagus nerve, reducing anxiety and activating the parasympathetic system.
- Socializing and laughing – social interaction can improve the vagal tone and increase positive emotions, while laughter improves your mental state.
- Intermittent fasting – stimulates the brain’s growth hormone and has an important role in preventing cognitive impairment and decline, thus improving the vagal tone.