The vagus nerve plays a crucial role in how our body functions, helping to regulate the autonomic nervous system, or ANS. The ANS innervates organs such as the heart and gut, controlling processes that are at least partly out of our conscious control such as breathing, digestion, heart rate, mood and the immune response.1
The ANS ties together stress and how our body responds to it. It has two arms: The sympathetic and the parasympathetic arms, typically referred to as fight/flight and rest/digest, respectively. The vagus nerve is the primary nerve in the parasympathetic response and the prime line of communication in the gut-brain axis.
When we are stressed, the sympathetic nervous system dominates over the parasympathetic. This causes a rise in heart rate, increased respiration, and inhibits digestive functions. Conversely, when we are relaxed, our parasympathetic system dominates, decreasing respiration and heart rate, while stimulating digestion.
Due to this dichotomy, stimulating the vagus nerve through various means is a key therapeutic approach to managing stress and improving health outcomes.
The great news is that you can stimulate your vagus nerve without any expensive tests, treatments or tools. Here are some typical strategies that we use at Nordic Clinic with our clients:
Diaphragmatic breathing – Deep slow breathing using the diaphragm at a rate of 8 breaths/min stimulates the vagus nerve, increasing parasympathetic activity.2
Aerobic exercise – One of the chronic adaptations to long term aerobic exercise is an increase in parasympathetic tone due to regular stimulation of the vagus nerve.3
Resistance training4 – Resistance training has been shown to increase vagal activity in people with various metabolic conditions including obesity and cardiovascular disease.
Cold water immersion5 – Cold water immersion at a temperature of 14 degrees Celsius has been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve.
Singing/Humming/Chanting4 – Studies in humans show that the vibrations caused by singing, humming or chanting “Om” activate the vagus nerve. Additionally, stimulating the gag reflex does the same.4
Positive social interactions4 – Being socially engaged in positive relationships increases vagal activity.
Laughing4 – A laughter intervention was shown to increase vagal activity in patients awaiting organ transplant.
Yoga/Mindfulness meditation4 – Many studies have shown that mindfulness meditation and yoga stimulate the vagus nerve.
Sleeping on the right side4 – A study in people with coronary artery disease found that sleeping on the right-side increases vagus nerve activity compared to other sleep positions.
Consuming omega-3 fatty acids4 – Multiple studies show that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids or consuming fish increase vagus nerve activation.
Calorie restriction4 – A study found that 6 months of calorie restriction increases activation of the vagus nerve in healthy, overweight people.
In addition to these strategies, there are other FDA approved devices that we use at Nordic Clinic for vagal stimulation when the above does not help. We find that both in the research and in our clinics that migraines, IBS, anxiety and depression can be significantly improved with vagus nerve stimulation.
To find out more, contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published as a guest editor post at foodpharmacy.se
By: Graeme Jones, clinical physiologist and CEO at Nordic Clinic Stockholm.
Copyright © Nordic Clinic 2020