fbpx

Vagus Nerve Stimulation: Improve Sleep, Mood and SIBO

The vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve in the body, is really important for keeping the body in balance. It runs from the brainstem to different organs in the chest and abdomen, affecting things like heart rate, digestion, and immune responses. Knowing how it works and how to get it going can lead to some pretty big health improvements.

Detailed illustration of the vagus nerve, highlighting its pathway from the brainstem to various organs in the chest and abdomen

What is the vagus nerve and what does it do?

The vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s “rest and digest” functions. Here are some of its key roles:

  • Heart Rate Regulation: It helps slow down the heart rate after a stressful event.
  • Digestion: It stimulates the production of digestive enzymes and the movement of the gut (peristalsis).
  • Inflammatory Response: It modulates the immune system, helping to control inflammation.
  • Mood Regulation: It influences the release of neurotransmitters like acetylcholine and GABA, which promote relaxation and reduce anxiety [3].

The Impact of Inflammation on Vagal Function

Inflammation can significantly affect vagus nerve function. When the body is in a state of chronic inflammation, the vagus nerve’s ability to regulate internal organs is compromised. This reduced vagal tone can slow down the Migrating Motor Complex (MMC), a crucial component of gut motility that helps move food and waste through the digestive tract [6].

SIBO and Vagal Dysfunction: The Vicious Cycle

Woman holding a model of a gut and a brain, representing the connection between gut health, brain function, and vagal dysfunction

A slowdown in the MMC can lead to Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), where excessive bacteria accumulate in the small intestine. This bacterial overgrowth further exacerbates inflammation, creating a vicious cycle [7,10]:

  1. Inflammation: Chronic inflammation reduces vagal tone, impairing gut motility.
  2. SIBO Development: Reduced MMC activity leads to bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine.
  3. Increased Inflammation: The presence of SIBO increases intestinal inflammation.
  4. Neuroinflammation: Inflammation in the gut can lead to neuroinflammation, affecting brain health and further reducing vagal motor output [8].

Breaking this cycle is essential for restoring gut health and overall well-being [9,11].

Health Benefits of Vagus Nerve Stimulation

Stimulating the vagus nerve can lead to a whole range of health benefits, including [4]:

  • Reduced Inflammation: Helps control chronic inflammation, which is linked to many diseases.
  • Improved Mood: Enhances the production of neurotransmitters that regulate mood, potentially alleviating depression and anxiety.
  • Better Digestion: Enhances gut motility and enzyme production, improving digestive health.
  • Enhanced Sleep: Promotes relaxation, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Pain Relief: Modulates pain perception, providing relief from chronic pain conditions.
  • Increased Energy: Improves overall energy levels by enhancing metabolic function and reducing inflammation [5].

Natural Ways to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve

Person meditating on a sofa with a journal in front of them, illustrating natural ways to stimulate the vagus nerve such as meditation
  1. Deep Breathing Exercises: Slow, deep breaths can activate the parasympathetic system, reducing stress and promoting relaxation. Techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing or the 4-7-8 method can be particularly effective [12].
  2. Cold Exposure: Exposing your body to cold, such as through cold showers or splashing cold water on your face, can stimulate the vagus nerve. This method helps in activating the parasympathetic system, aiding in stress relief and inflammation reduction [13].
  3. Meditation and Yoga: Both meditation and yoga are proven to enhance vagal tone. Practices like mindfulness meditation and certain yoga poses encourage relaxation and improve the body’s stress response [14].
  4. Singing, Humming, and Chanting: Engaging in activities that involve the vocal cords can stimulate the vagus nerve. Singing, humming, or chanting can be particularly beneficial in promoting relaxation and enhancing mood [15].
  5. Gargling: Gargling can stimulate the vagus nerve by activating the muscles in the back of the throat. This simple practice can help in enhancing vagal tone and promoting a state of calm [16].

Transcutaneous Vagus Nerve Stimulation (tVNS)

Originally, Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) involved a device surgically implanted in the body to deliver electrical impulses to the vagus nerve. Now, non-invasive options like tVNS are available, which use devices outside the body to achieve similar effects [17]. There are two primary types of tVNS devices:

  • Ear (Auricular) tVNS: These devices stimulate the vagus nerve through the skin of the outer ear.
  • Neck (Cervical) tVNS: These devices target the vagus nerve in the neck region [18].

Some people use TENS units with an ear clip on the ear as a cost-effective way to stimulate the vagus nerve [19]. In my clinic, I prefer and recommend Pulsetto because it’s better designed and more effective. Additionally, Pulsetto has helped improve my heart rate variability (HRV), which is an important indicator of autonomic nervous system health. I only suggest products I’ve used and seen the benefits of.

Cautions

  • Do not use tVNS if you have a cardiac device like a pacemaker or implanted defibrillator [22].
  • It’s important to remember that vagus nerve stimulation might not be right for everyone. Talk to a healthcare professional about your symptoms and medical history to find out if this new device is right for you.

Introducing Pulsetto

Pulsetto device designed for transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation, showcasing its user-friendly and effective design for improving health

Pulsetto is a cutting-edge device designed to make it easy and effective to do tVNS at home. Here’s why Pulsetto stands out [20]:

  • User-Friendly: Pulsetto is designed for ease of use, making it accessible for anyone looking to improve their health through vagus nerve stimulation.
  • Effective: By providing consistent and targeted stimulation, Pulsetto helps manage stress, improve mood and sleep and enhance overall health.
  • Convenient: Whether you are at home or on the go, Pulsetto allows you to integrate vagus nerve stimulation into your daily routine effortlessly.

To help you get started, I have a special code for a discount on Pulsetto. It’s a great opportunity to try out this innovative device and experience the benefits of vagus nerve stimulation for yourself. Just use the coupon ”panagiotis” at checkout. You can click here to get started.

Conclusions

It’s been shown that understanding and stimulating the vagus nerve can have a significant impact on overall health and well-being. This nerve plays a key role in regulating heart rate, digestion, inflammation, and mood. There are natural methods that can help, such as deep breathing exercises, cold exposure, meditation, and devices like Pulsetto for transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation. These can help improve vagal tone, reduce inflammation, and break the cycle of gut-brain dysfunction. As always, it’s important to talk to your healthcare professional to find out the best way to meet your needs. Following these strategies can lead to better health, more energy, and a better quality of life.

Sources
  1. Breit, S., Kupferberg, A., Rogler, G., & Hasler, G. (2018). Vagus nerve as modulator of the brain-gut axis in psychiatric and inflammatory disorders. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 9, 44.
  2. Tracey, K. J. (2002). The inflammatory reflex. Nature, 420(6917), 853-859.
  3. Bonaz, B., Sinniger, V., & Pellissier, S. (2013). The vagus nerve in the neuro-immune axis: implications in the pathology of the gastrointestinal tract. Frontiers in Immunology, 4, 143.
  4. Pavlov, V. A., & Tracey, K. J. (2012). The vagus nerve and the inflammatory reflex—linking immunity and metabolism. Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 8(12), 743-754.
  5. Groves, D. A., & Brown, V. J. (2005). Vagal nerve stimulation: a review of its applications and potential mechanisms that mediate its clinical effects. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 29(3), 493-500.
  6. Tracey, K. J. (2007). Physiology and immunology of the cholinergic antiinflammatory pathway. The Journal of Clinical Investigation, 117(2), 289-296.
  7. Goehler, L. E., Gaykema, R. P., Hansen, M. K., Anderson, K., Maier, S. F., & Watkins, L. R. (2000). Vagal immune-to-brain communication: a visceral chemosensory pathway. Autonomic Neuroscience, 85(1-3), 49-59.
  8. Bonaz, B., Bazin, T., & Pellissier, S. (2018). The vagus nerve at the interface of the microbiota-gut-brain axis. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 12, 49.
  9. Forsythe, P., Kunze, W. A., & Bienenstock, J. (2012). On communication between gut microbes and the brain. Current Opinion in Gastroenterology, 28(6), 557-562.
  10. Bonaz, B., & Pellissier, S. (2017). The vagus nerve as a modulator of the brain-gut axis in psychiatric and inflammatory disorders. Gastroenterology Clinics, 46(1), 19-29.
  11. Pavlov, V. A., & Tracey, K. J. (2017). Neural regulation of immunity: molecular mechanisms and clinical translation. Nature Neuroscience, 20(2), 156-166.
  12. Brown, R. P., & Gerbarg, P. L. (2005). Sudarshan Kriya yogic breathing in the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression: part I—neurophysiologic model. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 11(1), 189-201.
  13. Khachatoorian, L. M., & Pham, H. (2017). The efficacy of cold water face immersion as a treatment for supraventricular tachycardia. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners, 13(9), e439-e441.
  14. Papp, M. E., Lindfors, P., Storck, N., & Wändell, P. E. (2013). Increased heart rate variability but no effect on blood pressure from 8 weeks of hatha yoga—a pilot study. BMC Research Notes, 6(1), 1-9.
  15. Janal, M. N., Maniker, A., Fitzgibbons, J., Levy, C. E., & DeLuca, J. (2004). Safety and efficacy of vagus nerve stimulation in fibromyalgia: a phase I/II proof of concept trial. Pain Medicine, 12(9), 1406-1413.
  16. Streeter, C. C., Gerbarg, P. L., Saper, R. B., Ciraulo, D. A., & Brown, R. P. (2012). Effects of yoga on the autonomic nervous system, gamma-aminobutyric-acid, and allostasis in epilepsy, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Medical Hypotheses, 78(5), 571-579.
  17. Beissner, F., Meissner, K., Bär, K. J., & Napadow, V. (2013). The autonomic brain: an activation likelihood estimation meta-analysis for central processing of autonomic nervous system responses. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(25), 10503-10511.
  18. Porges, S. W. (2007). The polyvagal perspective. Biological Psychology, 74(2), 116-143.
  19. Burger, A. M., & Verkuil, B. (2018). Transcutaneous nerve stimulation via the tragus: are we really stimulating the vagus nerve? Brain Stimulation, 11(4), 945-946.
  20. Ylikoski, J., Lehtimäki, J., Pirvola, U., Mäkitie, A., & Aarnisalo, A. A. (2017). Non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation reduces sympathetic preponderance in patients with tinnitus. Acta Oto-Laryngologica, 137(4), 426-431.
  21. Clancy, J. A., Mary, D. A., Witte, K. K., Greenwood, J. P., Deuchars, S. A., & Deuchars, J. (2014). Non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation in healthy humans reduces sympathetic nerve activity. Brain Stimulation, 7(6), 871-877.
  22. Badran, B. W., Dowdle, L. T., Mithoefer, O. J., Coatsworth, J., Brown, J. C., & DeVries, W. H. (2018). Safety and efficacy of transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation in treatment-resistant depression. Brain Stimulation, 11(3), 463-471.
  23. Farmer, A. D., Strzelczyk, A., Finisguerra, A., Gourine, A. V., Gharabaghi, A., Hasan, A., … & Burger, A. M. (2020). International consensus-based review and recommendations for minimum reporting standards in research on transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS). Brain Stimulation, 13(3), 667-673.
  24. Lerman, I., Hauger, R., Sorkin, L., Proudfoot, J., Davis, B., Huang, A., … & Wallace, M. S. (2016). Noninvasive transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation decreases whole blood culture-derived cytokines and chemokines: a randomized, blinded, healthy control pilot trial. Neuromodulation: Technology at the Neural Interface, 19(3), 283-290.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *