Maybe you’ve heard of vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), or you even know that there are far less invasive ways to experience the benefits of it than ever before, but are you familiar with all of the science backing VNS and how it works?
What is Vagus Nerve Stimulation?
VNS is a form of electrical stimulation that targets the vagus nerve, one of the human body’s largest nerves. This nerve extends from the brainstem down to the abdomen and is responsible for various functions, including heart rate, digestion, and immunity.
The vagus nerve is also a key component of the nervous system’s fight-or-flight response, which is why stimulating it can profoundly affect the body. This response is the one that kicks in when we perceive a threat, and it’s characterized by an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones like cortisol.
While this response can be beneficial when we’re facing a threat, if it’s always “on,” it can lead to chronic stress and a host of health problems. This is where VNS comes in.
In essence, VNS is a way to hack the nervous system and promote a more relaxed state. This relaxation can be helpful in treating conditions like anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and even migraines.
What are the Benefits of VNS?
When the vagus nerve is stimulated, it can improve its tone. In turn, this can lead to a healthier nervous system and a host of other benefits, including:
- Improved heart health
- Reduced inflammation
- Improved digestion
- Better sleep
- Reduced anxiety and depression (and a brighter mood overall)
Additionally, more benefits are being explored and discovered all the time.
How Does VNS Work?
Now that we know a little more about what VNS is and some of the potential benefits associated with it, let’s take a look at how it works.
VNS works by sending electrical impulses to the vagus nerve. These impulses help to improve the nerve’s tone, which can lead to the aforementioned benefits. Additionally, VNS has been shown to increase levels of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), a protein that helps to support the growth and development of new neurons. This is one of the mechanisms by which VNS is thought to provide relief from conditions like depression and anxiety.
Vagus nerve stimulation can also help to modulate the autonomic nervous system. This part of the nervous system is responsible for functions like heart rate and blood pressure. By stimulating the vagus nerve, VNS can help to bring these functions back into balance, which is why it’s been shown to be effective in treating conditions like hypertension and heart arrhythmia.
Another exciting area and benefit of VNS is its ability to decrease pain and inflammation. The vagus nerve is connected to the body’s inflammatory response system. Therefore, when stimulation is applied, it can help to “turn down” this system and reduce inflammation throughout the body.
Last but not least, VNS has also been shown to help treat migraines, fibromyalgia, and other painful conditions. Vagal nerve stimulation can help modulate both pain signals and the autonomic nervous system.
How to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve
Now that we know more about the science behind vagus nerve stimulation, you might be wondering how you can actually stimulate the vagus nerve.
With a Vagus Nerve Stimulation Device
There are a few different ways to do this, but one of the most effective and least invasive is through transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS). One such option is the Xen by Neuvana vagus nerve stimulation device. It includes a set of vagal nerve-stimulating headphones that plug into a handheld device. Then, users wirelessly sync this device to their smartphone. In addition, the dedicated Neuvana app allows them to control their VNS sessions from their phone, including the length and intensity of their sessions.
tVNS is a safe and easy way to stimulate the vagus nerve, and it can be done anywhere, anytime.
There is also another way to stimulate the vagus nerve, although it’s typically reserved for those suffering from serious medical conditions such as epilepsy, PTSD, and depression. With surgical VNS, a stimulator is implanted under the skin and connected to the vagus nerve. While surgical VNS is more invasive, it can also be more effective for certain conditions.
Without a VNS Device
There are also many ways to stimulate the vagus nerve without a dedicated device. These include:
- Yawning: This might sound strange, but yawning is actually one of the best ways to stimulate the vagus nerve. So next time you’re feeling tired, take a big yawn!
- Cold water therapy: Cold water therapy, or “cold plunging,” involves immersing yourself in cold water for short periods of time. This can help to stimulate the vagus nerve and improve heart rate variability.
- Exercise: Exercise is another great way to stimulate the vagus nerve. This is likely thanks to exercise helping to increase blood flow and stimulate the nervous system.
- Deep breathing: Deep breathing is another simple way to stimulate the vagus nerve. This is because deep breathing helps increase blood flow and heart rate, which can help improve vagal tone.
- Chanting and humming: Interestingly, chanting and humming can also help stimulate the vagus nerve thanks to the vibrations they create in the throat. These vibrations target the vagus nerve through the neck, helping to improve its tone.
These are just a few of the many ways to stimulate the vagus nerve. So try out a few and see what works best for you!
As you can see, there is a lot of science behind vagus nerve stimulation and how it can improve your health. If you’re interested in exploring this treatment option further, be sure to speak with your doctor or a qualified healthcare professional. They can help you determine if VNS is right for you and answer any questions you may have about the treatment process.