The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the human body. It starts from the medulla oblongata in the brainstem and extends down to the abdomen. The vagus nerve is a mixed nerve, meaning it carries both motor and sensory fibers.
Vagus nerve stimulation is a process that sends electrical signals to the vagus nerve. Vagus nerve stimulation is used to treat a number of conditions, including epilepsy, depression, and migraines.
What Does The Vagus Nerve Control?
The vagus nerve contains both sensory and motor fibers. It works by transferring sensory and motor information from the brain to the muscles and vice versa. The fibers in the nerve correspond to specific organs. The vagus nerve controls the functioning of the organs that it passes through, such as the heart, gastrointestinal muscles, pharynx, and muscles of the neck and face.
The vagus nerve is responsible for several important functions. It controls the central nervous system, which controls movement, respiratory rate, digestion, heart rate and blood pressure.
It is also involved in the coordination of higher cognitive functions such as facial expressions and verbal communication. It plays a role in hearing, vision, and taste. The nerve is also involved in the regulation of hormones and the balance of the autonomic nervous system.
What Are The Functions Of The Vagus Nerve?
The vagus nerve is involved in a wide range of functions in the body. It is responsible for controlling the heart rate and rhythm, gastrointestinal motility, and the flow of information from the nervous system to the organs.
The vagus nerve is also responsible for the connection of the brain to different organs throughout the body, enabling them to interact and communicate with each other. It transmits sensory and motor signals from the brain and sends signals back to the brain from outside organs.
Its functions include:
- Regulating Your Heart Rate: The vagus nerve helps control the rate of your heart’s contractions and the flow of blood throughout the body.
- Stimulating the Parasympathetic Nervous System: This role includes encouraging digestion, metabolism, and the functioning of the reproductive system.
- Control of Breathing: The nerve sends signals to the brain to help control breathing, including how fast and deep you breathe.
- Abdominal Muscles: The nerve sends signals to the abdominal muscles and helps with digestion.
- Regulation of Inflammation: The nerve sends signals to the brain that reduce inflammation.
- Brain stimulation: The nerve can impact important parts of the brain and help with alertness and stress levels.
- Speech and Vocal Control: The vagus nerve helps control vocal cords, enabling speech and vocal abilities.
What is Vagus Nerve Stimulation?
Vagus nerve stimulation is a technique used to assist in the treatment of health conditions, such as dealing with migraines, refractory epilepsy and depression. Vagus nerve stimulation involves electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve in the neck with mild pulses of electricity.
The vagus nerve helps control the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system helps control unconscious body functions, such as heart rate and blood pressure. Stimulating the vagus nerve can help reset the autonomic nervous system and lead to improved health.
Vagus nerve stimulation helps regulate the activity of the autonomic nervous system, providing benefits for those with mental conditions such as depression and anxiety or physical conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease or Epilepsy.
Vagus nerve stimulation therapy can also be used for patients with migraines, tinnitus, fibromyalgia, and other conditions.
Research has found that vagus nerve stimulation can help regulate several brain systems and has the potential to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other conditions.
In addition to affecting the autonomic nervous system, vagus nerve stimulation can also help regulate serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain, which can have antidepressant effects.
How Does Vagus Nerve Stimulation Work?
Vagus nerve stimulation works by sending electrical pulses to the vagus nerve through a medical device. The electrical pulses stimulate the vagus nerve to produce different effects.
When the Vagal nerve stimulator is activated, it sends electrical pulses to the vagus nerve which activating the body’s parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for controlling the body’s relaxation responses, and the stimulation affects the release of hormones, calming the nervous system and inducing a feeling of relaxation and well-being.
In some cases, the stimulation of the vagus nerve can also affect serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain, which can have an antidepressant effect.
The stimulation process is usually structured and consists of regular, low-intensity stimulation. Depending on the severity of the condition, treatments can take several weeks and involve stimulation several times a day.
Healthy vagal tone is indicated by a slight increase of heart rate when you inhale, and a decrease of heart rate when you exhale. Deep diaphragmatic breathing—with a long, slow exhale—is key to stimulating the vagus nerve and slowing heart rate and blood pressure, especially in times of performance anxiety.
A higher vagal tone index is linked to physical and psychological well-being. Conversely, a low vagal tone index is associated with inflammation, depression, negative moods, loneliness, heart attacks, and stroke.
Benefits of Vagus Nerve Stimulation
Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) has been used successfully to treat a wide range of conditions, from depression to irritable bowel syndrome to controlling seizures. Here are some of the major benefits of the treatment:
- Improved Mood: Studies have shown that VNS treatment can help improve mood in people with depression.
- Reduced Anxiety: Regular VNS treatment helps to reduce overall levels of anxiety. This can improve quality of life and lead to better overall functioning.
- Increased Focus: VNS treatment can help create better focus and clarity. This can reduce fatigue and make it easier to concentrate.
- Improved Sleep: VNS can help improve sleep patterns and regulate circadian rhythms. Proper sleep can have a significant effect on overall health and mental clarity.
- Regulate Appetite: VNS can help regulate appetite and reduce cravings. This can help with weight management.
- Improved Cognition: Regular VNS treatment can help increase focus and clarity. This can lead to better cognitive performance.
Non-Surgical Options Now Available
Our patients at Kare Health & Wellness now have easier access to non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation in our office and can purchase their own handheld device to use at home.
Unlike an implanted vagus nerve stimulator or other migraine and cluster headache treatments, the gammaCoreTM non-invasive vagus nerve stimulator, otherwise known as nVNS, activates the vagus nerve with gentle electrical stimulation through the skin via the neck.
This helps prevent and relieve headache pain without pills, injections and drug-like side effects.
During treatments, gammaCoreTM can be placed on either side of the neck where the vagus nerve is located and sends proprietary gentle electrical energy non-invasively through the skin.
When using gammaCoreTM, patients will feel a tingling sensation on the neck where the device is held. Patients may feel a downward pulling on their lip- this is the most common muscle contraction seen with gammaCoreTM use and indicates they are in the correct treatment position. The user controls the intensity level on their handheld device and can increase or decrease at any time.
Vagus nerve stimulation is an effective way to treat certain psychological and neurological disorders. By stimulating the vagus nerve, it can help alleviate symptoms such as anxiety, depression, headaches, and seizure disorders.
Patients now have more effective and integrative options for debilitating symptoms such as headaches, anxiety and more. Stimulating the vagus nerve offers significant advantages compared to use of surgical options and prescription medications including lower cost and fewer side effects.
Integrative medicine continues to offer holistic, breakthrough treatments for patients who have found little relief in traditional modalities.
If you’re suffering from any of these conditions, vagus nerve stimulation could be the missing link to achieving resolution and getting back to living your best life.
If you’d like more information on the gammaCoreTM nVNS device, contact our office at (417) 881-4994.