Get up from your seat, take a deep breath, reach for the ceiling, and stretch a bit. Feeling better? I'm not surprised. You have just activated the vagus nerve, and it has rewarded you with a sense of calm and comfort.
Vagus Is Latin For "Wandering," A Fitting Name, As You Will Soon Realize
We have known for a while that the vagus nerve, a mysterious nerve network, plays a role in pain and stress relief. But now, research shows it can also help fight disease.
This nervous system links the brain to the heart, the gut, the immune system, and other important organs. Some of these nerves play a sensory role, while others control the muscles.
The vagus nerve is one of many cranial nerves, but it stands out as the longest, largest, and the most complex.
It has also been implicated in depression, migraines, and even irritable bowel syndrome among other common illnesses.
The quest for more knowledge about the vagus nerve has helped scientists unearth more details about its working.
And by the look of things, they have a long way to go before completely figuring out everything the vagus nerve can do. According to Tiffany Field from the University of the Miami School of Medicine:
"There's a massive bioelectrical and biochemical series of events that the vagus nerve is responsible for and all that is almost impossible to map."
It's already known that vagal activity is diminished in people suffering from depression, which is also why they have fewer facial expressions and less intonation.
The reduced vagal activity also results in slower gastric motility and hence improper digestion.
Today, scientists also know that the vagus nerve has a role in the flow of emotions such as cortisol and digestive hormones like ghrelin. These have a profound impact on human health.
Why Does The Vagus Nerve Have So Many Important Roles In The Body?
To be honest, scientists are still in the dark about this.
However, they have discovered that the nerve has a role in the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the body's ability to relax.
The parasympathetic nervous system does the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system, which activates fight-or-flight responses.
Vagus Nerve And Disease
The vagus nerve can switch off the inflammation, partly by enabling the release of chemicals by the immune system.
Also, changing the frequency of its stimulation can stop asthma attacks and even epileptic seizures. Similarly, it can prevent migraines and even ease acid reflux.
Generally speaking, any condition that gets worse through inflammation can be improved through the vagus nerve's activity. Take your pick, and you will see that the vagus nerve has some way of making things better.
Previously, to achieve this impact, a surgical implant in the chest was required, but today, some devices can be pressed against the neck to offer the same stimulation.
But Also, Massage And Yoga Can Also Stimulate Vagal Activity
In fact, according to Field, "A strong hug or a handshake can promote parasympathetic activity."
Generally, anything that relaxes the body, such as meditation, deep breathing, and so forth, leads to improved vagal activity.
This explains why conditions like stress bring about other illnesses because they reduce vagal activity and hence undermine its ability to prevent or ease some health conditions. The lesson here is simple: keeping vagal activity optimal is important in preventing and even treating many illnesses.