Vagus Nerve Stimulation Dramatically Reduces Inflammation | Psychology Today | Christopher Bergland / The Athlete’s Way | June 2016
Inflammatory responses play a central role in the development and persistence of many diseases and can lead to debilitating chronic pain.
In many cases, inflammation is your body’s response to stress.
Therefore, reducing “fight-or-flight” responses in the nervous system and lowering biological markers for stress can also reduce inflammation.
there’s growing evidence that another way to combat inflammation is by engaging the vagus nerve and improving “vagal tone.”
This can be achieved through daily habits such as yoga and meditation—or in more extreme cases of inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA)—by using an implanted device for vagus nerve stimulation (VNS).
Healthy Vagal Tone Is Part of a Feedback Loop Linked to Positive Emotions
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.
A 2010 study, “Vagus Nerve Stimulation Inhibits Cytokine Production and Attenuates Disease Severity in Rheumatoid Arthritis,” was published in Psychological Science.
Their research suggests that positive emotions, robust social connections, and physical health influence one another in a self-sustaining upward spiral dynamic and feedback loop that scientists are just beginning to understand.
Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) Dramatically Reduces Arthritic Inflammation
The July 2016 study, “Vagus Nerve Stimulation Inhibits Cytokine Production and Attenuates Disease Severity in Rheumatoid Arthritis (link is external),” appears online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and will be published in an upcoming print issue.
Conclusion: VNS Is a Potent Drug-Free Alternative for Treating Inflammation
The emerging field of bioelectronic integrative medicine targets a variety of disorders traditionally treated with pharmaceuticals by using advanced neuromodulation devices.
Stimulating the vagus nerve offers significant advantages to the use of drugs—such as lower cost and fewer side effects.
To read more on the vagus nerve, check out Christopher Bergland’s Psychology Today blog posts,
- “The Neurobiology of Grace Under Pressure“
- “How Does the Vagus Nerve Convey Gut Instincts to the Brain?“
- “Cortisol: Why “The Stress Hormone” Is Public Enemy No. 1“
- “The Neuroscience of Calming a Baby“
- “Mindfulness Meditation and the Vagus Nerve Share Many Powers“
- “Psychotherapy Can Dramatically Improve Your Gut-Brain Axis“