Why the Vagus Nerve Is Important
Derived from the Latin word vagus, which means “to wander,” the Vagus Nerve holds true to its name. The Vagus Nerve extends from its roots in the cerebellum and brainstem, winds through the body, and branches multiple times to innervate all of the following major organs:
Small intestine and
Large intestine up to its splenic flexure
13 things you might not have known the vagus nerve affects:
The Vagus Nerve serves as an irreplaceable member of the parasympathetic nervous system, or PNS, which is associated with physiological activities categorized as, “rest and digest.”
As its name implies, the PNS specializes in calming the body down and digesting food to restore the body’s energy supply among other functions. To achieve this, the Vagus Nerve communicates with its associated organs by releasing a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine which helps facilitate blood pressure regulation, blood glucose balance, heart rate, taste, digestion, breathing, crying, sweating, kidney function, bile release, saliva secretion, female fertility, and orgasms.
Hormones throughout the body are also engaged with the Vagus Nerve. Insulin decreases glucose release from the liver to stimulate the Vagus Nerve whereas thyroid hormone, T3, stimulates the Vagus Nerve to increase appetite and the production of ghrelin. Ghrelin also stimulates the Vagus Nerve to increase hunger.
Vagus Nerve function is essential to the release of oxytocin, testosterone, and vasoactive intestinal peptide. The production of growth hormone releasing hormone, GHRH, and the activation of parathyroid hormone for converting vitamin D3 to active vitamin D also rely on the Vagus Nerve.
If the vagus nerve is stimulated deliberately, it was found to have a profound therapeutic effect to our health. Vagal stimulation can decrease heart rate, lower blood pressure, relaxes muscles, improve mood and even tone down inflammation. According to a study published in the journal Science, vagal stimulation results in suppression of inflammatory response originating from the spleen.
Since vagal stimulation causes a decrease in blood pressure and pulse rate, which are elevated in a state of anxiety, it has been used to treat anxiety disorders with significant success. In a study done by the Department of Psychiatry of the Medical University of South Carolina, it was found that vagal stimulation not only produced acute improvement in the study participants with anxiety but also long term as well.
The effects of vagal stimulation are not limited to calming down an overactive nervous system. It has also found success in treating depression, a condition that manifests with symptoms of lack of motivation and excitement. The China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences was able to note significant improvement in participants who have depressive symptoms just by stimulating the vagus nerve.
So next time you feel burned out and could use some rest and relaxation, don’t forget to wand your vagus nerve.