The Vagus Nerve and Autonomic Dysregulation
The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is one part of the ANS. In some states, the PNS is not stimulated enough, as seen in some people with dysautonomia (or autonomic dysregulation). To learn more about the ANS, please click here. To learn more about dysautonomia, please click here.
Quick ANS Review
The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is a network of nerves in our brain and spinal cord. The ANS is made up on the symathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, also referred to as the SNS and PNS.
The SNS controls more active responses (heart rate, blood pressure, muscle activation) where as the PNS controls more restful responses (sleep, digestion).
The image below depicts the breakdown of the ANS.
The Vagus Nerve and the PNS
We have billions of nerves in our bodies, we have a special 12 called the cranial nerves. The vagus nerve is one of those (CN 10). It is very important for controlling heart, lung and digestive tract function.
Clinical trials have shown vagal nerve stimulation is key to improving the balance of the autonomic nervous system.
If you have autonomic dysregulation, you should do what you can to stimulate the vagus nerve. Th vagus nerve is one of the key nerves stimulating the PNS.
The Vagus Nerve's Effect is System Wide
Clinical trials show vagal nerve stimulation is key to improving the balance of the Autonomic nervous system . In the past, elective stimulation was used by implanting devices. Those were known to be effective for epilepsy and depression . Now, non-invasive devices and methods are being considered .
Stimulating the vagus nerve has been beneficial for a wide range of complaints: from chronic inflammatory disorders, sepsis, lung injury, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, migraines, fibromyalgia, depression, autoimmune disease  and increasing gut function (producing digestive juices).
Factors Known to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve
- Cold therapy 
- Deep breathing, slow breathing: 5-6 breaths per minute
- Singing, chanting, humming 
- Sleep on right side: increases heart rate variability and vagal activity 
- Meditation 
- Tai Chi - increases heart rate variability and therefore vagus activation 
- Gargling 
- Tongue depressors (gag reflux stimulates the vagus nerve)
- Exercise 
- Laughter 
- Coughing, tensing the somach, bearing down: this stimulates the vagus nerve
- Chewing gum (CCK) activates vagal impulses in the brain 
- Probiotics: stimulate GABA changes mediated by vagus nerve
- Sea food (EPA and DHA)
- Zinc 
- Acupuncture , ear acupuncture 
- 5-HTP (serotonin): various receptors, can stimulate vagus nerve
- Fiber (GLP-1): GLP-1 is a satiating hormone, stimulates vagus impulses to the brain. Slows stomach emptying of your stomach and makes you feel fuller.
Stimulating the Vagus Nerve is Free
If you look at the list above, most of those things are completely free. And the rest of the things are inexpensive.
Incorporate as many of these things into your daily routine, with the guidance of a naturpath or counsellor.
Autonomic dysregulation is when balance is lost between sympathetic drive and parasympathetic drive. To stimulate the Parasympathetic nervous system, we want to activate the vagus nerve - one of the major nerves feeding this system.
Try these techniques and supplements (with guidance from your doctor) and please let me know how they work!
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About the Author - Dr. Johann de Chickera
Dr. Johann is a fully licensed Naturopathic Doctor. His approach emphasizes the importance of living a healthy lifestyle and improving one’s health naturally. Dr. Johann obtained a Doctor of Naturopathy at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM). Education at CCNM is a vigorous four years, with a curriculum involving biomedical sciences, physical diagnosis, clinical nutrition, traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture, botanical (herbal) medicine, physical medicine, homeopathy and lifestyle management.
While Dr. Johann has a general practice, he focuses on fertility, hormonal imbalances, gut health, and autoimmune disease.
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