Table of Contents
- What Is the Vagus Nerve?
- The Vagus Nerve and Your Health
- The Vagus Nerve and Hormones
- Symptoms of Dysfunction
- The Vagus Nerve Stimulation Benefits
- 32 Ways of Vagus Nerve Stimulation
- Check Your Thyroid Hormones Levels
- Get Some Sun
- Sleep Right
- Enjoy a Good Guffaw
- Maintain Positive Social Relationships
- Get a Massage
- Belt It Out
- Resistance-Breathing Exercises
- Controlled Breathing
- Use Muscle Control
- Increase Your Fiber Intake
- Enjoy Those Carbs!
- I Like to Move It, Move It
- Release Your Inner Yogi
- T’ai Chi Your Way to Vagal Stimulation
- Quiet Your Mind
- Recite Your Prayers
- Seafood and Eat It
- Zinc It Together
- Utilize Beneficial Microorganisms
- Don’t Swallow
- It’s Ancient, and It’s Asian. But It’s Not a Secret
- Keep That Tongue Depressor from Your Last Doctor’s Visit
- Chill Out
- Go There
- Keep Serotonin Levels Up
- Get Hungry
- Shock It
- Do’s and Don’ts
After reading the title, you might be thinking to yourself, “Stimulate what?!”
If you’re like most of the people, you may not think much about your vagus nerve or even really know what it is.
What Is the Vagus Nerve?
It turns out that vagus is not just another term for a certain part of the female anatomy, and it’s also nothing like “Vegas.”
Rather, the vagus nerve begins in your cranium, and it is the longest nerve in the body.
The original Latin meaning of the word vagus is “wandering,” which is an apt name for this nerve.
Like a vagabond, the vagus nerve travels throughout many various parts of the body.
Beginning at the medulla oblongata in the brain stem, this nerve reaches out to all of the organs in the body.
Before it finally reaches the colon, it passes through the neck, chest, and abdomen.
The vagus nerve can be seen as the commander-in-chief of the parasympathetic nervous system, which many refer to as the portion of the autonomic nervous system that focuses on rest and digestion (1).
Through a series of nerve impulses that are sent back and forth through the vagus nerve, the brain is able to more effectively communicate with the other organs.
Problems can occur anywhere along the vagus nerve, which affects various body systems and functions.
The Vagus Nerve and Your Health
Let’s start from the top: in the brain, the vagus nerve is responsible for regulating emotions that control depression and anxiety.
CN X is also responsible for helping you mentally get into the flow of things.
This nerve is also responsible for the release of tears, which keeps your eyes lubricated by washing out any irritating particles.
It’s vital for proper hearing.
This nerve triggers a cough response when there is tickling in the ear.
A properly functioning vagus nerve may help with tinnitus, which is the ringing that you might hear in your ear from time to time.
The vagus nerve also controls saliva production in the mouth and allows you to differentiate tastes on your tongue.
Muscle movements in the mouth, such as for chewing and speech, are all controlled by vagal impulses.
So this cranial nerve helps us make sense of the world around us through our senses.
Because this important nerve controls the esophagus, proper functioning may reduce gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Proper functioning might reduce your risk of heart disease.
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In the stomach, CN X causes the release of histamine, which triggers the production of digestive juices (11).
This nerve also helps with blood-sugar balance, which assists the functions of the liver, kidneys, and pancreas.
Increased blood flow from a properly working vagus nerve increases the blood-filtration capabilities of the kidneys, and it promotes overall function (4).
When the kidneys work better, they can effectively remove excess sodium from the body, which results in lower blood pressure.
This important nerve is also responsible for producing and releasing bile from the gallbladder.
It will help your digestive system more easily break down fat, and remove toxins from your body.
When it comes to the bladder, you can hold your urine for longer with a properly functioning vagus nerve.
But when the bladder is not working effectively, you might find yourself taking a lot of tinkle breaks.
In the lower digestive system, CN X keeps the gut flowing at a steady pace.
This effect can reduce your risk of developing IBS or other bowel syndromes (14).
In women, this wandering nerve also regulates fertility and orgasms.
In fact, stimulation of the vagus nerve can result in an orgasm for females (15).
This impact really shows how much of an influence this nerve has on the mind-body connection.
When it comes to social bonding, CN X causes the release of the feel-good hormone, oxytocin.
In addition, a mother’s mental health during pregnancy can influence vagus activity in her newborn (18).
The Vagus Nerve and Hormones
The vagus nerve is captain of cortisol regulation, and it handles the production of many other hormones.
When this nerve is properly stimulated, it can reduce hormones that are associated with the stress response — namely cortisol, ACTH, and CRH.
Because of this relaxing effect, this nerve might be more aptly nicknamed the “moderator of mayhem.”
This nerve can also help you feel good by releasing oxytocin, as well as a pain-relieving hormone called estradiol.
Insulin can activate the vagus nerve to let the liver know that it should decrease its own glucose production.
Ghrelin (a hunger hormone) and a thyroid hormone that is often referred to as T3 both increase appetite, and are stimulated into production by CN X.
Other hormones that are released and regulated by the vagus nerve include:
- Parathyroid hormone
- Vasoactive intestinal peptide
Another hormone called NPY can help reduce anxiety and increase hunger.
In addition, NPY blocks some of the effects of the stimulation of the vagus nerve, in order to reduce the associated decrease in heart rate.
Symptoms of Dysfunction
I like to imagine that I’m like the vagus nerve of my household.
I run quietly in the background, despite the hustle and bustle of kids around me.
When I don’t keep up with my mental stimulation or fitness routine, I can become overworked.
This impact makes me feel grumpy and gets a little jiggle in the middle, among other areas.
Then the entire household starts suffering.
Because of the far-reaching meandering of CN X, vagus nerve symptoms can be found almost anywhere in the body.
Any number of vagus nerve disorders can lead to a myriad of symptoms.
Below are some symptoms that you may experience if you have a low vagal tone:
- Brain problems
- Depression or anxiety (19)
- Dizziness or fainting
- Trouble with swallowing
- Unstable heart rate
- Heartburn or acid reflux
- Delayed gastric emptying
- Chronic fatigue
- Chronic inflammation
- Weight gain and obesity
Because many of these symptoms may indicate that you have another type of health problem, it’s important to make sure that you don’t have another underlying condition that’s causing your symptoms.
But if you have symptoms affecting your vagus nerve, don’t worry.
An increased vagal tone can help you overcome various vagus-nerve disorders.
The Vagus Nerve Stimulation Benefits
Stimulation of the vagus can be an important factor in alleviating certain health conditions and their associated symptoms.
As mentioned in the list above, stimulation of the vagus nerve may help with mood disorders (19).
Severe mental diseases can also be improved, including Alzheimer’s disease, other types of dementia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, autism, bulimia, and alcoholism.
In addition, memory disorders, tinnitus, and migraines can also be reduced by the stimulation of CN X.
When it functions properly, the vagus nerve provides an effective immune response, as well as the release of pain-reducing hormones.
Many other health problems may be alleviated through the use of vagus stimulation, such as:
- Obesity (21)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Chronic heart failure and heart disease
- Cancer (22)
- Leaky Gut
- Poor immune function (23)
- Poor circulation
32 Ways of Vagus Nerve Stimulation
Because CN X covers so much of the body, many parts can be affected if something goes wrong.
So it’s good to know that there are a variety of ways to stimulate this important nerve.
If you’re doing some of these activities to improve other areas of health, you’re already off to a good start.
Try to incorporate many of these ways, in order to stimulate CN X into your routine.
Your vagus nerve (and the rest of your body) will thank you.
Check Your Thyroid Hormones Levels
Perhaps one of the easiest ways to make sure that your vagus is in good working order is to get an overall health checkup.
The thyroid hormone known as triiodothyronine (or T3 for short), is necessary for:
- Activating the vagus gland
- Instructing it to release ghrelin
- Making you feel hungry
Proper levels of these thyroid hormones will make sure that your nerve is triggered as necessary, which will help it stay in tip-top shape.
When you have a properly functioning thyroid system, regular stimulation by T3 comes naturally.
So to keep your vagus properly toned, have your levels checked on a routine basis.
Get Some Sun
Sun exposure is important for the body’s production of certain vitamins.
It seems that it can cause stimulation of the vagus nerve as well.
When you are out in the sun, this effect stimulates the Alpha-Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone (also known as a-MSH).
This hormone causes an increase in the melanocytes, which causes your skin to tan after sun exposure.
Some of these effects may be due to the stimulating capabilities that MSH has on the vagus nerve.
MSH can provide positive benefits to the body, and it can provide stimulation, which makes sunning a doubly effective strategy.
It’s still important to limit your exposure to the sun, in order to prevent burning and other potential health complications.
Sleeping or lying on your right side can increase vagal activation.
This situation might be due to an increase in heart rate variability, which is more frequently seen when lying on the right side of your body than lying in different ways.
In fact, out of all of the sleeping positions, lying on your back has been shown to trigger the lowest amount of vagal activation.
You can begin by lying on your right side when you watch TV or go to bed.
If you wake up during the night in another position, return to the right side.
Over time, you will get used to sleeping in this manner.
Lying on the right side has also been shown to help those who suffer from coronary artery disease (27).
Enjoy a Good Guffaw
In addition to the myriad of health benefits that can be linked to regular laughter, this activity can also stimulate your vagus nerve.
When you laugh, it increases beta-endorphins and nitric oxide in the body.
These chemicals are beneficial to the cardiovascular system.
By helping relax the walls of blood vessels, circulation is increased to all parts of the body, and blood pressure is reduced.
The activation of a response from the vagus nerve can sometimes cause an outburst of laughter.
Laughing is also good for enhanced cognitive functioning.
However, too much laughter and excessive stimulation of the vagus nerve may lead to dizziness or fainting, especially in anyone with certain disorders that excessively excite the parasympathetic system (30).
Maintain Positive Social Relationships
Anyone who feels positively connected with others tends to have a more toned vagus nerve.
Perhaps you don’t naturally feel this sense of connectedness with others, or you’re generally more of a loner.
Or you simply don’t have the time.
Nevertheless, you can perform some activities to help you along.
Take time to think about those around you, and others that you may come into contact with.
As you think of them, you can silently repeat phrases of good wishes and blessings for these individuals, (such as peace, happiness, and good health).
If you find that your mind wanders to negative thoughts or other matters, try to catch yourself as quickly as possible, and return to those positive thoughts and well-wishes.
Once you learn to connect your thoughts and positive emotions to others, you will likely feel more fulfilled and serene about your interactions.
This change can keep your vagus nerve become more toned than if you do not feel a positive connection with others.
If your focused efforts do not have the desired effect, you may want to take some time to increase social interactions and bonding opportunities.
Get a Massage
Getting a massage can be a great way to relax and feel at ease.
Pressure on certain parts of the body can trigger the release of pain-relieving and feel-good chemicals throughout the body.
Massaging specific areas of your body can also activate a positive vagus response.
If you use your fingers to massage the carotid sinus located on your neck, this action stimulates the chemoreceptors that are located beneath the surface of the skin.
These chemoreceptors are innervated by CN X, so they can result in increased activation and tone.
Massaging the abdomen can also trigger a reaction from this nerve.
The vagus nerve reaches out to so many organs in this region that the massage of the abdomen is really beneficial, especially regarding digestion function.
This type of massage can be extremely beneficial to infants in certain situations.
Specifically, it can assist with weight gain (31).
A foot massage can do more than just relax you after you’ve been on your feet all day.
In fact, the stimulation of reflexology points on the feet has been shown to increase vagal modulation (32).
This activation is very beneficial, and it can reduce blood pressure in both healthy individuals and anyone with coronary artery disease.
Belt It Out
Singing in any way, shape, or form is a great, easy way to activate your vagus nerve.
When you sing, your body initiates the release of oxytocin, which promotes feelings of joy and well-being (33).
Singing can also act as an emotional catharsis, which will help you feel more relaxed.
When you sing really loudly, it puts more effort on the muscles in the back of the throat, which provides stimulation of the vagus nerve.
Any type of singing that’s upbeat and energetic can positively impact your entire parasympathetic system, and it can be a good way to help you get into a state of flow.
All types of singing have differing yet positive effects on CN X, including humming and singing hymns.
Singing in unison has the additional effect of helping you feel connected to others, which provides additional stimulation to your vagus nerve.
Don’t worry if you don’t think you have a natural talent for singing.
Even chanting or singing in monotone can provide you with the same positive results.
The next time you’re doing monotonous chores or taking a shower, sing your heart out, and you’ll see an improved vagal tone and greater health.
Just like it’s more effective for your cardiovascular system to walk while carrying some type of weight, you can get a better toning effect when you have some sort of resistance to your breathing.
This situation can be completed by choosing certain breathing exercises.
It’s important to note that most resistance-breathing exercises are designed to stimulate your vagus nerve.
That’s why you may want to avoid them if you’re ready to go to bed.
You can energize yourself and get better focus with alternate nostril breathing.
Begin by holding the thumb and forefinger of your right hand just over your nostrils, as if you were about to plug your nose before jumping into a swimming pool.
Press your thumb to close the right nostril. Inhale strongly through the left nostril.
Once you reach the full inhalation, cover your left nostril while releasing your right nostril.
Then exhale strongly through the right one.
Alternate sides, so that you get an equal number of inhalations and exhalations from both sides.
Another breathing exercise that will really get you going is using a forced exhale.
You’ll start by taking a nice, slow, deep breath, then quickly and forcefully exhaling.
For maximum effectiveness, be sure that your exhalations occur from the lower belly.
Other ways to create resistance to your breathing are by breathing through pursed lips, clenched teeth, or a straw.
Controlled breathing can provide you with a more relaxing experience, while still providing stimulation to the vagus nerve (34).
To properly utilize controlled breathing techniques, you will need to be sure that you’re breathing through your abdomen.
In other words, when you inhale, your abdominal muscle will protrude.
And when you breathe out, these muscles will cave inward.
When you breathe in deeply, make sure that you take in enough air to feel a stretch in the lungs at the base of the diaphragm.
During these exercises, breathe in and out through your nose.
Slow, controlled breathing can also be referred to as equal breathing.
Therefore, you will inhale slowly for the same number of seconds that you exhale.
Your goal will be to take only five or six equal breaths per minute.
This resonant range reduces the stress response and activates the parasympathetic nervous system.
I find that it’s easier to get the appropriate number of breaths by slowly counting to five, and exhaling to the same slow count.
If your chest expands when you breathe, you’re not doing it quite right.
You can correct this problem with the practice. Lie on your back.
Then place one hand on your chest, and the other on your abdomen.
While inhaling and exhaling, make sure that the hand on your chest remains motionless, and that the one on your abdomen is the one that moves with each breath.
Use Muscle Control
There’s probably been a time where you’ve had to cough, and have inadvertently passed gas at the same time.
This embarrassing situation has probably shown you that the same muscles that you use to cough are also attached to your lower bowel function.
Do you know what else is connected to those same muscles?
That’s right — the vagus nerve.
To effectively produce vagal activation, you can try coughing, although coughing on purpose may not be as forceful as a cough that’s automatically triggered.
Don’t worry if you can’t cough it out.
Tensing your stomach muscles can produce the same effect.
You can bear down as if you are trying to have a bowel movement.
Or force gas out in private, so that you don’t send the kids into a giggling fit if it were to come out accidentally later.
When you tense properly, you will feel the pressure in your entire pelvic region.
Hold it for a few seconds, then relax your muscles before repeating this process a few times.
Increase Your Fiber Intake
Increasing your daily intake of fiber can have many health benefits, but it can also lead to the stimulation of CN X.
When you eat enough fiber, you will feel fuller for longer, which stimulates digestive functioning.
As fiber moves through the bowels, it can help remove toxins and excess cholesterol from the body.
And it can lead to regular bowel movements, as long as you’re drinking an adequate amount of water.
The movement of fiber through the digestive tract stimulates the production of GLP-1.
This hormone helps you feel more satisfied and fuller for longer — by activating the vagus impulses in the brain that slow the emptying of the stomach (35).
Enjoy Those Carbs!
There are times when carbs aren’t really the enemy that they’re portrayed to be.
When you eat foods that are rich in carbohydrates, it triggers the body’s production of insulin.
After traveling through various pathways, insulin can trigger a response from the vagus nerve.
However, you shouldn’t go hog-wild on a bunch of sugary and indulgent treats (such as donuts and other delectable pastries).
There are many healthy carb options that you can choose from, which will still provide you with the same effect — without adding excess jiggle to your wiggle.
These healthy options for carbohydrates will take longer for the body to break down, and keep insulin at a steady level.
Therefore, it is important that you maintain energy levels, as well as regularly tone the vagus.
When you eat a meal, especially one that contains significant levels of fat, a hormone called CCK is released.
After about 15 minutes, this hormone will send signals to the brain that you have had enough to eat, which helps your brain tell you that you can stop.
This vagal stimulation provides enhanced functioning to every part of the digestive tract (36).
While good for triggering a response to keep your vagus nerve in tone, eating a lot of fat can be counterproductive to a healthy diet.
While most types of fat can be enjoyed in small amounts, most of your consumption should be in the form of healthier plant fats, such as olive oil.
Even then, it’s important to moderate your fat consumption.
There is another way that you can activate all of the vagus-stimulating benefits of CCK without tossing aside all of the hard work that you put into your diet and exercise routine.
It seems that CCK release is also triggered by prolonged chewing.
So rather than going back for second helpings, simply pop a piece of gum in your mouth.
This chewing will stimulate your vagus impulses, which will help you feel more satisfied without ingesting excess calories.
I Like to Move It, Move It
Like the vagus nerve, exercise has far-reaching effects on the entire body.
Different types of exercise stimulate various muscle groups and organs, which cause stimulation in a variety of ways.
Aerobic exercise increases heart rate and blood flow.
Floor exercises, such as pilates, can stimulate digestion (37).
With all of that activation going around, it stands to reason that the vagus nerve responds from many different sources when you exercise.
Release Your Inner Yogi
Yogic breathing has a positive effect on the parasympathetic nervous system, and the movements involved in yoga can trigger a vagal response as well.
When combined with controlled breathing, asanas can expand the chest area, which results in an increase of vagus impulses.
Flow sequences provide additional benefits.
Inverted poses increase blood flow to the brain, thus activating the vagus nerve.
If you are unable to perform full inversions, don’t fret.
Partial or gentle inversions can be just as effective to the parasympathetic response.
When it comes to activation of CN X, yoga is not just another exercise.
This activity provides unique results that are not found in exercises, such as walking.
Research has found that yoga participants increase the amount of γ-Aminobutyric acid, or GABA, in their bodies (38).
Because thalamic GABA is important to reducing anxiety and depression, individuals who suffer from these conditions can benefit from vagal activation via yoga.
T’ai Chi Your Way to Vagal Stimulation
Just like many other types of exercise, t’ai chi has been shown to enhance vagal stimulation (39).
When you practice the ancient art of t’ai chi, you need to maintain a consistent focus on your breathing, as well as the connection between your mind and body.
This type of mindful meditation activity prods your vagus nerve to release a hormone that helps you feel good and promotes a sense of overall well-being.
Because different types of exercise provide varying effects to vagus impulses, you can add t’ai chi to your rotation, and keep your workouts fresh and exciting — while providing your tenth cranial nerve with the tone that is necessary for keeping it functioning well in the long term.
Quiet Your Mind
Meditation is often used as a way to relax and reconnect with yourself.
It’s also a great way to reduce your stress response from fight-or-flight mode of the autonomous nervous system to the rest-and-digest state offered by the parasympathetic nervous system.
There are different ways that you can use meditation to induce a vagal tone.
Loving-kindness meditation helps you focus on kindness and the value of others.
Others deserve to be happy, just as we do.
You can focus your thoughts on how important the connection is with others for your own physical, mental, and spiritual health.
Once you start feeling thankful for those around you, you can send positive thoughts about happiness and health to these individuals.
If you have trouble feeling connected to others, you may want to begin with some type of transforming meditation.
This action allows you to feel more peaceful with yourself, so you can accept the connectedness that you have with others.
Om specific meditation has been shown to be especially helpful in triggering vagus impulses (40).
It is believed that om is a primordial sound that was born in the universe, which could explain why it resonates from the pelvic floor and up into the top of the head.
As you exhale, you make an elongated “ah-oo-m” sound, and the reverberations inside your body can stimulate the vagus nerve from all over, which creates an exceptional tone.
Recite Your Prayers
Praying can be an effective way to increase the stimulation of your vagus nerve.
This situation is especially true if you recite certain prayers, such as the rosary (41).
Therefore, praying and chanting have similar effects.
Additionally, when you take the time to control your breathing while performing your recitations, it affects the vagus nerve in the same way as controlled breathing.
Just be sure that you slowly breathe in for approximately the same amount of time that it takes to recite each phrase, and keep your breaths even.
I know it’s not always easy to go for any length of time without eating, but intentional fasting for a certain period can be good for your health and the stimulation of vagal tone.
When you alter periods of eating with periods of fasting, it triggers opposing responses from the vagus nerve, which keeps it active and in good working order.
This type of eating cycle is often referred to as intermittent fasting.
To try fasting, it is important to stay hydrated.
Depending on the type of fast you choose, you can drink water or other liquids.
You may also want to check with your healthcare provider before fasting, especially if you are on medications or have additional health problems.
Don’t fast for too long.
When your body goes for too long without nourishment, it can cause a significant slowdown in your metabolism, which can lead to potential issues in other areas of the body.
If you’d rather try intermittent fasting, choose a window or timeframe that you eat in (42).
You can choose a window that’s four, six, or eight hours long, or any other timeframe that you prefer.
Set that window in certain hours of the day. During that time period, you can eat.
Once the window is closed, stick with liquids.
Seafood and Eat It
Omega-3 fatty acids, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), have been shown to provide stimulation to CN X (43).
These essential fatty acids have the ability to lower your heart rate and increase heart rate variability.
The best sources of these omega-3s are from seafood, especially fatty fish and shellfish.
Mackerel, salmon, sardines, tuna, bass, trout, swordfish, and walleye all have substantial amounts of EPA and DHA, which activate vagal impulses.
Shellfish (such as lobster, crab, oysters, clams, and scallops) also have sufficient omega-3 fatty acids.
If you simply cannot stomach fish or shellfish, you’re not alone.
Instead, you can choose a fish-oil supplement that will provide you with the necessary EPA and DHA for good vagal tone.
Zinc It Together
It’s important to get enough vitamins and minerals in your daily diet, but most people lack it.
Zinc is vitally important for brain function and mental health.
Getting more zinc in your diet can activate the vagus nerve, especially if you’ve been a bit deficient in this mineral.
You can get more zinc from the foods that you eat.
Grass-fed beef, cashews, pumpkin seeds, spinach, and mushrooms are all excellent sources of this mineral.
Oysters are also a good choice, and they have the added benefit of being high in essential fatty acids.
If you find yourself falling short on your zinc intake, you can take a supplement to keep your vagus nerve in shape.
Utilize Beneficial Microorganisms
Probiotics are more than just a trend.
There is scientific proof that these tiny microorganisms offer lots of benefits to health (44).
Probiotics are good bacteria and yeasts, which primarily work in the digestive tract to help with digestion.
As these good microbes grow, they crowd out potentially harmful organisms, in order to keep your digestive system flowing smoothly.
Because of the brain-gut connection that is overseen by the vagus nerve, the proper gut function can enhance proper brain and body functions through the vagal pathways.
Therefore, you can have an improved response of the central nervous system as well.
There are many food sources that can meet your probiotic needs.
They include yogurt, kefir, and fermented foods (such as sauerkraut, kimchi, natto, kombucha, and miso).
Additional foods that support probiotic health in the gut include salted pickles, brined olives, and apple cider vinegar.
You can also get probiotics in supplement form.
For optimal stimulation, consume foods that help probiotics, which are called prebiotics.
Gargling is an excellent way to keep your vagus nerve in great shape.
When you gargle, it uses the muscles in the back of the throat.
These muscles are activated by the tenth cranial nerve.
And they cause a response from this nerve as well.
Gargling also helps stimulate the gastrointestinal tract, which in turn activates a vagal response.
This cycle is good to get into since it effectively stimulates functions across your entire body.
You may regularly gargle with mouthwash or saltwater.
Whether or not you already gargle, you can increase your frequency by gargling the water you drink for a moment — before you swallow it.
When you get into this habit, you can keep your vagus toned.
It’s Ancient, and It’s Asian. But It’s Not a Secret
For centuries, acupuncturists have been using pressure points all across the body as a way to enhance benefits to health.
It has been shown that certain pressure points in the head and neck are associated with vagus stimulation (45).
Auricular acupuncture, or acupuncture of the ear, has been shown to be especially beneficial for creating a response from the vagus nerve, as well as the entire parasympathetic nervous system (46).
Acupuncture is truly a powerful medicine.
While deaths from this practice are exceedingly rare, there is one noteworthy case: a man died after receiving acupuncture treatment (47).
An autopsy showed no pathology, except for some hemorrhaging in the neck around the right vagus nerve.
The medical examiner concluded that the most likely cause was bradycardia or arrhythmia, which was brought on by stimulation of the vagus nerve.
But before you let that incident scare you away from acupuncture, it’s important to note that adverse effects of any kind, including death, are rarely seen.
A lowered heart rate isn’t always a bad thing.
Problems do not typically occur until the heart slows to under 50 beats per minute.
If you’re at all uncertain, check with your healthcare provider to get a good bill of health before trying acupuncture.
Keep That Tongue Depressor from Your Last Doctor’s Visit
If you’ve ever gagged as a result of a tongue depressor, then you know how sensitive the entire throat is to stimulation.
While the vagus nerve is responsible for the mechanisms that produce action from the muscles in the throat, these muscles are irritated in some way, which can trigger this response from this nerve.
If you think of gargling like a physical exercise, then gag reflexes can be compared to pushups for the vagus.
When your body acclimates itself to the cold, the response from the entire parasympathetic system increases, including the vagus nerve.
While a sympathetic response is dramatically heightened after cold exposure, this effect is blunted during the acclimation of a heightened parasympathetic response (48).
You can begin by cupping cold water in your hands and applying it to your face.
Finish your shower with a cold rinse. You may eventually take full cold showers.
To stimulate vagal activity, you can also expose your body to cold weather, and drink cold beverages.
The use of coffee enemas is possibly as invigorating as the cold, but not quite as enticing.
If you find that you’re having trouble with brain function, such as concentration and focus, look to your bowels.
With the strong brain-gut connection that your vagus nerve provides, stimulation of the colon can increase activity in the brain.
Coffee enemas have also been shown to reduce the fight-or-flight response, which allows the rest-and-digest system to take control.
Oxytocin is a powerful hormone with anti-stress and anti-inflammatory effects.
The vagus nerve can be seen as the oxytocin expressway throughout the body.
This feel-good chemical is produced when the stomach as full, so eating can be a good way to increase it (49).
Other ways include positive social interactions, especially physical interactions.
So go hug a friend, or pet your dog.
Then you’ll get the positive vagus-enhancing effects provided by oxytocin.
Keep Serotonin Levels Up
Serotonin is responsible for helping regulate mood, sleep, and other activities within the body.
When serotonin receptors are stimulated, they initiate a response from the vagus (50).
There are many ways that you can increase serotonin levels.
Exposure to sunlight (especially in the early morning) is a powerful way to increase serotonin production.
Exercise can also increase this neurotransmitter.
You can also take certain supplements, such as 5-HTP, to increase serotonin.
When you get hungry, your body produces the hormone ghrelin.
This hormone activates a vagal response to increase your appetite, pancreatic function, and growth hormone production.
After you eat, your stomach will notify CN X to shut off ghrelin production.
Orexin is a neurotransmitter that promotes wakefulness and productivity.
This neurotransmitter is found in the same areas of the brain where vagal activation occurs.
Thus, it stimulates impulses from the vagus nerve — from the brain to other areas of the body (51).
Some of the activities that you can do to increase CN X stimulation also increase the production of orexin, including exercise, exposure to sunlight, and fasting.
So these activities provide a one-two punch for the vagus.
The use of a pulsed electromagnetic field PEMF has been shown to effectively trigger vagal response (52).
When used on certain parts of the body, a PEMF device can activate various nerve pathways of the vagus.
Do’s and Don’ts
Below is a review of the Do’s and Don’ts of stimulating the vagus nerve.
- Follow a healthy diet and exercise routine. These habits have positive effects on your vagus nerve.
- Remember that there aren’t always shortcuts to good health. Regarding your vagal tone, make sure that you take the time that’s necessary for overall well-being.
- For any condition, see your doctor before self-treatment. This action can help to rule out any underlying conditions that require the care of a professional.
- Choose natural food sources when possible. These are better digested by the body and don’t carry the associated risk of some supplements.
- Don’t overuse supplements. You can overdose on some nutrients.
- Don’t do something that makes you uncomfortable. There are many ways to stimulate your vagus nerve. If any of these options don’t appeal to you, simply choose something else.
- Don’t overdo it. While it is rare to experience problems by increasing your vagal activity, it can occur in certain individuals. Play it safe.