Vagus nerve stimulation is a procedure that involves implantation of a device that stimulates the vagus nerve with electrical impulses.
There’s one vagus nerve on each side of your body, running from your brainstem through your neck to your chest and abdomen.
Vagus nerve stimulation is most often used to treat epilepsy when other treatments haven’t worked. Vagus nerve stimulation is also a treatment for hard-to-treat depression that hasn’t responded to typical therapies.
What`s the difference between high and low vagal tone?
High vagal tone improves the function of many body systems, causing better blood sugar regulation, reduced risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure, improved digestion via better production of stomach basic and digestive enzymes, and reduced migraines.
The low vagal tone is associated with cardiovascular conditions and strokes, depression, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, cognitive impairment, and much higher rates of inflammatory conditions (rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, endometriosis, autoimmune thyroid conditions, lupus).
To some degree, you are genetically predisposed to varying levels of vagal tone, but this still doesn’t mean that you can’t change it. Here are some ways to tone the vagus nerve:
- Washing your face with cold water. The mechanism here is not known, but cold water on your face stimulates the vagus nerve.
- Slow, rhythmic, diaphragmatic breathing. Breathing from your diaphragm, rather than shallowly from the top of the lungs, stimulates and tones the vagus nerve.
- Balancing the gut microbiome. The presence of healthy bacteria in the gut creates a positive feedback loop through the vagus nerve, increasing its tone.
- Humming. Since the vagus nerve is connected to the vocal cords, humming mechanically stimulates it. You can hum a song, or even better repeat the sound ‘OM.’
- Speaking. Similarly speaking is helpful for vagal tone, due to the connection to the vocal cords.
- Loving kindness meditation promotes feelings of goodwill towards yourself and others. A 2010 study by Barbara Fredrickson and Bethany Kik found that increasing positive emotions led to increased social closeness, and an improvement in vagal tone.