In a recent article, the author described the experience of a woman suffering from debilitating and severe rheumatoid arthritis and the course of treatment using an instrument that decreased the inflammation by stimulating the vagus nerve.

This means that by its stimulation, we can influence the immune system and eliminate inflammations. The brain has a profound role in the inflammations. If you are suffering from high blood pressure, digestive complaints, depression or any kind of inflammation this article is for you.

What is the vagus nerve?

Firstly, the vagus nerve originates in the brain as the tenth cranial nerve, goes down thorough the neck and goes past the spleen, liver, digestive system, lungs, heart and pancreas. It has a major role in the parasympathetic nervous system, known as ‘rest and digest’ (an opposite of the sympathetic nervous system – ‘fight of flight’).

Vagal tone

The vagal tone has a key role in the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. It is measured by observing the breathing and heart rate. The heart rate increases its speed you inhale, and decreases when you exhale.

If the difference between the heart rate during inhalation and the heart rate during inhalation, this means that your vagal tone is higher, which in turn means that your body can overcome stress quicker.

What is high vagal tone linked to?

Higher vagal tone boosts the function of many systems of the body, regulates the blood sugar, reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases and stroke, reduces the blood pressure, improves the digestion by better production digestive enzymes, and reduces migraines. Also, high vagal is linked with improved mood, reduced anxiety and greater stress resilience.

The vagus nerve reads the gut microbiome and activates a response to inflammations and checks whether there are pathogenic or non-pathogenic organisms. In this regard, the gut microbiome affects your levels of stress, general inflammation and mood.

What is low vagal tone linked to?

Lower vagal tone is linked to strokes and cardiovascular conditions, depression, diabetes, cognitive impairment, chronic fatigue syndrome and high rates of inflammations. This includes all autoimmune diseases (inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, endometriosis, lupus, autoimmune thyroid conditions and many others).

How to increase the vagal tone?

Vagal tone can be increased by stimulating the vagus nerve. You can do this by yourself but you need a regular practice. To a certain degree, we have genetic predispositions to different levels of vagal tone, however, this doesn’t mean that we can’t alter it. This is how you can increase the vagal tone:

Rhythmic, slow and diaphragmatic breathing. Breathing through the diaphragm, instead of shallow breathing from the upper part of the lungs can stimulate and tone the vagus nerve.

1. Humming. Because the vagus nerve is linked to the vocal cords, you can mechanically stimulate it by humming.

You can repeat the sound OM or you can hum your favorite song.

2. Talking. In a similar was, talking can tone your vagus nerve, since it is connected to the vocal cords.

3. Wash your face using cold water. Even though the mechanism is unknown, applying cold water on the face tones the vagus nerve.

4. Meditation, particularly the loving kindness type because it evokes goodwill towards others and yourself. A study conducted by Bethany Kik and Barbara Fredrickson discovered that positive emotions raised the social closeness and improved the vagal tone.

5. Balancing the microbiome. Having healthy bacteria in the intestines promotes a positive feedback loop in the vagus nerve, which increases its tone.

The implications of these basic and simple practices on the general health, and particularly on inflammations are extensive. If you have digestive upset, inflammatory condition, depression or high blood pressure, you should closely examine the tone of the vagus nerve.

It is proven that meditation and breathing techniques can improve our health, but it is amazing to learn how these mechanisms work.