What is the Vagus Nerve?
The term “mind-body connection” is thrown around a lot these days. It refers to the link between our emotional/mental selves and our physical selves. Most of us have had the experience of craving food that we know is not good for us, only to give in to that craving and proceed to feel groggy and sluggish afterward, regretting our decision. Conversely, we know that eating a healthy, balanced diet lifts the fog in our minds and the invisible weights on our bodies.
So, it is no secret that the mind and the body are not mutually exclusive. The vagus nerve makes the two inextricable.
The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that acts as a bridge between the brain stem to the abdomen. “The vagus nerve delivers information from the gut to the brain.”  It is an essential element of the parasympathetic nervous system. This system is responsible for mood control, immune response, heart rate, etc. 
The vagus nerve is like a little messenger carrying information back to the brain from the body about how the organs are functioning. It can also be called the body’s “information superhighway.” 
Vagus Nerve Stimulation
In the 19th century, scientists began experimenting with stimulating the vagus nerve to treat epilepsy. While the treatment showed some aid for epilepsy, they found that stimulating the vagus nerve had an unexpected side effect: improving one’s mood.
According to one study, “vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration in 2005 as an adjunctive long-term treatment for refractory MDD (Major Depressive Disorder) patients.”  This presented VNS to be a feasible alternative treatment for those who were unresponsive to antidepressants. Stimulation of the vagus nerve can reduce your blood pressure and lower your heart rate, reducing stress and even inflammation.
Have you ever had a bellyache when nervous about a test or grieving a loved one? Or, have you felt “butterflies” when going on a date? If you have ever wondered why you feel emotions in your gut, thank your vagus nerve!
Be Good to Your Vagus Nerve, and Your Vagus Nerve Will be Good to You
Life is full of stressful days where so little of our life feels within our control. If you are looking to stimulate your vagus nerve at home, try some of these methods:
- Cold-Water Immersion
- Take Probiotics
It should be noted that anything in excess is not necessarily a good thing, so always consult your doctor or medical professional before self-treatment to ensure you are not over-stimulating your vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve undoubtedly links our bodies and our minds. What is good for the body is good for the mind, and vice versa.
Be good to your belly and brain!
- Vagus nerve: Function, stimulation, and further research. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318128#Vagus-nerve-stimulation
- Breit S, Kupferberg A, Rogler G, Hasler G. Vagus nerve as modulator of the brain-gut axis in psychiatric and inflammatory disorders. Frontiers in psychiatry. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5859128/. Published March 13, 2018.
- Caron C. This nerve influences nearly every internal organ. can it improve our mental state, too? The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/02/well/mind/vagus-nerve-mental-health.html. Published June 2, 2022.
- Liu C-H, Yang M-H, Zhang G-Z, et al. Neural networks and the anti-inflammatory effect of transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation in Depression – Journal of Neuroinflammation. BioMed Central. https://jneuroinflammation.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12974-020-01732-5. Published February 12, 2020.
- schneik4. 5 ways to stimulate your vagus nerve. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/vagus-nerve-stimulation/. Published March 10, 2022.
- How to stimulate your vagus nerve for Better Mental Health. https://sass.uottawa.ca/sites/sass.uottawa.ca/files/how_to_stimulate_your_vagus_nerve_for_better_mental_health_1.pdf.