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Friday, July 15, 2016

Information about The Vagus Nerve

Dedicated to Cheryl, my inspiration for this article.

Image taken from:

I know I try not to cite too many articles but I wanted to cite this one. It has really great information about the vagus nerve and what it does for your body. I do not know much about the vagus nerve, so I need help with research about it, hence the quoted articles. I'm curious as to if the vagus nerve, if damaged and causes gastroparesis, might cause other issues as well. It's a question I've had on my mind for a long time. I know some of my friends have heart issues and the vagus nerve runs by the heart. I also know that I get what I call, "gp fog" which could be a result of a damaged vagus nerve. So, I wanted to do some research into it and try to answer some of my questions and hopefully, educate and answer some of your questions as well. Maybe the more exposure we bring to complications like this, the doctors might be able to take the information and do something with it - with research or anything that could help us.

"The vagus nerve provides 75% of all parasympathetic outflow. When the brain triggers parasympathetic activation, the vagus nerve carries the messages to the heart (decreasing the heart rate and blood pressure), to the lungs (to constrict the respiratory passageways), to every organ in the digestive system (to increase motility and blood flow to the digestive tract, to promote defecation), to the kidneys and bladder (to promote urination) and to reproductive organs (to aid in sexual arousal).

2. It communicates messages between the gut and the brain. 80% of the vagus nerve’s fibers (4 out of 5 traffic lanes) deliver information from the enteric nervous system (the second brain in the gut) to the brain.

3. It regulates the muscle movement necessary to keep you breathing. Your brain communicates with your diaphragm via the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine from the vagus nerve to keep you breathing. If the vagus nerve stops releasing acetylcholine, you will stop breathing.

4. It helps decrease inflammation. About 15 years ago neurosurgeon Kevin Tracey and his colleagues found that a tiny amount of an anti-inflammatory drug in rats’ brains blocked the production of an inflammatory molecule in the liver and spleen. How did the signal get there? The researchers began cutting nerves one at a time to find the ones responsible for transmitting the anti-inflammatory signal from brain to body. “When we cut the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain stem down to the spleen, the effect was gone,” says Tracey, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, N.Y. Later they discovered that stimulating undamaged vagus fibers also had anti-inflammatory effects in animals (without the drug), which they attributed to the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine by the vagus nerve.

5. It has profound control over heart rate and blood pressure. For example, patients with heart failure, in which the heart fails to pump enough blood through the body, tend to have less active vagus nerves. Currently multiple studies are underway investigating the effects of vagus stimulation on patients with heart failure and atrial fibrillation (where the heart flutters erratically).

6. It helps improve your mood. Research shows that stimulation of the vagus nerve can be an effective treatment for chronic depression that has failed to respond to other treatments. Electrical stimulation of the vagus through a surgically implanted device has already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a therapy for patients who don’t get relief from existing treatments.

7. It is essential in fear management. Remember that “gut instinct” that tells you when something isn’t right? Turns out that the vagus nerve plays a major role in that. The signals from your gut get sent to the brain via the vagus nerve, and the signals from the brain travel back to the gut, forming a feedback loop. What if this loop was interrupted – wondered the researchers in a new Swiss study – would that affect innate anxiety and conditioned fear? Turns out it does. In test animals, the brain was still able to send signals down to the stomach, but the brain couldn’t receive signals coming up from the stomach. The research showed that those rats weren’t that afraid to begin with (lower level of innate fear), but once they became afraid, they had trouble overcoming this fear even when the danger was no longer present (longer retention of learned fear). This shows that healthy functioning of the vagus nerve helps us bounce back from stressful situations and overcome fear conditioning.

8. It plays a role in learning and memory. The same Swiss study (above) found that the rats without gut instincts transmitting to the brain via the vagus nerve required significantly longer to re-associate previously “dangerous” environment with the new, “safe” and neutral situation. This shows that the vagus nerve facilitates learning and re-wiring, so to speak. “These new findings about the vagus nerve offer exciting possibility for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Stimulation of the vagus nerve might be able to speed up the process by which people with PTSD can learn to reassociate a non-threatening stimuli which triggers anxiety with a neutral and non-traumatic experience”(1). It can also help with healing sexual stress and trauma.

9. It can help relieve cluster headaches. The company electroCore, based in Basking Ridge, N.J., manufactures a small, handheld device that can stimulate the vagus when placed on the throat. The company initially tested the devices to reduce asthma symptoms — relying on the nerve’s anti-inflammatory action. But during testing, patients reported that their headaches were disappearing, says J.P. Errico, CEO of electroCore. Now, the company is investigating the use of an electroCore device to treat chronic cluster headaches." This information was given by:

The gastric branches (rami gastrici) supply the stomach. The right vagus forms the posterior gastric plexus and the left forms the anterior gastric plexus. The branches lie on the posteroinferior and the anterosuperior surfaces, respectively.

The celiac branches (rami celiaci) are derived mainly from the right vagus nerve. They join the celiac plexus and supply the pancreas, spleen, kidneys, adrenals, and intestine.

The hepatic branches originate from the left vagus. They join the hepatic plexus and through it are distributed to the liver.

Images from:

"What happens in the vagus nerve, it turns out, doesn’t stay in the vagus nerve. The longest of the cranial nerves, the vagus nerve is so named because it “wanders” like a vagabond, sending out fibers from your brainstem to your visceral organs. The vagus nerve is literally the captain of your inner nerve center—the parasympathetic nervous system, to be specific. And like a good captain, it does a great job of overseeing a vast range of crucial functions, communicating nerve impulses to every organ in your body. New research has revealed that it may also be the missing link to treating chronic inflammation, and the beginning of an exciting new field of treatment that leaves medications behind. Here are nine facts about this powerful nerve bundle.

With a vast network of fibers stationed like spies around all your organs, when the vagus nerve gets wind of the hallmarks of inflammation—cytokines or the inflammatory substance tumor necrosis factor (TNF)—it alerts the brain and elicits anti-inflammatory neurotransmitters via the cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway. A certain amount of inflammation after injury or illness is normal. But an overabundance is linked to many diseases and conditions, from sepsis to the autoimmune condition rheumatoid arthritis.

A University of Virginia study showed success in strengthening memory in rats by stimulating the vagus nerve, which releases the neurotransmitter norepinephrine into the amygdala, consolidating memories. Related studies were done on humans, opening promising treatments for conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

The neurotransmitter acetylcholine, elicited by the vagus nerve, literally gives you the breath of life by telling your lungs to breathe. It’s one of the reasons that botox—often used cosmetically—can be potentially dangerous, because it interrupts your acetylcholine production. You can, however, also manually stimulate your vagus nerve by doing abdominal breathing or holding your breath for four to eight counts.

The vagus nerve is responsible for controlling the heart rate via electrical impulses to the sinoatrial node of the heart, where acetylcholine release slows the pulse. The way doctors determine the “tone” or “strength” of your vagus nerve (and your cardiac health) is by measuring the time between your individual heart beats, and then plotting this on a chart over time. This is your 'heart rate variability.'

When your ever-vigilant sympathetic nervous system revs up the fight or flight responses—pouring the stress hormone cortisol and adrenaline into your body—the vagus nerve tells your body to chill out by releasing acetylcholine. Its tendrils extend to many organs, acting like fiberoptic cables that send instructions to release enzymes and proteins like prolactin, vasopressin, and oxytocin, which calm you down. People with a stronger vagus response may be more likely to recover more quickly after stress, injury, or illness.

Your gut uses the vagus nerve like a walkie-talkie to tell your brain how you’re feeling via electric impulses called “action potentials". Your gut feelings are very real.

If you tremble or get queasy at the sight of blood or while getting a flu shot, you’re not weak; you’re experiencing “vagal syncope.” Your body, responding to stress, overstimulates the vagus nerve, causing your blood pressure and heart rate to drop. During extreme syncope, blood flow is restricted to your brain, and you lose consciousness. But most of the time you just have to sit or lie down for the symptoms to subside.

Truly breaking new medical ground, neurosurgeon Kevin Tracey was the first to prove that stimulating the vagus nerve can significantly reduce inflammation. Results on rats were so successful, he reproduced the experiment in humans with stunning results. The creation of implants to stimulate the vagus nerve via electronic implants showed a drastic reduction, and even remission, in rheumatoid arthritis—which has no known cure and is often treated with the toxic cancer drug methotraxate—hemorrhagic shock, and other equally serious inflammatory syndromes.

Spurred on by the success of vagal nerve stimulation to treat inflammation and epilepsy, a burgeoning field of medical study, known as “bioelectronics,” may be the future of medicine. Using implants that deliver electric impulses to various body parts, scientists and doctors hope to treat illness with fewer medications and fewer side effects."
Information from:

I'm sorry for all of the block quotes. I really don't know much about the vagus nerve, so I wanted to read up on it. I feel like it's something I should be aware of since I have Gastroparesis and a damaged vagus nerve and I wanted to spread the knowledge to you. Feel free to do more research on the matter and if I have left out any important information, let me know. I did not know that the vagus nerve can control your "gut feeling." I'm still learning about gastroparesis and what it is doing to my body. I know a lot of my friends have a hard time remembering things, myself included, and a lot of my friends have heart issues. I wonder if it's all related to the damaged vagus nerve by the stomach. I would love a doctor to do research and confirm what a damaged vagus nerve can do to the whole body, and not just the stomach.

The Mayo Clinic offers treatment for a stimulation of the vagus nerve. Their website says,

"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.

Researchers are currently studying vagus nerve stimulation as a potential treatment for a variety of conditions, including multiple sclerosis, headache, pain and Alzheimer's disease.

In conventional vagus nerve stimulation, a device is surgically implanted under the skin on your chest, and a wire is threaded under your skin connecting the device to the left vagus nerve. The right vagus nerve is not used because it carries fibers that supply nerves to the heart.

When activated, the device sends electrical signals along the vagus nerve to your brainstem, which then sends signals to certain areas in your brain.

New, noninvasive vagus nerve stimulation devices, which do not require surgical implantation, have been approved for use in Europe to treat epilepsy, depression and pain but have not yet been approved for use in the U.S.

An implantable device that stimulates the right vagus nerve is also under study for the treatment of heart failure."

I hope one day, there will be some kind of treatment to help those with gastroparesis that includes the vagus nerve. I'm optimistic and I'm hoping there will be research into the matter. If we could repair the vagus nerve in some way, it would save so many lives, or even find treatment to get it to work properly. I'm not going to lose hope.


There is an article I wrote on the Vagus Nerve Stimulator, which may help your stomach muscles contract and help with gastric emptying. It can be found here:

Additionally, I also wrote an article entitled, "The Brain in Your Gut" which the deals with the Vagus Nerve and Serotonin being made in your stomach. It can be found here:


According to Psychology Spot,

"Vagus nerve and anxiety: Everything You Need to Know

The vagus nerve is the tenth of twelve pairs of cranial nerves and is the longest in the body. In fact, the word vagus means 'vagabond' in Latin, and perfectly illustrates the path of this nerve extending through various organs of the body.

The vagus nerve is born in the cranial box, exactly in the spinal cord, and falls into the neck developing on two branches and reaching the abdomen passing through the various organs along the path.

The vagus nerve intervenes in the sensitivity of the respiratory mucous membranes and transmits the rhythm, strength and frequency of breathing. It affects the pharynx, the larynx, the esophagus, the trachea and the bronchi, as well as administering nerve fibers to the heart, stomach, pancreas and liver. But it also carries out the inverse mission; that is, it receives signals from the internal organs and sends them to the brain to be processed.

Although perhaps the most interesting thing is the relationship between the vagus nerve and anxiety as it also transmits signals of nervousness or calm, anger or relaxation.

To understand the link between the vagus nerve and anxiety we need to understand that the nervous system is made up of two 'opposite' systems that constantly send information to the brain.

The sympathetic nervous system prepares us for action, so it mainly feeds hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. The parasympathetic nervous system intervenes in rest and relaxation.

In practice, both systems work as accelerator and decelerator. The sympathetic nervous system accelerates and activates us as the parasympathetic nervous system helps us relax and reduce the speed, so it uses neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine, which decreases the heart rate and blood pressure so that the organs work slower.

The functions of the vagus nerve

The vagus nerve controls the parasympathetic system. It intervenes in many functions, from mouth movements to heartbeat, and likewise, when affected ​​it can cause various symptoms. Some of the vagus nerve functions in our body are:

– It helps regulate heartbeat, controls muscle movements and maintains the pace of breathing.

– It maintains the functioning of the digestive tract, allowing the contraction of the stomach and intestine muscles to digest food.

– Facilitates relaxation after a stressful situation or indicates that we are in danger and we do not have to lower the guard.

– Send sensory information to the brain about organ status.

Vagus Nerve and Anxiety

When we are subjected to stressful situations, the sympathetic nervous system is activated. If the tension persists and we cannot turn off the physiological response that triggers it, it won’t pass much time before problems appear. At brain level, this involves the activation of two pathways: the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis and the brain-intestine axis.

The brain responds to stress and anxiety by increasing the production of hormones (CRFs) that travel from the hypothalamus to the pituitary gland where they induce the release of another hormone (ACTH), which in turn travels through the bloodstream to the adrenal glands to stimulate cortisol and adrenaline induction, which act as immune system suppressors and inflammatory precursors, which is why when we feel stressed and anxious we get ill easily and, ultimately, we can end up suffering from depression, a disorder which has been linked to an inflammatory brain response.

And as if that were not enough, chronic stress and anxiety cause an increase in glutamate in the brain, a neurotransmitter that, when produced in excess, causes migraine, depression and anxiety. In addition, a high level of cortisol reduces the volume of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for the formation of new memories.

The involvement of the vagus nerve will lead to symptoms such as dizziness, gastrointestinal problems, arrhythmias, difficulty in breathing, and disproportionate emotional responses. In fact, as the vagus nerve is unable to activate the relaxation signal, the sympathetic nervous system keeps active, this will cause the person to respond impulsively and suffer from anxiety.

It is also curious that a study developed at the University of Miami found that the vagal tone is transmitted from mother to child. Women suffering from anxiety, depression or experiencing much anger during pregnancy had a lower vagal activity and their children also exhibited low vagal activity and lower levels of dopamine and serotonin.

Three Vagal Stimulation Techniques: How to Take Care of the Vagus Nerve?

The vagal tone is an internal biological process that represents the activity of the vagus nerve. The increase in vagal tone activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which means that we can relax more quickly after a stressful situation and this will have a positive impact on our emotional balance and on health in general.

Exist various vagus nerve stimulation techniques:

1. Exposure to cold

It has been seen that exposure to cold activates the vagus nerve because it stimulates the cholinergic neurons crossing these innervations. In fact, an investigation conducted at the University of Oulu has revealed that regular exposure to cold helps to reduce the fight-flight response that launches the sympathetic nervous system.

It can be enough a cold shower of 30 seconds a day or a cold towel on the face. There are also those who lie down on the belly putting a cube of ice on the nape. Others prefer to drink quickly a glass of cold water.

2. Diaphragmatic breathing

Most people inhale air between 10 and 14 times per minute, which means they have a superficial breathing. The ideal would be to inhale air 6 times per minute. Therefore, another very effective vagal stimulation technique consists in breathing deeply.

The diaphragmatic breathing in particular activates the vagus nerve and the brain interprets it as it is necessary to calm down, even if the nerve has not given that order specifically. The mechanism is the same for which, if you close your eyes and make taps with your fingers on your eyelids, you will perceive short flashes of light because the brain interprets them so.

With diaphragmatic breathing, we make a deeper breathing that brings air into the lower part of the chest, using the diaphragm correctly and promoting relaxation.

3. Meditation, yoga and tai-chi

Meditation can increase the vagal tone. This has been demonstrated by researchers of the Oregon University who have seen that only five days of mindfulness meditation promote positive feelings towards oneself that cause the vagus nerve activation, while modulating the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, a much better result than conventional relaxation techniques.

Even practices such as yoga and tai-chi are ideal for stimulating the vagus nerve. A study at Boston University has revealed that yoga increases GABA neurotransmitters, which promote the feeling of calm and serenity by helping to combat anxiety and stress. The tai-chi, on the other hand, is able to balance heart rate, which means it stimulates vagal modulation, according to researchers at the National Yang-Ming University School of Medicine.

Streeter, C. C. et. Al. (2012) Effects of yoga on the autonomic nervous system, gamma-aminobutyric-acid, and allostasis in epilepsy, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Medical Hypotheses; 78(5): 571-579.
Tang, Y. et. Al. (2009) Central and autonomic nervous system interaction is altered by short-term meditation. PNAS; 106(22): 8865–8870.
Mäkinen, T.M. et. Al. (2008) Autonomic nervous function during whole-body cold exposure before and after cold acclimation. Aviat Space Environ Med; 79(9): 875-882.
Fiel, T. et. Al. (2003) Pregnancy anxiety and comorbid depression and anger: Effects on the fetus and neonate. Depression and Anxiety; 17(3): 140–151.
Wan-an, L. & Cheng-Deng, K (2003) The Effect of Tai Chi Chuan on the Autonomic Nervous Modulation in Older Persons. Med Sci Sports Exerc; 35(12): 1972-1976."