Vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve (largest nerve of the body) which has mixed functions (both sensory and motor).
Sensory functions of the vagus nerve include:
Signaling the details of sound, taste, sight, and smell from the body to the brain.
Whereas motor functions are:
Control of different glands and muscles of the body.
Vagal tone refers to a parasympathetic activity (branch of the autonomic nervous system) of the nerve inducing relaxational effects by:
Conservation of energy
Slowing down of heart rate
Relaxation of muscles in GIT (gastrointestinal tract)
Increasing the activity of glands and intestines.
Effects of vagal tone:
Vagal tone is very crucial to body functioning and health. Vagal tone is thought to be predictive of body’s adaptive mechanism and equilibrium of recovery after undergoing any stressful incident.
Increased vagal tone helps in improvement of functions related to systems of the body by:
Reducing the risk of cerebrovascular accidents (stroke)
Reducing the risk of heart attack
Regulating the levels of blood sugar
By producing a calming or contented feeling in the body
Whereas, decreased or vagal tone below normal can lead to:
Diseases of the cardiovascular system
Lethargy and fatigue (chronic)
Psychological problems (depression or anxiety)
How to tone vagus nerve?
According to the research conducted by (Breit, Kupferberg, et al. 2018), stimulation of vagal tone has found to be effective in:
Treatment of persistent and recurrent depression
PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder)
IBD (Inflammatory bowel disease).
There is evidence of multiple ways to stimulate vagal tone, but most efficient ways to increase vagal tone are:
Reducing the effects of emotional or mental trauma on gut
Promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety
Reducing the inflammation of gut naturally with an adequate diet
Reducing the effects of emotional or mental trauma on gut:
According to the research (Breit, Kupferberg, et al. 2018), “brain-gut axis” (a bi-directional connection between the gut or enteric nervous system and central nervous system) has become an efficient and crucial intervention for psychological and emotional traumas.
According to (Stam, Akkermans, et al. 1997), the response of gastrointestinal motility to stressful external or internal stimuli, and emotional or psychiatric disorders can produce functional GIT disorders, which may include:
abdominal disorders and pain
inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD).
Vagus nerve acts as a modulator for psychological disorders by regulating the brain-gut axis. According to the concept of this modulation, if measures to manage psychological disturbances are taken, they can, in turn, stimulate the vagal nerve. Stimulation of the vagus nerve will increase vagal tone, which can consequently decrease psychiatric and emotional symptoms.
Promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety:
By studies in literature, anxiety is found to be correlated with low vagal tone.
An interesting fact about low vagal tone is that mothers who are depressed can transfer their decreased vagal tone to their offspring.
Increase in vagal tone stimulates parasympathetic activity, while higher vagal tone refers to the body’s faster relaxation after encountering stress.
Different ways to decrease anxiety and stimulate vagus nerve are:
Exposure to cold
Immediate exposure to cold water has been found to be effective inactivation of the vagus nerve and lowering of sympathetic activity (fight and flight activity).
Slow and deep breathing
Pursed lip breathing or diaphragmatic breathing patterns are found to be operative in decreasing anxiety.
A guideline to adapt this breathing pattern is:
Take deep breaths from the diaphragm
Exhale slowly as if blowing a candle
Take 6 breaths per minute
Repeat 10 to 15 times.
The most effective and essential effects of meditation are:
positivity of emotions
goodwill towards others and even to one’s self
these effects drastically help in the reduction of anxiety.
Exercise decreases the levels of cortisol (stress hormone) inside the body and improves the production of serotonin, which prevents an individual from getting entrapped in depressive and anxious symptoms.
Most recommended exercise for anxiety reduction is Yoga but other than different yoga exercises can be taken into a routine with proper guidelines:
Walking (daily 30 to 60 minutes)
Heavy weight lifting (1 to 4 times every week)
High-intensity sprinting (1 to 2 times/week).
Positive communication, interaction, laughing, and socializing can stimulate and increase vagal tone, which in turn can induce positive effects in one’s life, leading to improved quality of life.
Massage therapy is another effective alternative intervention by inducing the effect of relaxation. Most appropriate massages for vagal nerve stimulation include:
Foot massage (reflexology-refers to pressure points stimulation)
Slight massage of the carotid sinus (located on the right side of the throat).
Singing and chanting
As vagus nerve is directly connected to throat muscles and vocal cords, therefore, singing and chanting can directly stimulate the vagus nerve.
Gargling with water is another effective way to stimulate the vagus nerve and increase vagal tone.
A technique of breathing in through nostrils and exhaling slowly.
Reducing the inflammation of gut naturally with an adequate diet:
Anti-inflammatory diet and foods recommended to reduce inflammation of gut naturally are:
Deep colored fruits or berries as cherries and grapes
Vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, and kale
Omega-3 fatty acids
Use coconut oil or olive oil
Try to avoid fresh or citrus fruits which may induce stool
Avoid dairy products and nuts
Take nutrients in appropriate portions
Include fish (sardines, mackerel, salmon, and tuna) in the diet.
Vagus nerve is the largest cranial nerve of the body, supplying muscles and organs. The tone of the vagus nerve is the parasympathetic activity, which refers to the relaxation of the body systems. Increased vagal tone helps in coping with emotional, mental, or psychiatric disorders. In different ways to stimulate the vagus nerve, consists of relaxation techniques for anxiety and depression, social interaction, positive emotions, talking, chanting, and singing for direct stimulation of the vagus nerve. By stimulation of the vagus nerve, the body signals the mind to de-stress and relax, leading to resilience, wellbeing, and improvement of behaviors and mood.