The incredible vagus nerve

Cranial nerve linked to peace of mind, happiness

By David L. Podos

The Vagus nerve is the longest and most pervasive of all the 12 cranial nerves in the human body.

It is responsible for many physical functions and health, and in large part, to how we feel emotionally and psychologically.

According to Anna Hunt of Natural Blaze, some research indicates that a healthy vagus nerve is important to social bonding and empathy, as well as our ability to make complex decisions.

“Clearly, the vagus nerve plays a critical role in our bodies, hence it is also vital to our well-being. People with impaired vagal activity can suffer from depression, panic disorders, anxiety, mood swings and chronic fatigue. Physically, vagal imbalance can result in irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, heartburn, unhealthy heart rate, and chronic inflammation to name a few ailments,” mentions Hunt.

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Meditation can have a positive effect on the vagus nerve, according to the website Buddhism Weekly.

In meditation, rather than transmitting orders flowing from your brain to your body, the vagus nerve is instead taking some very strong suggestions from the body back to the brain.

And, nine times out of 10, the brain listens. By lowering your breathing rate through meditation, your nerve notes that things must be calm — you have no reason to be breathing hard and fast, and must therefore be able to relax.

Of course, science and medicine also recognize the importance of the vagus nerve and its implications on heath.

Jameel Arastu is a board-certified neurologist who graduated from medical school in India in 1980.

“I became a pediatrician first, then I went on to do neurology. After receiving my medical degree in neurology, I joined Slocum-Dickson Medical Group in New Hartford in 1995 and have been here ever since,”

Arastu said the vagus nerve as it is often called is also referred to as the vagabond nerve because it is a rather extensive nerve starting in the lower part of the brain, going through the neck, passing the heart and throat, and extending all the way down into the abdomen.

“So, if you look at its ramifications and the common things it does are, it controls your ability to swallow and to talk. It also has control of your heart, it tends to slow down the heart rate, and then it goes into the stomach, where it controls stomach movements and acid production so you don’t use as much acid,” he said. “Then, the nerve goes all the way down to the gut where it controls gut movement.”

Arastu mentions that disorders of the vagus nerve are not very common but can occur.

“For instance, it can happen if you have thyroid surgery. If you have neck surgery, there might be a possibility of damage to the nerve. What we do as neurologists is stimulate the nerve. This is called vagus nerve stimulation,” he said.

With nerve stimulation, for example, one of the things Arastu can do is help a patient minimize seizures.

A surgeon will perform surgery and place an implant just under the skin above the clavicle. That devise is programmable and Arastu has the technology to send small electrical impulses to the devise that stimulates the nerve.

“We also have a special magnet that we use that the patient wears on their wrist. The magnet is then placed over the implanted devise whenever a patient feels they might be having a seizure,” he noted. “This sends a mild electrical current into the devise and into the nerve, and helps the patient to prevent seizures.”

Remarkably, mystics believe that the vagus nerve is the intersection between our conscious and unconscious minds, the physical and the subtle bodies. Therefore, the vagus nerve may be the most relevant part of our physical body that relates to peace of mind and happiness.