Could a nerve you’ve possibly never heard of be the key to calming chronic inflammation and easing pain?

What is the vagus nerve?

Vagus means ‘wandering’. The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body. It stems directly from the brain and connects to a host of organs including your gut, heart, liver,pancreas, gallbladder, kidney, spleen, lungs, ears and tongue.

The vagus nerve helps to monitor and regulate a range of body functions including:

  • Heart rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Digestion
  • Mood
  • Immune response (including inflammation)

What is chronic inflammation?

Inflammation helps your body to fight infections and heal injuries. However, if inflammation persists for a long time it can cause long-term damage. Chronic inflammation puts you at a greater risk of rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

How fit is your vagus nerve?

Just like a muscle, when the vagus nerve is working well, it’s said to have good ‘tone’. You can measure its tone through something called heart rate variability (HRV). Your heart speeds up a little when you inhale and slows down a little when you exhale. A larger difference between those speeds indicates that your vagus nerve has good tone and is associated with lower levels of inflammation and better resilience to stress.

Toning your vagus nerve

New research is now looking into how the electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve can treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, migraines, Parkinson’s disease and depression. In the meantime, there are plenty of natural ways to strengthen and tone your vagus nerve to help reduce inflammation and manage pain.

  • Deep, diaphragmatic breathing
  • Meditation
  • Relaxed movements like gentle yoga or tai chi
  • Singing, chanting and humming
  • Feeding your good gut bacteria with good quality probiotics and fibre
  • Laughing
  • Gentle to moderate exercise
  • Having a massage