Unchecked inflammation is a common feature of most illnesses. I’m going to share a simple and fascinating way to combat unchecked inflammation in a second, but first some background.
Inflammation is regulated by cytokines—tiny immune chemicals that turn inflammation up or down. They keep us healthy in moderation but create serious organ damage and even death when they surge out of control. Nobody knows exactly what makes this happen, but one factor that might be at play?
The Vagus Nerve
The vagus nerve is actually a network of nerves that connects the brain to the immune system, heart, lungs, gut, and other organs. It governs parasympathetic activity, meaning that it balances out the fight-or-flight response and puts the brakes on stress.
The vagus nerve also calms inflammation.
Here’s the fascinating bit that I promised I’d get to. 2 new case reports showed that stimulating the vagus nerve quickly and noticeably improved breathing problems in patients with COVID-19. (granted, these were case studies and not clinical trials, so time will tell if the results can be repeated).
The patients used a hand-held device (called gammaCore) to provide electrical stimulation to the vagus nerve. To be clear, I’m not advocating that everyone rush out and get one of these gammaCore devices. You do need a prescription, and they’re not cheap.
What I am advocating is that we take the power of the vagus nerve seriously and be proactive to support our vagal nerve tone every day.
Here’s why, if the parasympathetic nervous system is not working properly, inflammation can stick around and become chronic which opens the door to health problems.
Symptoms of Chronic Inflammation
Common symptoms of chronic inflammation may include the following conditions (as well as many others not listed here):
- Susceptibility to infections
- Acid reflux
- Skin conditions
- Chronic pain
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Urinary tract infections
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Because if you look at just about any medical condition that’s made worse by stress or inflammation—from arthritis to inflammatory bowel disease—you’ll find research to show that vagus nerve stimulation is beneficial.
There are lots of ways to stimulate the vagus nerve:
- Breathe deeply
- Reach your hands to the sky and stretch
- Give a bear hug
- Do yoga
Make these activities a part of your everyday routine to support your immunity. Why? Because your immune system does not work in isolation. It’s connected to your brain, your stress responses, and all organs of your body.
Tell me—what else do you know about the vagus nerve? What’s your favorite vagus nerve exercise?
Staats P, Giannakopoulos G, Blake J, Liebler E, Levy RM. The Use of Non-invasive Vagus Nerve Stimulation to Treat Respiratory Symptoms Associated With COVID-19: A Theoretical Hypothesis and Early Clinical Experience. Neuromodulation. 2020; 23: 784-788. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32342609/
GammaCore website: https://www.gammacore.com/