Vagus Nerves and Inflammation

Although chronic inflammation progresses silently, it is the cause of most chronic diseases and presents a major threat to the health and longevity of individuals. Inflammation is considered a major contributor to several diseases, such as:

Cardiovascular diseases
Diabetes
Rheumatoid Arthritis
Cancer
Allergic Asthma
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Alzheimers
Chronic Kidney Disease
Inflammatory Bowel Disease

This information comes from this NCBI article, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/  As does the following information:

Risk factors for chronic systemic inflammation include age, obesity, diet, smoking, low sex hormones, stress, and sleeping disorders.  One of the things that strikes me about this list is that there are several things here we cannot avoid no matter our lifestyle.


For example, age.  The alternative to aging of course if death.  So, if we are alive to have chronic inflammation then we are aging.

Low sex hormones.  Well, there are only a couple of options when our estrogen or testosterone decrease, a natural process of aging.  One would be to do nothing, the other is to take hormones, which can have interesting side effects and, depending on how the hormones you take in are made, may cause inflammation.

Stress.  Well, sometimes this is controllable and sometimes it simply is not.  Many of us are dealing with stressful co-workers or family members, stressful jobs or bosses, aging parents or children.  The only way to have low stress is to have limited contact with people, but studies show we are social creatures and do not do well without socialization with other people.  And there is that money thing.  We must make money to live.  This alone can cause most people a fair amount of stress.

Sleeping.  If only there was a magic way to always get a restful nights sleep.  But, for many of us, this is also not controllable.  I will give you a personal example.  I just returned from teaching in Pittsburgh.  My flight to Pittsburgh on Thursday left Denver at 6:45 am.  My husband, who was flying to Wilmington to assist Kathy with a class, had a 5:08 am flight and wanted me to go to the airport with him.  So, after getting everything done on Wednesday night, I fell asleep about 9:30 pm and got up at 2:45 am, about 5 hours of sleep.  The hotel I was in for the next 3 nights had a hard, hard bed that I did not sleep well in.  So, about 5 hours of sleep each of those 3 nights.  Sunday night, we were in a different hotel, and I finally had a soft, cozy bed.  I fell asleep around 9:30.  The hotel fire alarm went off at 1:10 am.  We had to leave for the airport at 4 am, so I did not get much sleep after that.  Sleep is not always controllable.

If a person has several of just these factors, maybe age (over 50), lowered sex hormones, and lack of sleep, we can see how that would lead to systemic inflammation.  Put weight and diet with this and we have chronic systemic inflammation.

So, what can be done?  Particularly with the factors that we cannot control?  Many of the risk factors above effect the tone of the vagus nerves.  The vagus nerves are integral to controlling inflammation in the body.  Lowered vagal tone can be caused by several factors, two of which are increased sympathetic nervous system output (as we might see in someone with chronic high levels of stress) and a lifestyle that does not stimulate the vagus nerves (i.e. shallow breathing, lack of sleep, menopause, age, diet, etc.).

One of the ways to increase vagal tone – which happens when the parasympathetic nervous system output increases, which decreases both the sympathetic nervous system output and systemic inflammation, as well as increasing digestion, which allows us to absorb nutrients, feed our cells, and lower physical stress – is by taking deep breaths with long exhalations.  Exhaling stimulates the vagus nerves.

Other things that stimulate the vagus nerves are listed in this article, https://www.thecut.com/2019/05/i-now-suspect-the-vagus-nerve-is-the-key-to-well-being.html?fbclid=IwAR3csBOL0ed50LDNXJIVk7cC_CGc8uRtUx9EIeO5u2fBigfEd1drnxFDZvM

“Some other practices believed to improve vagal tone (beyond deep, slow breathing) include laughing, singing, humming, yoga, acupuncture, and splashing the face with cold water — or having a full-body cold rinse. (Stimulation of the vagus nerve, both manually and with electricity, has also been used to control seizures in epilepsy patients, reduce inflammation, and treat clinical depression.)”

Not mentioned in this article is getting a massage, but it should be.  Massage has the ability to be highly stimulating to the vagus nerve, and SMRT, in particular, stimulates vagal nerve output in every session.  One of the ways we know this is increased urination after an SMRT session.  Therapists in SMRT classes remark on how often they have to urinate during class, saying “I have never had this happen in a class before.”  Clients remark on how often they have to urinate after an SMRT session.  I myself, when I have SMRT work done, consistently feel like my bladder is fuller than it has ever been after the session.

Enjoy the articles referenced above, breath deeply, exhale fully, hum to yourself, and above all else get SMRT work done as often as possible!

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