Inflammatory responses play a central role in the development and persistence of many diseases and can lead to debilitating chronic pain. In many cases, inflammation is your body’s response to stress. Therefore, reducing “fight-or-flight” responses in the nervous system and lowering biological markers for stress can also reduce inflammation. Another way to combat inflammation is by engaging the vagus nerve and improving “vagal tone.”
The vagus nerve is known as the “wandering nerve” because it has multiple branches that diverge from two thick stems rooted in the cerebellum and brainstem that wander to the lowest viscera of your abdomen touching your heart and most major organs along the way. In 1921, a German physiologist named Otto Loewi discovered that stimulating the vagus nerve caused a reduction in heart rate by triggering the release of a substance he coined Vagusstoff (German for “Vagus Substance”). The “vagus substance” was later identified as acetylcholine and became the first neurotransmitter ever identified by scientists.
The vagus nerve is the prime component of the parasympathetic nervous system which regulates the “rest-and-digest” A higher vagal tone index is linked to physical and psychological well-being. Conversely, a low vagal tone index is associated with inflammation, depression, negative moods, loneliness, heart attacks, and stroke.