Stimulating the vagus nerve can help lessen symptoms of depression. In fact, recent studies demonstrate that vagus nerve stimulation “can significantly reduce multiple symptoms of depression, including anxiety, sleep disturbance, and hopelessness.”
How is the Vagus Nerve Connected to Depression?
The vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve in the body, helps the body maintain homeostasis by regulating the function of various organs, glands, and involuntary muscles throughout the body
The vagus nerve starts in the brainstem, just behind the ears on the mastoid bone, and travels down each side of the neck, across the chest and down through the abdomen, connecting the brain with the stomach and digestive tract, the lungs, heart, spleen, intestines, liver and kidneys, as well as the nerves involved in speech, eye contact, facial expressions and the ability to tune in to other people’s voices.
It is made primarily of sensory fibers, allowing it to serve as a two-way messenger, passing electrochemical signals between the organs and the brain that keep our bodies healthy.
More specifically, the vagus nerve is a mixed nerve, composed of 20% “efferent” fibers (sending signals from the brain to the body) and 80% “afferent” (sensory) fibers (carrying information from the body to the brain). As such, it serves as the on/off switch between the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system (ANS).
In addition to playing a critical role in the parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system, the vagus nerve helps reset the immune system, switch off production of proteins that fuel inflammation and might help modulate the relationship between depression, inflammation, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease.
How Stimulating the Vagus Helps Treat Depression
Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) refers to any technique that stimulates the vagus nerve, including manual or electrical stimulation. Electrical VNS studies were conducted during the 1930s and 1940s to understand the influence of the ANS on modulating brain activity.
A growing body of evidence has shown that depression is associated with structural and functional abnormalities in multiple brain regions involved in emotional processing, self-representation, reward, and external stimulus like stress. In fact, research suggests that stress and inflammation initiate cognitive, affective, and possibly biological processes that increase risk for depression.
Stimulating the vagus nerve helps to modulate the activity and connectivity of key brain regions involved in depression and mood regulation; like inhibiting neuro-inflammatory sensitization; modulating hippocampal neurogenesis; and regulating the microbiome–brain–gut axis. There is also some research that vagus nerve stimulation can also support conditions that are comorbid with depression, including chronic pain disorders, cardiovascular disorder, and autism.
Since the vagus nerve connects the brain and the body, it can help modulate the inflammation system through the HPA Axis and the immune system.
Essential Oils for Depression
There are vagus stimulation devices that can be surgically implanted which have been officially approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to support depression along with epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, migraines and Alzheimer’s disease.
Essential oils offer a non-invasive tool for naturally stimulating the vagus nerve. Applying our stimulatory Parasympathetic™ blend behind the earlobe on the mastoid bone helps to trigger the parasympathetic rest and digest response. Formulated from a synergistic combination of Clove, which is highly stimulatory combined with Lime oil which has super small molecules. The combination of these two oils creates a blend that is super stimulatory and very easily accessible through the skin and olfactory channels and serves as a far less invasive method for stimulating the vagus nerve. In addition, research has demonstrated that citrus oils, like Lime, have been clinically proven to normalize “neuroendocrine hormone levels and immune function,” and were found to be “more effective than antidepressants.”
Research has shown strong decrease in inflammatory symptoms from stimulation of three minutes a day. We recommend applying the Parasympathetic™ blend to vagus nerve three times daily (ideally before meals).
The research also found that vagus nerve stimulation seems to restore the body’s natural balance. It reduces the over-production of the chemical messenger that causes chronic inflammation but does not affect healthy immune function, so the body can respond normally to infection.
Many thanks for this guest blog by Vibrant Blue Oils
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