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The vagus nerve is an extremely interesting structure. Much more than just a passive wire or cable, its afferent (sensory) and efferent (motor) neurons work together to actively regulate a long list of processes that span the boundary between the brain and body, biology and psychology, and health and dysfunction. And, since we can stimulate the vagus nerve with the right kinds of touch, could hands-on work benefi cially affect the vagus's function? THE INFLUENTIAL VAGUS NERVE Some of the many ways the vagus (or cranial nerve X) actively infl uences our well-being include: Stress Resilience and Recovery When your vagus nerve senses stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, the motor neurons in its wide-reaching branches (Image 1) release neurotransmitters like acetylcholine (which was originally called "Vagusstoff," or vagus-substance) and hormones like oxytocin, which dampen the sympathetic activation and help you recover more quickly from stress. 94 m a s s a g e & b o d y w o r k n o v e m b e r / d e c e m b e r 2 0 1 7 technique MYOFASCIAL TECHNIQUES Working with the Vagus Nerve By Til Luchau Infl ammatory and Immune Control The vagus inhibits infl ammation by releasing anti-infl ammatory neurotransmitters when it detects infl ammatory markers like cytokines or tumor necrosis factor (TNF). 1 When unchecked, these are involved in autoimmune conditions (such as rheumatoid arthritis), chronic pain, and more. Mood Regulation The vagus is the major communicator between the brain and the enteric nervous system—the rich neurology of your viscera. Your guts, with more than 100 million neurons, 30 neurotransmitters, and 95 percent of your body's serotonin, send large quantities of information to the brain via the vagus nerve's afferent fi bers; this sets the mood or emotional backdrop for our brain's mental processes. 2 Vagal tone (a measure of the vagus's responsiveness and its effects on the heart) has been correlated with organ-based conditions like heart disease and diabetes, as well as better emotional regulation and less anxiousness. VAGAL STIMULATION Vagal nerve stimulation (V NS) involves implanting a pacemaker-like device to excite the vagus via an electrode wrapped around it in the neck. Though somewhat drastic- sounding, V NS has long been approved for treating a list of conditions including epilepsy, headaches, and treatment-resistant depression, and is being studied for use in an even broader range of complaints, including anxiety disorders, Alzheimer's, migraines, fi bromyalgia, obesity, and tinnitus. V NS might offer welcome options, especially in diffi cult cases. However, not everyone responds to V NS; there are clear risks (including infection); and the long- term side effects of V NS are unknown. 3 Of course, there are other, less invasive and less risky ways to elicit the vagus nerve's benefi cial effects. These include controlled breathing (especially longer exhalation); meditation; moving and relaxing the tongue, as well as singing, humming, and speaking (since the tongue and larynx are innervated by the vagus); animated conversation (since The vagus nerve (yellow) is the body's main parasympathetic (rest and repair) structure. As the primary pathway between the brain and viscera's rich neuronal network (the enteric nervous system), it plays a crucial role in mood regulation, immune function, heart rate, and stress recovery. Redrawn from De Witt; courtesy 1 Stomach Kidney Small Intestine Large Intestine Liver Heart Lung

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