Did you know that the simple act of taking a deep breath and slowly exhaling can have a profound impact on your over health? We have all heard the advice of others when faced with adversity; “Take a breath!” Now, this may seem like a simple piece of advice, but what if I told you that doing so will actually lessen your anxiety, stress and most significantly, inflammation? Essentially, by doing this one simple action, you can become your own ‘drug dealer’ and deliver a dose of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter released into the blood stream, that will lower your heart rate, blood pressure, and most importantly, levels of cytokine proteins production. Cytokines have been found to induce typical symptoms of depression. Clinical and experimental studies indicate that stress and depression are associated with the up-regulation of the immune system, including increased production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Therefore, some cases of low mood, low energy, and lack of motivation may be due to elevated levels of cytokine proteins.
Something as simple as taking a few deep breaths can be beneficial to lowering inflammation, which in turn, leads to lowering painful symptoms and improvement of overall feelings of well-being.
The vagus nerve, also known as the ‘wandering’ nerve. Vagus means wandering in Latin. This nerve 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. The vagus nerve is the prime component of the parasympathetic nervous system which regulates the “rest-and-digest” or “tend-and-befriend” responses. On the flip side, to maintain homeostasis, the sympathetic nervous system drives the “fight-or-flight” response. 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.
Taking a deep breath followed by a slow exhale will stimulate the vagus nerve, therefore reducing “fight or flight” responses in the nervous system and lowering biological markers for stress as well as inflammation. In a time where we are overmedicated and there are dependencies on pain reliving drugs, scientist have successfully used vagal nerve stimulation implants on people with chronic pain. The results have shown to have significant impact on patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RH) and may have a larger impact on the treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis.
Recently, an international team of researchers from Amsterdam and the United States conducted a clinical trial which demonstrates that stimulating the vagus nerve with a small implanted device significantly reduced inflammation and improved outcomes for patients with rheumatoid arthritis by inhibiting cytokine production.
Kevin J. Tracey, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research and the person who discovered the inflammatory reflex, said,
“This is a real breakthrough in our ability to help people suffering from inflammatory diseases. While we’ve previously studied animal models of inflammation, until now we had no proof that electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve can indeed inhibit cytokine production and reduce disease severity in humans. I believe this study will change the way we see modern medicine, helping us understand that our nerves can, with a little help, make the drugs that we need to help our body heal itself.”
So, the next time life has you stressed or anxious, try taking a few deep breaths whenever time permits (we are talking seconds) and you will see an immediate change in your overall mood and outlook and therefore be better equipped to handle situations. The more frequently you find the time to do this, the better your overall well-being can be managed.