HRV and Brain Immune Response

Kristen Sparrow • March 10, 2014

San Francisco Acupuncture for Stress, Depression and AnxietyPatients receiving ongoing acupuncture treatment repeatedly report a sense of higher “resilience.”  What that means, is a sense of being better able to handle stresses that life deals them.  This phenomenon is a subtle but very real outcome during acupuncture treatment.
This study is part of the background for my approach to studying HRV in conjunction with acupuncture.  Vagal nerve enhancement (the “rest and digest” arm of the nervous system),  is key to some of acupuncture’s effects.  This vagal nerve enhancement is involved with immune response so may be partly responsible for acupuncture’s effect on allergies and other autoimmune conditions.
This study underlines the fact that people with higher vagal activity, ie less overall stress in their systems, respond in a more resilient fashion to further stress.
J Neuroimmunol. 2013 Jul 15;260(1-2):28-36. doi: 10.1016/j.jneuroim.2013.04.011. Epub  2013 May 14.

Vagal nerve activity as a moderator of brain-immune relationships.

  • Department of Psychology, Nagoya University, Furo-cho, Chikusa-ku, Nagoya 464-8601, Japan.
We investigated whether vagal tone, as assessed by heart rate variability (HRV), moderates the neural correlates of immune and physiological responses to acute stress. Participants with low and high baseline HRV underwent a reversal learning task as an acute stressor. Natural killer cells, norepinephrine, and adrenocorticotropic hormone in peripheral blood changed with acute stress in the high HRV group only. Activity in the prefrontal cortex and striatum correlated with the immune and physiological indices in the high HRV group. High vagal tone may reflect more flexible top-down brain regulation of immune and physiological activity.