Health & Fitness

The Economist: Think Yourself Well

Kristen Sparrow • December 08, 2012


Acupuncture Blog: Serenity, Longevity, Calm
Acupuncture Increases Vagal Tone too

The Economist weighing  in on a Heart Rate Variability Study (my area of research) looking at vagal tone, (stress levels) in meditators.  I wasn’t able to find the original article quickly, but what the Economist reports is that subjects with high vagal tone (low stress) find it easier to generate positive emotions and that, in turn, drives vagal tone higher (i.e. stress lower) in a positive feedback loop.
My own research shows that patients who respond to acupuncture show an increase in vagal tone during treatment. It could very well be that one criterion for “responding” to acupuncture is a relatively high vagal tone to begin with which then leads to the cascade of healing. I would also suggest that the dramatic results in treating, for example, anxiety, or allergies, with acupuncture is due to  kickstarting the whole healing cascade of providing a sense of well being, leading to fewer symptoms, leading to more well being.  I love seeing HRV and vagal tone being a subject of interest in the lay press.  More like this please!!

Think yourself well
Dec 8th 2012 | from the print edition
THE link between mind and body is terrain into which many medical researchers, fearing ridicule, dare not tread. But perhaps more should do so. For centuries, doctors have recognised the placebo effect, in which the illusion of treatment, such as pills without an active ingredient, produces real medical benefits. More recently, respectable research has demonstrated that those who frequently experience positive emotions live longer and healthier lives. They have fewer heart attacks, for example, and fewer colds too…
Dr Fredrickson and Dr Kok concentrated their attentions on the vagus nerve. This nerve… starts in the brain and runs, via numerous branches, to several thoracic and abdominal organs including the heart. Among its jobs is to send signals telling that organ to slow down during moments of calm and safety.
How effectively the vagus nerve is working can be tracked by monitoring someone’s heart rate as he breathes in and out. Healthy vagal function is reflected in a subtle increase in heart rate while breathing in and a subtle decrease while breathing out. The difference yields an index of vagal tone, and the value of this index is known to be connected with health. Low values are, for example, linked to inflammation and heart attacks...
Dr Fredrickson and Dr Kok discovered that vagal tone increased significantly in people who meditated, and hardly at all in those who did not. Among meditators, those who started the experiment with the highest vagal-tone scores reported the biggest increases in positive emotions. Meditators who started with particularly low scores showed virtually no such boost.
Taken as a whole, these findings suggest high vagal tone makes it easier to generate positive emotions and that this, in turn, drives vagal tone still higher. That is both literally and metaphorically a positive feedback loop. …