Health & Fitness

The Vagus Nerve Can Predict and Possibly Modulate Non-Communicable Chronic Diseases: Introducing a Neuroimmunological Paradigm to Public Health

Kristen Sparrow • November 26, 2018

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This is a paper calling for monitoring of HRV and using neurostimulation for prevention of “non-communicable diseases”  ie cancer, heart disease, and other chronic non-infectious conditions.  It’s a combined effort of French, Belgian, and US researchers.

I’m still picking my way through, but wanted to make this available to readers.  It comes at a good time since I’m having difficulty with data right now.  I want it to paint a beautiful, clear picture, but alas it doesn’t always cooperate.

I found this article in looking for the research behind inflammation and HRV.  In my previous blog post, inflammation was one of the main culprits in Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline.  I am convinced that acupuncture, and perhaps TAVNS (transcutaneous auricular vagal nerve stimulation) decrease inflammation and increase resilience.  But I need to be able to show it beyond all doubt for my work to get any traction at all.

With this article, as with any article making sweeping claims, my skeptic’s hat is firmly on.  But, still, I’m heartened that another group is as interested in the potential for HRV and noninvasive vagal nerve stimulation (TAVNS or acupuncture) for public health prevention.

The authors make the point that three key aspects of chronic disease, sympathetic overdrive, oxidative stress, and inflammation are all directly related to vagal nerve activity. One aspect of this relationship I was not aware of , is that improved HRV also improves the four aspects of cognitive function. In so doing, it can actually help boost a healthy lifestyle by enabling the ability to change behavior patterns.

“Importantly, vagus nerve activity, indexed by HRV, is positively related to executive functioning []. Executive functioning is an overarching neurocognitive construct which includes self-regulation, inhibition, memory and problem-solving. Executive functioning is inversely relate to and can modulate risk factors such as smoking, unhealthy diets and sedentary behaviors []. Furthermore, high executive functioning increases the association between intentions to adopt healthy behaviors and their actual adoption []. Thus, potentially, by increasing vagus nerve activity, behavioral risk factors of diseases may be diminished as well, via increased executive functioning. Furthermore, transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS) led to reduced activity in limbic brain regions [], and recently also to increases in the anterior cingulate and the left prefrontal cortex []. Together, this pattern may suggest that tVNS increases executive control and emotional regulation, possibly relevant to ‘emotional eating’ and to greater frontal control of GBD behavioral risk factors in general.”