Vagus Nerve Stimulation:
A Deeper Dive
The Autonomic Nervous System
However, there’s another part of your nervous system that works behind the scenes to regulate functions that you don’t consciously control. This is known as the autonomic nervous system (ANS).
What is the Autonomic Nervous System?
The autonomic nervous system is further divided into two primary parts: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
Sympathetic Nervous System
Ready for Action
Think of the sympathetic nervous system as the ‘fight or flight’ manager. It prepares your body to respond to emergencies or vigorous activity. When the SNS is activated, your heart rate speeds up, your pupils dilate, and your body releases adrenaline to help you react quickly. It’s like the alarm system that gets your body ready to face danger or tackle physical challenges.
Parasympathetic Nervous System
Rest and Relax
On the other side of the coin, the parasympathetic nervous system is like the ‘rest and digest’ caretaker. It takes over once the perceived danger has passed, helping your body calm down and return to a relaxed state. It slows your heart rate, aids digestion, and allows your body to recover and repair. The PNS can be seen as the ‘chill-out’ system that promotes relaxation and rejuvenation.
One important player in the autonomic nervous system is the vagus nerve. It is the longest cranial nerve, and it plays a key role in the parasympathetic nervous system. The vagus nerve carries signals between the brain and vital organs like the heart and lungs, helping regulate their automatic functions. This nerve is like the main road connecting different parts of the ANS ‘city,’ ensuring everything runs smoothly.
Vagus Nerve Stimulation Research & History
1. History of Vagus Nerve Stimulation Research
The study of vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) has come a long way since its early stages, progressing from rudimentary observations to sophisticated therapeutic applications.
2. Early Discoveries
3. Birth of VNS Therapy
The development of VNS as a therapy moved quickly. By 1997, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had approved a VNS device for treating epilepsy. This device, made by Cyberonics (now LivaNova), was implanted in the chest and sent regular electrical impulses to the vagus nerve via a lead in the neck.
4. Expanding Applications
The potential applications for VNS continued to expand, with researchers investigating its use for a variety of conditions, such as chronic pain, obesity, migraines, and even Alzheimer’s disease. Many of these studies are still ongoing.
5. Recent Advances
In the 2020s, companies like the ultrasound neuromodulation company behind the Zenbud began exploring ultrasound technology as a means of stimulating the vagus nerve. This non-invasive approach avoids the need for surgical implantation and can be administered more easily and comfortably.