The Vagus Nerve exerts a profound influence on the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary bodily functions such as heart rate, digestion, and respiratory rate. Specifically, the Vagus nerve is known to enable the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting a “rest and digest” response that counterbalances the sympathetic nervous system’s “fight or flight” mode. This activation is necessary to regulate heart rate, reduce stress, and enhance overall relaxation.

Moreover, the connection between the Vagus nerve and the immune system is a growing area of research. The Vagus nerve has been found to have a bidirectional relationship with the immune system,enabling the brain to communicate with immune cells and vice versa. This cross talk has significant implications for inflammation regulation, autoimmune diseases, and even mental health.

Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) has been explored and approved as a therapeutic intervention for various conditions, including epilepsy, depression, digestive disorders and chronic inflammatory conditions. By modulating Vagus nerve activity through electrical stimulation and lifestyle interventions, the immune-brain connection can be harnessed to improve health outcomes. This innovative and promising approach is advancing our understanding of how the nervous system, immune system, and brain interact and how we can leverage this knowledge to develop novel treatments for a wide range of health issues, in order to counterbalance the sympathetic nervous system’s “fight or flight” mode.

What is the Vagus nerve and where is it located?

“Vagus”is the Latin word for wandering. The Vagus nerve is the longest and most complex cranial nerve in your body, wandering from the brain to your abdomen.The left Vagus nerve travels down the left side of your body. The right Vagus nerve travels down the right side of your body. They exit from your medulla oblongata in the lower brainstem. Then, the nerves pass through or connect with the neck, chest/thorax, heart, lungs, abdomen and digestive tract.

What is the Vagus nerve's function?

Vagus nerves are part of the body’s nervous system. They play important roles in involuntary sensory and motor (movement) functions, including:

  • Digestion
  • Heart rate, blood pressure and respiration (breathing)
  • Immune system responses
  • Mood
  • Mucus and saliva production
  • Skin and muscle sensations
  • Speech
  • Taste
  • Urine output
Overview over the basic anatomy and functions of the Vagus nerve. (Front Psychiatry. 2012 Aug 7;3:70. Transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation: retrospective assessment of cardiac safety in a pilot study.)

Some might say it is your body’s natural superpower, since it plays a crucial role in many bodily functions, such as digestion, heart rate, immunity, and stress.

One of the essential functions of the Vagus nerve is to balance your nervous system. It does this by regulating your “fight or flight” and “rest and digest”responses within the sympathetic and parasympathetic areas of your nervous system.(1)

The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the "fight or flight"response and increases alertness, energy, heart rate, and more.

The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the "rest and digest" response, decreasing alertness, and blood pressure in addition to helping with calmness, relaxation, and digestion.

When the Vagus nerve is working properly, your body is in balance. However, when we feel stressed or anxious, this is a sign that our “fight or flight” response(sympathetic system) is overworked, and the “rest and digest” function(parasympathetic system) hasn’t been keeping up to re-balance the nervous system pro

How does Vagus nerve stimulation work?

When stimulating the Vagus nerve, it enhances the parasympathetic system, bringing back a state of balance to your nervous system, helping to regulate heart rate,blood pressure, and digestion, as well as uplifting serotonin and norepinephrine levels. Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter. Think of it as our body’s very own message carrier, which regulates mood, sleep, pain,appetite, and behavior.

Using a TENS device with one or two ear clips, we can stimulate the Vagus nerve, by activating the dorsal motor nucleus of the Vagus (DVN). DVN stimulation will activate the vagal motor outflow, which provides anti-inflammatory response in a variety of ways, including inhibition of TNF-α production in the intestine and spleen, and inhibition of IL-6 production in the liver. (2)

Ear-clip at the left cymba concha(Transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation (taVNS) for the treatment of pediatric nephrotic syndrome: a pilot study Kumail Merchant, Stavros Zanos, Timir Datta-Chaudhuri, Clifford S. Deutschman & Christine B. Sethna Bioelectronic Medicine volume 8, Article number: 1 (2022))


Do NOT use TENS if you use a cardiac device like a pacemaker or implanted defibrillator.

Only use TENS to your comfortable tolerance. This means that you should not make the signal stronger than is comfortable for you. It also means that you need to be mindful that TENS is a stimulation of sensations. Your brain feels the sensations, just as your brain feels all the other sensations you are aware of.In the case of TENS, the sensations are intended to have a specific targeted effect, so it’s possible for your brain to experience some fatigue, if you keep the stimulation going too long.

It is noteworthy that some patients may need support for the production of acetylcholine, since the impact of Vagus nerve motor activity occurs via synapses that are cholinergic.

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  1. The vagus nerve and the inflammatory reflex—linking immunity and metabolism,Pavlov, V. A. & Tracey, K. J. Nat. Rev. Endocrinol. 8, 743–754 (2012);doi:10.1038/nrendo.2012.189
  2. Merchant, K., Zanos, S., Datta-Chaudhuri, T. et al. Transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation (taVNS) for the treatment of pediatric nephrotic syndrome: a pilot study. Bioelectron Med 8, 1 (2022).
  3. Front Psychiatry. 2012 Aug 7;3:70. Transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation: retrospective assessment of cardiac safety in a pilot study.