While the science of transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation might not be a topic everyone wants to explore, the benefits of tVNS are undoubtedly worth considering. This innovative new technology is being used to help people suffering from a variety of conditions, including:
- Chronic pain
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
Further, it can provide numerous benefits for just about anyone, even if they aren’t suffering from one of these conditions. For example, boosting their mood, promoting their recovery, and improving their sleep.
Today, we’ll talk more about the aforementioned wellness benefits of tVNS as well as many others, so don’t miss the rest of this post!
What is tVNS?
tVNS is a treatment that involves stimulating the vagus nerve with electrical impulses. Rather than relying on surgical measures, tVNS is done through the skin, rather than under it or in the body. This is what makes it “transcutaneous.”
tVNS has been used to treat a variety of conditions, both chronic and acute. It is a non-invasive, safe, and well-tolerated treatment option with very few side effects.
The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body and extends from the brainstem to the abdomen. It plays a vital role in many bodily functions, including:
- Heart rate
- Immune response
How Does tVNS Work?
Now that we know a little more about tVNS, let’s take a look at how it works. As we mentioned, tVNS is a transcutaneous (through the skin) vagus nerve stimulator. It sends electrical impulses to the vagus nerve, which can, in turn, tone the vagus nerve.
A lack of vagal tone is associated with a number of conditions, including the ones we mentioned at the beginning of this article, such as Alzheimer’s.
However, by stimulating the vagus nerve with electrical impulses, tVNS can help to increase its tone and, as a result, improve many of these conditions.
tVNS can modulate the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is responsible for involuntary bodily functions, such as heart rate and digestion. It consists of two parts: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
The SNS is responsible for the “fight-or-flight” response and is activated in times of stress. On the other hand, the PNS is responsible for the “rest-and-digest” response and is activated when the body is at rest.
tVNS helps activate the PNS and, as a result, decreases the SNS’s activity. This can help to reduce stress and promote relaxation.
What Are the Benefits of tVNS?
Next, let’s take a look at some of the potential benefits of this treatment.
Chronic Pain Relief
One of the most well-known benefits of tVNS is its ability to relieve or minimize chronic pain. When the vagus nerve is stimulated, it can help to release pain-reducing chemicals, such as serotonin and norepinephrine.
tVNS has been found to be an effective treatment for a variety of chronic pain conditions, including:
- Neuropathic pain
- Arthritis pain
- Chronic low back pain
- Postoperative pain
A meta-analysis of tVNS for the treatment of chronic migraine found that it was an effective and well-tolerated treatment option. In addition, the study found that tVNS was associated with a significant reduction in the number of headache days per month as well as the intensity of headaches.
Another study looked at the use of tVNS for the treatment of chronic low back pain. The study found that tVNS was associated with a significant reduction in pain intensity and improved quality of life.
Mental Health Benefits
Along with pain relief, tVNS is touted for its ability to improve mental health. This is because tVNS can help to modulate the autonomic nervous system (ANS), as we mentioned earlier.
By stimulating the vagus nerve, tVNS can help to decrease the activity of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and, as a result, reduce stress. This can help improve conditions like anxiety and depression.
Even for those who aren’t diagnosed with mental health conditions, transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation can promote an overall brighter mood.
This particular 2018 study looked at the use of tVNS for the treatment of major depressive disorder. The study found that tVNS was associated with a significant reduction in depression symptoms, including feelings of hopelessness, and improved quality of life.
Another study looked at the use of tVNS to treat anxiety disorders. The study found that tVNS was an effective and well-tolerated treatment option for anxiety disorders.
The vagus nerve plays an integral role in digestion. It is responsible for many of the involuntary functions that occur during digestion, such as stomach contractions and the production of digestive juices.
Because tVNS can help to stimulate the vagus nerve, it can also help improve digestive function. This includes improving symptoms of conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Improved Athletic Performance
Many athletes are beginning to incorporate tVNS into their training routines in order to help enhance recovery and improve their performance because it can help release pain-reducing chemicals and improve blood flow, among other benefits.
Even for those of us who aren’t necessarily professional athletes but still want to improve our athletic performance, VNS can prove beneficial.
As this report shares: “Recent evidence obtained in experimental studies using the latest advances in molecular neuroscience, combined with human exercise physiology, physiological modeling, and genomic data suggest that the strength of cardiac vagal activity causally determines our ability to exercise.”
Finally, another wellness benefit of tVNS is its ability to improve executive function. Executive function refers to the cognitive processes that help us plan, organize, and complete tasks.
One study looked at the use of tVNS for the treatment of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The study found that tVNS was an effective and well-tolerated treatment option for ADHD. The study also found that tVNS was associated with a significant improvement in executive function.
Another study looked at the use of tVNS to treat age-related cognitive decline. The study found that tVNS was associated with a significant improvement in measures of executive function.
As you can see, many potential wellness benefits are associated with tVNS. If you’re interested in trying tVNS for yourself, consult a qualified healthcare professional to see if it’s right for you.