The Role of Fascia in Vagus Nerve Dysfunction

by Jodi Cohen

Your vagus nerve – like all tissues and nerves in your body –  is enclosed in fascia.

Any adhesions in the fascia can compress the vagus nerve, impacting its function and contributing to vagus nerve dysfunction symptoms.

Along with vagus nerve toxicity, physical compression of the vagus nerve from fascia restriction can contribute to vagus nerve dysfunction.

 

What is Vagus Nerve Dysfunction?

Your vagus nerve serves as the primary communicator between your brain, cardiovascular, immune, respiratory, endocrine and digestive systems, conveying information to the major organs in your body including your stomach, gut, liver, gall bladder, pancreas, lungs, throat, and heart.

As such, your Vagus Nerve controls nearly every major function in the body  – including hormones, digestion, sleep, energy, stress, relaxation, sexual function, heart rate and blood pressure.  Most importantly, it activates the parasympathetic “rest and digest” branch of your nervous system and calms your sympathetic “fight or flight” response to danger.

Any interference in the vagus nerve’s ability to communicate or drop into the healing parasympathetic state – from infection, inflammation, physical compression or psychological stress — can contribute to physical and mental health consequences that present as vagus nerve dysfunction.

READ THIS NEXT: Vagus Nerve Infection

 

Symptoms of Vagus Nerve Dysfunction

Since your vagus nerve plays a key role in regulating a diverse array of neuronal communication impacting a wide range of functions in your body and your brain, symptoms associated with vagus nerve dysfunction affect many organs and systems in your body.

In other words, the “suffering” effect of an organ or region of the brain  deprived of proper nerve communication manifests as a “symptom.”  It should also be noted that over 70% of the vagus nerve fibers carry sensory information back to the brain, its activity can have strong psychological effects, like anxiety, depression and other mood related issues. Vagus nerve dysfunction can present as symptoms like:

Cognitive Function: As the vagal nerve enters the brain, it merges with a part of the brain stem, which is in turn linked to many cognitive networks in the brain.  Your vagus nerve releases the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine which plays a key role in memory, attention, and learning.  Acetylcholine activates and inhibits communication between different brain regions to properly store information and consolidate memories.  Poor vagus nerve function has  been linked to difficulties in learning, poor memory, and concentration problems.

Acetylcholine can both excite and inhibit brain function, by speeding up or slowing down nerve signals.  In your central nervous system (i.e. your brain), acetylcholine is mainly excitatory, allowing your neurons to communicate so you can think clearly, learn new information and form new memories.  Cognitive enhancing drugs, known as nootropics, actually work by stimulating the acetylcholine receptors found within the brain.

Inflammation:  The inflammatory reflex is a mechanism under the control of the vagus nerve.  When the vagus nerve senses inflammatory cytokines it alerts the brain to suppress inflammation via the cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway.  Stimulating the vagus nerve blocked inflammation elsewhere in the body by inhibiting macrophage activation. Macrophages exposed to acetylcholine – which is main parasympathetic neurotransmitter – are disarmed.

Gut Health: The vagus nerve connects the brain to the gut. Consequently, vagus nerve dysfunction causes gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea, heartburn, stomach pain, constipation, stomach cramps, acid reflux, IBS, SIBO, Crohns or any of the symptoms associated with gastroparesis (delayed gastric emptying) which then contributes to other gut problems by encouraging dysbiosis.

The vagus nerve increases stomach acidity, gut motility, including peristalsis – a rhythmic contraction and relaxation of the intestinal muscles pushes food into the small intestine for additional digestion) and digestive juices.

Anxiety: Healthy vagus nerve function helps to offset anxiety.  When functioning properly, the vagus nerve opposes the sympathetic, fight-or-flight response and helps to inhibit anxiety, according to research which found that – when stimulated, your vagus nerve releases anti-anxiety chemicals that contribute to faster recovery time from illness, injury, stress, and emotional trauma. Vagus nerve dysfunction leaves the sympathetic response unopposed leading to hyperarousal and anxiety.

Research titled “Fear and anxiety take a double hit from vagal nerve stimulation” documents how activating your parasympathetic nervous system via vagus nerve stimulation helps to quell anxiety and fear.  What’s more, when stimulated, your vagus nerve releases the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine which calms anxiety by relaxing the smooth muscles in your artery walls, dilating the arteries, and slowing your heartbeat. It also may enhance memory consolidation and enhancement which may help with the processing of fear memories, which helps inhibit exaggerated fear expression, like anxiety.

Depression: Vagus nerve dysfunction disrupts mood and can contribute to depression.  A growing body of evidence has shown that depression is associated with structural and functional abnormalities in multiple brain regions involved in emotional processing, self-representation, reward, and external stimulus like stress.  Research suggests that stress and inflammation initiate cognitive, affective, and possibly biological processes that increase risk for depression. Stimulating the vagus nerve can help lessen symptoms of depression. In fact, recent studies demonstrate that vagus nerve stimulation “can significantly reduce multiple symptoms of depression, including anxiety, sleep disturbance, and hopelessness.”

Conversely, vagus nerve activity has an antidepressant effect. It normalizes the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis – which is often out of whack when depression is present – and alleviates depressive symptoms.

Mood: Your vagus nerve communicates sensory information from internal, visceral organs about the state of organ health  back to the brain. If vagus nerve function is compromised, it will have a negative effect on essential bodily functioning, exacerbated by low quality sensory feedback to the brain. Rather than being experienced directly as pain, this often translates into a shorter temper, feelings of anxiety or severe depression.

Migraines: Vagus nerve disruption can cause intracranial pressure, presenting as migraine or headache pain with symptoms including nausea and sensitivity to light/sound. Because the vagus nerve is one of the main super highways between your brain and your body, stimulating it helps interrupt pain signals and relieve migraine pain.

Tinnitus: The perception of noise or ringing in the ears when no external sound is present can be caused by vagus nerve dysfunction.

The vagus nerve exits the brain on the right and left of the brain stem which is situated in the middle of the back of your skull, slightly below the level of the ears. Vagus nerve dysfunction, and vagus nerve toxicity can contribute to tinnitus symptoms.  On the flip side, research from the University of Texas has found that vagus verve stimulation can actually reduce tinnitus symptoms.

Researchers found that sounds paired with vagus nerve stimulation eliminated tinnitus in rats, noting Brain changes in response to nerve damage or cochlear trauma cause irregular neural activity believed to be responsible for many types of chronic pain and tinnitus. But when we paired tones with brief pulses of vagus nerve stimulation, we eliminated the physiological and behavioral symptoms of tinnitus in noise-exposed rats.”

Heart Health: Your vagus nerve signals your heart to speed up or slow down.  A poorly performing vagus nerve is less able to carry the messages to and from your brain that allow careful regulation of each heartbeat  Consequently, poor vagus nerve function may link to your heart beating too slowly (bradycardia) or severe disruptions in its beating (arrhythmia).  An overactive vagus nerve can result in an abnormally low heart rate (bradycardia), fainting (syncope) or the temporary loss of consciousness.

Blood PressureThe vagus nerve also controls what is called the baroreflex, or a rapid vascular response which helps the body maintain a near constant blood flow as your body responds to internal and external stressors. When your heart rapidly increases, the baroreflex will dilate your blood vessels to reduce immediate blood pressure.

Dizziness or Fainting:  Vagus nerve related problems may result in low blood pressure, which can contribute to dizziness or fainting.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency: The vagus nerve normally stimulates parietal cells in the stomach to secrete acid and intrinsic factor which is needed to absorb vitamin B12. Vagus nerve damage reduces intrinsic factor secretion, which impairs vitamin B12 absorption.

 

 The Role of Fascia in Vagus Nerve Dysfunction

Fascia is the largest sensory organ in your body as it houses 250 million nerve endings, with 3 times as many sensory neurons than motor neurons.  As such, fascia serves a key role in communicating information that’s happening in your body to your brain.

The vagus nerve helps communicate changes in the fascia to your brain. Both fascia and the vagus nerve are impacted by danger and trauma.

When you experienced a physical injury or emotional trauma, you may go into shock which restricts movement – including movement in the tissues of the fascia — to ensure your survival.

Fascia can become tough and plastic-like or sticky in response to stress, causing the sheath around nerves to become taut and less resilient or causing the fascial sheath surrounding nerves to stick to nearby structures such as muscle tissue, bone, joints and skin. The role of fascia as it wraps nerves is to provide a fluid, moveable, and protective shield around the nerves. It is the fascial coat around the nerves that allows nerves to be able to slide as the body moves.

Since the vagus nerve is enclosed in a protective coat of fascia and is therefore subject to adhesions that may twist and compress the fascia surrounding the vagus nerve and in turn impact and inhibit the normal movement of the nerve and interfere with the healthy function of the nerve.

Instead of being able to expand and contract, your fascia and vagus nerve can shift into either freeze (tonic immobility) or faint (collapsed immobility) responses.

If this trauma response doesn’t’ resolve you can feel stuck in having too much tone in the body or too little. You may lose connection to your bodily sensations, making you more likely to feel disconnected or even dissociated.

 

Introducing the Vagus Nerve Kit

Releasing the vagus nerve and fascia can support physical and emotional healing by helping to restore your relationship to your body.

The Vagus Nerve Kit™ – compromised of Parasympathetic™, Lymph™ and Fascia Release™ – helps gently release fascia adhesions that compromise vagus nerve function.

 

Parasympathetic™ to Support Healthy Vagus Nerve 

Your vagus nerve starts at the base of the brain and travel down the neck on both sides of the body.  Infections in that vicinity –like heavy metals, pathogens, infections, viruses or environmental toxins that drain from the mouth along your trigeminal nerve and intersect with the vagus nerve in the neck – can contribute to congestion in the vagus nerve.

Topically applying Parasympathetic™ blend on the vagal nerve behind the on the neck can help clear congestion for optimal drainage from the brain.

 

Lymph™ to Improve Lymphatic Flow

Your lymphatic system works in concert with your fascia alongside your vagus nerve. If there is congestion in the lymphatic system in the neck or downstream in the body, it will impact the fascia and vagus nerve. If you think of the body like a hydraulics system where congested tissue downstream prevents optimal flow upstream, congested lymphatic vessels in the neck will impede drainage of toxins from the brain.

Unfortunately, the lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump and lymphatic fluid can accumulate and stagnate (learn more about the Lymphatic System here). This stagnation can be due to an overload of acidity, animal protein, gluten, infection, toxins or adhesions of the connective tissue, such as scars. To enhance lymphatic flow and drainage, generously apply Lymph™ around the sides of the neck to relieve congestion, improve drainage and reduce brain inflammation.

 

Fascia Release™ to Support Vagus Nerve Health

The Fascia Release™ blend helps support lymph drainage by helping to stimulate the lymphatic system, release adhesions and fascial restriction, increase circulation, decrease swelling in the tissue. By supporting the fluid dynamics of the fascial system, this blend may help ease a congested lymphatic system and decrease swelling.

As you know, fascia lies just below the skin so topically applying essential oils onto the skin allows for easy and immediate access to the fascia.  The skin is your largest organ and is relatively permeable to fat-soluble substances like essential oils which easily penetrate layers of restricted fascia, creating warmth to break up congestion, increasing circulation, lymphatic drainage and mobilizing adhered tissue.

The essential oils in the Fascia Release™ blend are uniquely formulated to unravel deeply held tensions, constrictions and energetic blockages in your tissues to reduce pain, improve blood and lymphatic circulation and release fear, repressed emotions, and tension held in the body (organs, muscles, tendons, bones and joints) or the mind.

To release fascia and support vagus nerve health, liberally apply Fascia Release™ around the jaw/neck/face, the shoulders/heart, the diaphragm/lungs, the stomach/gut, low back /hips, the ankles, or anywhere that tension presents.

 

Get the new Vagus Nerve Kit here!

 

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References:

 

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About The Author

Jodi Sternoff Cohen is the founder of Vibrant Blue Oils. An author, speaker, nutritional therapist, and a leading international authority on essential oils, Jodi has helped over 50,000 individuals support their health with essential oils.

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to Vibrant Blue Oils

Subscribe to Vibrant Blue Oils and receive weekly information on oils and how to use them. As a bonus, we’ll send out Beginner’s Guide to Essential Oils to your inbox immediately!