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Vagus Nerve Infection Hypothesis

by Jodi Cohen

I talk a lot about your vagus nerve and its role in helping you drop into the healing parasympathetic state of your nervous system that supports healthy digestion, sleep, and immune system functioning.

What Does the Vagus Nerve Do?

Your vagus nerve connects your brain to major systems in your body including your stomach, gut, liver, gall bladder, pancreas, lungs, throat, and heart. Since your vagus nerve is the primary communicator between the brain, heart, immune system and digestive organs, any interference in communication or the ability to drop into the healing parasympathetic state can lead to physical and mental health consequences like:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Auto-immune conditions
  • Digestive challenges, including SIBO, IBS, acid reflux and Crohns
  • Systemic inflammation and Leaky Gut
  • Brain fog and memory problems
  • Migraines
  • Fibromyalgia or Chronic Pain
  • Insomnia
  • Tinnitus
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Heart issues
  • And more – Read More about all of the health benefits of the parasympathetic state HERE.

You might think of your vagus nerve as a major highway of communication in your body, connecting your brain with your gut, heart, immune system and all of your other major organs.  This information highway runs both ways – sending messages from your brain to your body and from your body to your brain. When these messages that travel along the vagus nerve are not properly delivered or received, your body cannot stay in a state of balance and this is when health problems develop.

Just as an accident on a highway can block access for cars, chronic stress or an infection in the vagus nerve can block communication in the body, resulting in disease.  It is no surprise that clinicians like Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt find compromised vagus nerve function, which he calls Vagus Nerve Toxicity, in over 95% of their chronically ill patients.   Read More about Vagus Nerve Toxicity HERE.

Vagus Nerve Infection Hypothesis

Tufts neuroscientist, Dr. Michael VanElzakker, has drawn similar conclusions in his Vagus Nerve Infection Hypothesis (VNIH).

VanElzakker proposes that nerve loving viruses or infections in or around the vagus nerve can trigger a difficult to detect  immune response which produces the fatigue and other “sickness response” symptoms including by fatigue, fever, pain and depression that present as symptom clusters in most chronic illnesses.

Because your vagus nerve serves as your immune system’s conduit to the brain, VanElzakker believes that an infection in the vagus nerve doesn’t need to be large to cause havoc in the brain; it just needs to be present.

How Do Viruses Present in the Vagus Nerve?

As I previously discuss in Vagus Nerve Toxicity (Read HERE), microbes from the mouth, including heavy metals, pathogens, infections, viruses or toxins from chronically inflamed tonsils or sinuses, dental amalgams, infected root canals,  or cavities in the jaw bone, drain along your trigeminal nerve (along your jaw bone) where they intersect with your vagus nerve  on the side of the neck and can migrate to nerve endings. Heavy metals and sulfur toxins in particular have a high affinity to nerves.

VanElzakker further postulates that you carry several latent viruses, such as Epstein Barr and herpes, in your system that can be activated by a stressor or biological event, which might explain how stress triggers disease. (Read More HERE)

VanElzakker believes once these viruses are activated, they can replicate and move upstream inside the nerves to the brain (a concept Dr. Klinghardt calls “Retrograde Axonal Transport”) where they activate the immune cells in the brain, known as glial cells.

Vagus Nerve Infection Activates Glial Cells

Vagus Nerve Infection HypothesisYour glial cells release inflammatory compounds and other neuroexcitatory substances in response to the virus or infection.  This, in turn, signals your vagus nerve that an infection is present, and triggers your body to shut down by sending out  “sickness response” signals, such as pain, fatigue, brain fog and other flu-like symptoms, that slow your body down, by forcing you to stop moving, eating and thinking so that all of your energy can be focused on healing.

Because these infections are localized in the vagus nerve – i.e. the main immune conduit to the brain — VanElzakker believes they don’t need to produce a large systemic inflammatory response.  Instead, he believes that a little infection  in the right place – i.e. your vagus nerve – signals your brain to trigger the sickness response or symptoms such as chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia.

More specifically,  your glial cells regulate your nervous system signaling and release excitatory substances along your spinal cord which can trigger an exaggerated sickness response signal, resulting in  increased pain sensitivity in susceptible individuals. The constant production of these excitatory substances may cause a switch to get flipped sending the pain response spiraling upwards instead of shutting down. At its most extreme, the nervous system can interpret even the slightest touch as eliciting pain.

VanElzakker proposes the same process that causes this pain sensitization may cause fatigue and other “sickness behavior” symptoms as a result of an infection of the vagus nerve which then triggers over-activation of the glial cells surrounding the vagus nerve which, in turn, triggers a hypersensitive reaction in the vagus nerve, leading to chronic fatigue and flu-like symptoms.

How to Heal Vagus Nerve Infection with Essential Oils

The following strategies are recommended to heal vagus nerve infection, all of which can be achieved using essential oils

Vagus nerve stimulation – Parasympathetic essential oil blend was designed to activate the vagus nerve to trigger the parasympathetic response.  Parasympathetic is formulated with the highly stimulatory clove oil and works much like more invasive techniques such as Transcutaneous Vagal Nerve Stimulation by stimulating the Vagus Nerve near the outer ear and allowing action potentials to be sent down the nerve to stimulate the normal anti-inflammatory reflex of the Vagus Nerve along with helping to regulate exaggerated signaling that contributes to sickness behavior and excessive fatigue and pain related symptoms. Read More about Vagus Nerve Stimulation HERE –  To stimulate the vagus nerve, apply 1 drop of Parasympathetic™ to the vagal nerve (behind ear lobe, on mastoid bone on the neck).

Glial cell inhibitors can be used to calm the immune activation of glial cells in your brain.   Natural plants remedies, like essential oils, have been proven to suppress microglial activation and neuronal damage in research such as “Inhibitors of microglial neurotoxicity: focus on natural products” and “Development of a neuroprotective potential algorithm for medicinal plants”.

Essential oils are especially powerful as glial cell inhibitors as they unique chemistry (super small, fat soluble molecules), allows them to easily cross the blood brain barrier and suppress glial cell activation.  Research has found that Cinnamon Bark is highly effective at inhibiting microglial activation. According to the research, Cinnamon Bark “may recede neuroinflammation by suppressing microglial activation and play a key role in neuroprotection”.  Immune Support™ oil is high in levels of cinnamon and can be topically applied to the bottom of the feet or around the neck (dilute before applying to the neck) to help inhibit glial cells from over-activating the vagus nerve.  Anti Inflammatory™ also helps to turn off the inflammatory response in the brain and inhibit an over-active glial cell response.  To apply, place one drop one the base of the skull or place a drop of Anti Inflammatory™ oil on your fingertip, and rub fingers together to disperse oil. Take your fingers once over the entire scalp.

Antiviral treatments:  Essential oils are known for their anti-viral properties.

More specifically, research studies have found that essential oils ‘inactivate’ viruses in one of two ways: by inhibiting their ability to replicate (More HERE and HERE)  and/or inhibiting viruses’ ability to fuse to cell walls and infect a host cell (More HERE)

Essential oils have also been shown to positively support our own immune system, enhancing its ability to ward off pathogens and help modulate your immune system. (More HERE)

 Anti viral blends like Immune Support™ can be applied 2- 3 times daily on the throat (diluted) or the bottom of the feet, or Thymus™ can be used  stimulate immune function against infections, viruses and bacteria by apply 2-3 drops on the thymus (on breastbone at third rib) in a clockwise motion for 30 seconds and then stimulate the thymus by gently tapping.   Finally, supporting your lymphatic system with Lymph™ can help supports your immune response by both bringing nutrients to and helping to clear toxins and waste from every cell in the body.


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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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* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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