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Vagus Nerve Stimulation for Neuroplasticity

By Jodi Cohen

A glowing digital representation of the human brain with neural networks illuminated, set against a dark background with abstract circular lines suggesting connectivity or activity.

Neuroplasticity, the scientific word for “brain plasticity”, refers to the brain’s ability to form new connections between neurons. In essence, it reorganizes itself.

Chronic anxiety, trouble focusing, brain fog, chronic depression and insomnia all occur because brain function is stuck cycling in unhealthy pathways.

Research is finding that vagus nerve stimulation helps to build new neuroplasticity pathways that solve these challenges.

Vagus nerve stimulation targets diverse neuroprotective and neuroplasticity pathways that may help generate highly specific and long-lasting plasticity in sensory and motor cortex of the brain.

More specifically, when you stimulate the vagus nerve, it activates areas in the brain that release chemicals call neuromodulators – like acetylcholine and norepinephrine-  which are released when we’re learning or are engaged to tell the brain that whatever is happening right now is important and should be remembered.

Brief bursts of acetylcholine and norepinephrine can enhance the neural plasticity. Vagus nerve stimulation represents a safe and effective means to trigger the release of these neuromodulators with a high degree of safety and control.


What is Neuroplasticity?

Neuroplasticity is what happens when neural pathways change.

  • Neuro which refers to the neural pathways or brain cells communicating with each other.
  • Plastic describes the changeable qualities of the brain.

The brain creates new neural or communication pathways that help make frequent thoughts and behaviors most efficient. The more we repeat a thought or activity, the more readily available those pathways become.

For example, the more you practice a foreign language, musical instrument or sport, the easier and more automatic it becomes.  This is true for negative and positive, or negative,  thought patterns as well.

You might think of the brain as a map that changes as new roads are built. The more times down a road with the same thought or behavior, the more likely we are to go down that same road in the future.

Vagus nerve stimulation can help rewire the brain for positive neuroplasticity and reframe negative thought patterns, behaviors and physiological responses.  If we repeat negative thoughts and behaviors, like those related to anxiety, depression, worry, fear, anger or grief, the brain will wire itself to make those negative Neuroplasticity patterns more efficient.


How Vagus Nerve Stimulation Supports Neuroplasticity

Vagus nerve stimulation has been demonstrated to support many neurological and movement disorders, including migraines epilepsy, depression, tinnitus, stroke, and posttraumatic stress disorder.

Research found that vagus nerve stimulation has been shown to reduce neurological deficits, and improve memory and cognition in rats with stroke injuries. Some pilot studies with small sample sizes suggested that VNS paired with rehabilitation can be a promising approach to improve limb motor function in chronic-stroke patients.

As you may recall, Parasympathetic fibers stem from the vagus nerve which transmit information via impulses between the body and the brain. This bi-directional communication carries information between the organs to the brain that can be used to support physical, mental and emotional neuroplasticity

Many neurological disorders manifest as difficulties in movement. Neurons affected from injury may become hyperactive, such as the case with phantom limb pain or tinnitus, or hypoactive, meaning the brain cells are not active enough.

Research has found that vagus nerve stimulation enhances rehabilitative outcomes and bolsters motor improvement for a wide range of neurological injuries, including stroke “through targeted enhancement of synaptic plasticity in central networks after injury. Electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve immediately enhances neuromodulatory function. Bursts of VNS rapidly activate the noradrenergic locus coeruleus (LC) and cholinergic nucleus basalis (NB), two major neuromodulatory centers in the brain”


How Essential Oils Support Neuroplasticity

Essential oils are natural, non-invasive, easy tools to use to activate your vagus nerve.  They possess both olfactory (smell) and transdermal (topical application) qualities, making them easy to inhale and apply on the skin to activate your vagus nerve.

Research backs this up as inhaling essential oils such as lavender or bergamot has been shown to activate your vagus nerve as measured by improved heart rate variability. Inhaled essential oils travel directly to your brain (specifically to the prefrontal cortex behind your forehead) where they can immediately help calm the fear response in your brain.  In addition, topically applied essential oils can cross the blood-brain barrier to stimulate your vagus nerve within the brain.

READ THIS NEXT: How to Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve with Essential Oils 

The Parasympathetic® blend can be used to stimulate the vagus nerve (behind the ear lobe on the mastoid bone) to both trigger the parasympathetic state and re-wire the brain to trigger the parasympathetic state more easily with every use.

Essential oils can also be used to support healthy brain function by supporting:

  1. Oxygen with Circulation™ blend
  2. Glucose with Blood Sugar Support Kit
  3. Stimulation with Parasympathetic® and Adrenal® blends

Ensuring that your body and brain are supported for optimal neuroplasticity helps to set you up to trigger positive shifts in neuroplasticity.

Remember, we want to help you build efficient pathways for positive news skills and healthy habits. Unfortunately, the plastic qualities of the brain also mean our negative physical or emotional patterns become efficient pathways.

Ensuring that your body has the building blocks and structure it needs – namely oxygen, glucose and stimulation – help you create the positive neuroplasticity that your brain sees as a more advantageous route.

READ THIS NEXT: Essential Oils for Neuroplasticity 


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About The Author

Jodi Cohen

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.