Can acupuncture affect the Vagus Nerve?

What you need to know

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Can acupuncture affect the Vagus Nerve?

Have you heard of the Gut-Brain connection? This concept has become quite popular because of the increase in disorders such as IBS, anxiety, depression, and even migraines being related to the gut-brain connection.

What is the vagus nerve?

The vagus nerve is the longest of the cranial nerves and the main nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system activates our “rest and digest” functions to counterbalance the “fight or flight” mode of the sympathetic nervous system. It originates in the brainstem and travels to innervate the heart, lung, stomach, pancreas, liver, small intestines, and half of the large intestines. It helps to regulate heart rate, respiration and digestion and is considered the main communication route responsible for the famous gut-brain axis.

What does acupuncture have to do with it?

There is increasing evidence that one of the ways acupuncture works is by stimulating the parasympathetic response aka vagus nerve. This could be why many people find acupuncture to be really relaxing, find improvements in sleep, energy, and digestion after acupuncture sessions, even if treatments are working on other main concerns! This is why acupuncture is so awesome!

Read one of Dr. Ellie’s previous posts on how acupuncture can help reduce chronic inflammation.

What does the research say?

In recent research it is believed that stimulation of the vagus nerve can elicit anti-inflammatory affects in the body as well as inhibit oxidative stress. The auricular branch of the vagus nerve which innervates the external ear, when stimulated has shown improvement in mood and anti-depressive symptoms in those with clinical depression. This could be why using ear “auricular” acupuncture points can be very beneficial in calming the mind and helping to promote relaxation.

Clinical trials focused on vagus nerve stimulation have shown benefit in the treatment of inflammatory conditions such as Crohn’s disease and Rheumatoid arthritis. Additional benefits are seen in the frontal lobe activation that vagal stimulation can influence. Frontal brain activity is associated with better decision making and healthier lifestyle choices which correspond with a general reduction in disease. Basically, when we are relaxed, we can think better. It makes sense then that greater Heart Rate Variability (HRV), a health measure directly linked to vagus nerve stimulation, predicts better health outcomes.

To learn more about how we can help you regain optimal health. Give our office a call today at (425) 686-4498.


Call or Schedule Now! (425) 686-4498

Call or Schedule Now!

(425) 686-4498

Dr. Ellie Heintze, ND, LAc

  • Master’s Degree in Acupuncture
    Bastyr University
  • Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine
    Bastyr University
  • Master’s Degree in Chemistry
    Northern Arizona University
Dr. Heintze Acupuncturist and Naturopathic Doctor

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