Everything You Wanted To Know About The Vagus Nerve And How It Affects Your Bone Health

The nervous system is the central portal to all body systems, including your bones. The process of bone remodeling cannot take place unless the appropriate signals are sent along the nerves to regulate the process.

As a part of the autonomic nervous system, the vagus nerve is the “head honcho” of involuntary biological processes. It stimulates and sends feedback from the organs in the abdominal cavity, plus it regulates involuntary actions like mood, digestion, stress response, and so forth. The vagus nerve is also largely responsible for activating the production of cortisol, the stress hormone that damages bone when levels are chronically high.

To stimulate the vagus nerve and “set things right” again, you can employ the Valsalva maneuver, which is easily performed anywhere, any time. It’s so effective that it’s used in medical practice as a treatment for depression.

So let’s take a look at this “wandering” nerve, how it affects your health and your bones, why the Valsava maneuver works, and how to perform it.

The Vagus Nerve In A Nutshell

The word “vagus” is derived from the Latin word vagary, meaning “to wander.” This is also where we get words like “vagrant” and “vagabond.” It signifies a meandering pathway that is not anchored in an obvious way, unlike the contained nerves in the spinal cord. But even though this nerve appears to wander, it’s not random in its pathway.

The vagus nerve originates in the brain stem – it’s actually the tenth cranial nerve – and travels up to the eyes and down through the chest and abdominal cavity. It branches off in various places along the way, innervating the pupils, esophagus, lungs, digestive organs, bladder, kidneys, reproductive organs, and much more. It’s the longest cranial nerve in the body, and it’s also one of the most important.

In fact, the vagus nerve is the most vital element of the parasympathetic nervous system, or PNS, which works in opposition to – and also in conjunction with – the sympathetic nervous system, or SNS.

The PNS is responsible for maintaining homeostasis in the body’s various systems. A good way to think of the PNS is as the “rest and digest” nervous system. It decreases heart rate, constricts bronchial tubes, relaxes muscles, and increases the secretion of digestive juices and saliva.

The SNS controls the way the body reacts to danger and acute stress (the automatic “fight or flight” response). It tightens muscles, dilates the bronchial tubes, releases adrenaline, converts glycogen to glucose for fast and quick energy to the muscles, and increases heart rate.

As the major “boss” of the PNS, the vagus nerve calms your body down after a SNS-instigated fight-or-flight response. Once the stressor has passed, the vagus nerve brings the body back to a state of mental and physical balance and calm.

The vagus nerve does all that and a whole lot more.

Seven Ways The Vagus Nerve Affects Your Health And Your Bones

Here are seven of the many ways this wandering nerve is involved in your health.

1. Regulates Heart Rate

The vagus nerve actually controls your heart rate by stimulating the sinoatrial node of the heart to release acetylcholine, a hormone that slows down the heart rate. The relationship between the vagus nerve and the heart is so reliable, that doctors can test the vitality of your vagus nerve (and the variability of your heart rate) by timing and charting the moments between heart beats.

2. It Can Cause Fainting When Over-Stimulated

If you feel light-headed (or actually pass out) when you see blood or observe medical procedures, it’s not a sign of weakness. Instead, it’s a phenomenon known as “vagal syncope,” a response to stress that over-stimulates the vagus nerve. As noted in the first point, the vagus nerve is closely connected to your heart, so when it’s over-stimulated, it can cause your heart rate to drop and your blood pressure to drop. The blood flow to your brain is then restricted, causing you to feel faint.

3. Improves Memory

Animal studies show that vagus nerve stimulation improves memory.1 This is likely due to the fact that the vagus nerve releases norepinephrine into the amygdala, the area of the brain that organizes and consolidates memories and emotions.

4. Sends Messages To And From The Brain And The Gut

Phrases like “I have a gut feeling” have been in our language for many years, yet the knowledge that the vagus nerve connects the two is relatively new. Your gut feelings actually have basis in biology. The vagus nerve acts as a sort of message translator between your gut and your brain, using electrical impulses to communicate between the two.

The vast majority of these messages go from the gut (via the ENS, or enteric nervous system in the digestive tract) to your brain; so in essence, your belly really does tell your brain how you’re feeling.

5. Prevents Inflammation

There’s no question that inflammation plays a role in bone health as well as many other health conditions, and in particular, heart disease. Inflammation literally ages your bones via oxidative damage, making them more vulnerable to fracture.

The vagus nerve is always on a reconnaissance mission, gathering information from the organs as to the presence of inflammatory substances like cytokines. It then alerts the brain, which in turn responds by sending out anti-inflammatory neurotransmitters. This underscores the fact that inflammation is meant to be temporary; once it’s done its job, such as promoting the healing necessary for an injury, it needs to be “shut off.” The vagus nerve performs this vital action.

6. Keeps You Breathing

By causing the secretion of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, the vagus nerve tells your lungs to breathe, over and over. Breathing is important for obvious reasons, but deep breathing is even more so. When you breathe deeply, it not only alkalizes your body, but it also stimulates the vagus nerve itself, producing a sense of calm and reducing bone-damaging stress. So it helps your bones two ways, and also reduces depression and anxiety (more on this later).

7. Helps You To Relax

Did you know that your body has a mechanism in place for relaxation? It makes sense – something must kick in to cause you to calm down from an intense, stressful moment. Acetylcholine is involved once again, as well as the vagus nerve’s stimulation of this neurotransmitter. Acetylcholine signals the vagus nerve to release relaxing, feel-good hormones such as prolactin and oxytocin – to name a few – to the organs where they are needed.

The many branches of the vagus nerve distribute these relaxation chemicals directly to the organs that need them, causing you to feel calmer.
Strengthening this vagus response helps you to recover more quickly from stress, which is where the Valsalva maneuver comes in.

What Is The Valsalva Maneuver And How It’s Done

Antonio Valsalva (1666-1723) was an Italian anatomist who spent much of his scientific career studying the ear. He is responsible for the term Eustachian tube, and he also developed the maneuver we’re going to look at today. The original intention of the Valsalva maneuver was to clear debris and infection from inside the ear, but its uses and benefits extend far beyond this to include vagus nerve stimulation. Here’s how it works.

The Valsalva maneuver increases pressure within the chest cavity and expands your abdomen, setting a series of physiological processes into place. As mentioned earlier, the vagus nerve is directly connected to your heart’s rhythm, which is why doctors recommend the Valsalva maneuver to halt an SVT episode. (SVT is supraventricular tachycardia.) Because of this, if you have any heart condition, make sure you ask your doctor before performing this maneuver.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Hold your nose so you can’t breathe through it.
  2. Close your mouth and try to breathe out through your pinched nose.
  3. Hold this “forced exhalation” for 10 to 15 seconds, and then release.

Breathing against a closed-off airway increases chest cavity pressure, thus forcing the heart to pump more blood for a few seconds. Then the opposite happens – the pressure now has the effect of preventing blood from returning to the heart, so blood vessels constrict, raising blood pressure.

When you resume normal breathing, the pressure drops suddenly, allowing the chest cavity to expand and blood to fill the heart again. Ironically, cardiac output may actually drop even more at this point. Seconds later, your heart and lungs resume normal rhythm and breathing.

This maneuver “tones” the vagus nerve, which can also be accomplished by deep breathing. This is best performed by drawing a slow, deep breath in through your nose, envisioning your abdomen filling with a balloon. Let your ribs expand all around and your belly as well. Breathe in for about seven seconds, hold it for a moment, and then slowly exhale through your nose for 11 seconds. Repeat six to 12 times.

Anxiety And Depression Relief

Remember that the vagus nerve controls the “calm down” aspect of the parasympathetic nervous system? Stimulating it, then, kicks this calm-down response into gear, reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and the cortisol that accompany these conditions. In addition to alkalizing your pH, this is another way that deep breathing is excellent for your bone health.

The bottom line is, stress is acidifying. The Save Our Bones Program did not overlook this fact, and you’ll find an entire chapter (Chapter 14) devoted to the issue of relaxation and stress reduction. As you learn how to relax your mind and body, it helps you to control your stress and cortisol levels.

Chapter 14 includes 10 easy behavioral changes you can make that will have a huge impact on your sense of well-being and your bone health, as well as specific relaxation techniques you can employ every day to bring a sense of calm.

Stop Worrying About Your Bone Loss

Join thousands of Savers from around the world who have reversed or prevented their bone loss naturally and scientifically with the Save Our Bones Program.

Learn More Now →

The Save Our Bones Program certainly covers all the bases when it comes to bone health!

Till next time,

References:

1 Chen, C. C. and Williams, C.L. “Interactions between epinephrine, ascending vagal fibers, and central noradrenergic systems in modulating memory for emotionally arousing events.” Front Behav Neurosci. 6. 35. (2012). Web. November 1, 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3384987/

The Top 14 Things You’re Doing That Are Damaging Your Bones... And More!

  • Stop The Bone Thieves! report
  • Email course on how to prevent and reverse bone loss
  • Free vital osteoporosis news and updates.
Get It Free Now
31 comments. Leave Yours Now →
  1. Jean Britton November 25, 2016, 1:06 pm

    Thank you Vivian for all your tremendous help and advice, all of which I have followed. I have your ‘Save our bones Programme’ together with the cook book and meal planner, and I love your informative emails and weekend challenges.

    Unfortunately I haven’t received any emails from you for several weeks now, and I wonder if you still have my email, which has not changed.

    Again many thanks for all that you do for us.

    Kind regards
    Jean

  2. Lucinda November 9, 2016, 3:07 pm

    I’m a little unclear. Do you do ‘manoeuvre’ / forced exhalation (ie. holding breath and trying to breath out through pinched nose) just once or more? And do you follow it with slow-count breathing in and out through nose? Or do you alternate these two exercises?

  3. Mechthild Kaliski November 8, 2016, 5:17 am

    I appreciate your teachings which are “free” very very much,
    thank you for your generosity!!!

  4. Val Haynes November 4, 2016, 11:04 am

    Thank you so much, Vivian, such terrific and bone-healthy information.
    Sincerely,
    Val

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA November 5, 2016, 9:29 am

      You’re welcome, Val, and keep learning!

  5. Candace Wheeler November 3, 2016, 8:10 pm

    Great summary of vagus nerve! Thank you.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA November 5, 2016, 9:27 am

      You are welcome, Candace. Isn’t it amazing how many body systems this nerve influences?

  6. Eleanor Moody November 3, 2016, 6:34 pm

    A great issue on the Nerve that controls so much I always enjoy your articles thank you Eleanor

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA November 5, 2016, 9:27 am

      You are welcome, Eleanor. 🙂

  7. Bonnie Olszewski November 3, 2016, 6:13 pm

    I wanted to thank you so much for keeping us all informed about healthy living and explaining scientific information in a way we can understand. I really appreciate your warnings and updates on what is going on in the world of medications. You help us make our own decisions based on the knowledge you share with us. Personally you have saved me from taking meds I never needed and saved me from their side effects. I’m very grateful.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA November 5, 2016, 9:26 am

      You’re welcome, Bonnie, but you should thank yourself as well! All the information in the world doesn’t do anyone any good unless they take the time to read and learn. 🙂 Good for you!

  8. shulamit sendowski November 3, 2016, 2:05 pm

    Thanks for updating us about the Vagus nerve. Will be good to know more about the role of our nervous system in bone-health.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA November 5, 2016, 9:29 am

      You are welcome, Shulamit. I think the many roles the vagus nerve plays are fascinating!

  9. Lynn Allen November 3, 2016, 1:53 pm

    Hi Vivian. – Thanks for your email. I just had an N-telepeptide test done, it showed normal range of calcium loss, yet I have osteoporosis on my Dexa scans . Is it that my minerals and diet intake isn’t enough to strengthen my bones? Not sure what this means.

  10. Florence November 3, 2016, 7:35 am

    Your articles are always so interesting and informative.I
    save them all. I have a friend who has Paget’s disease.
    Would you please give me some information on it ?
    My thanks.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA November 3, 2016, 11:10 am

      Hi Florence,

      Thanks so much for spreading the word about bone health without drugs! As far as Paget’s disease goes, it’s a condition that’s different than osteoporosis. Paget’s is a disorder or characterized by abnormal bone remodeling that may have genetic as well as environmental causes. While there’s not a “cure” for Paget’s per se, the condition makes a pH-balanced nutrition plan all the more applicable and potentially beneficial.

  11. Maria November 3, 2016, 7:27 am

    I dianostic with ostopenia I Not take any med for det and I like you program tank you l be learning from theth.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA November 3, 2016, 11:02 am

      Keep learning, Maria! I suggest you use the Search feature and search this site for the term “osteopenia.” I imagine it will ease your mind quite a bit. 🙂

  12. Brenda November 3, 2016, 6:26 am

    Vivian thank you for all the informative and helpful information you give us. And the great exercises and tips are proving so helpful. Thank you.

    • Sue November 3, 2016, 7:37 am

      Thank you Vivian for all your good advice. You are so helpful to me and my husband with breathing problems. I am very appreciative.

      • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA November 3, 2016, 11:02 am

        A very hearty “you’re welcome” to you both, Brenda and Sue!

  13. Betty November 3, 2016, 6:10 am

    That is very interesting so must read it again at leisure, You give us all so much to think about. Thank you so much. Really appreciated.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA November 3, 2016, 11:01 am

      You’re welcome, Betty – I truly appreciate Savers like you who take the time to let the information “soak in.” 🙂

  14. Audrey Beaumont November 3, 2016, 5:58 am

    Dear Vivian

    My normal respiration rate is very slow, x6 per minute. What effect has this on the vagus nerve please and metabolic processes?

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA November 3, 2016, 10:59 am

      Hi Audrey,

      The rate of respiration is not as important as the way you’re breathing. You’ll notice that the breathing exercises to stimulate the vagus nerve are very slow, but they are also very deep.

  15. Babs Robertson November 3, 2016, 5:31 am

    I have a vagal nerve stimulator put in my left-hand side of chest adjoining my my vagal nerve for other health problems I have does this help what you have explained?

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA November 3, 2016, 10:57 am

      That’s interesting, Babs! It just goes to show that stimulating the vagus nerve is in fact a viable form of treatment for various conditions, and a means to improve health.

  16. Pam November 3, 2016, 4:20 am

    I have purchased the Save Our Bones original book and the recipe book. I would like to purchase your exercise book and the cleansing book, but don’t want the electronic downloads. Is it possible to get them shipped in book form?
    If not, can you at least indicate how many pages each one is, so we know ahead of time how much printing is involved?

    • Save Institute Customer Support November 3, 2016, 11:21 am

      Hi Pam,

      We’ll be glad to answer your questions about Densercise – please check your inbox for a message from Customer Support. 🙂

  17. Danaellen November 3, 2016, 3:17 am

    HI Vivian!

    I haven’t seen my problem addressed anywhere and would appreciate some help. I have been a “saver” since 2011. My hips increased from osteopenia to normal but my spine keeps getting worse ( -1.2 t score to -1.6 to -1.9).

    Why such discrepancy between hip and spine. Any advice ? I am 67 and in excellent health (no meds) except for a trend of bone loss in my spine!

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA November 3, 2016, 11:19 am

      Hi Danaellen,

      There’s really no way to give you a clear-cut answer on why you have the loss in your spine but an increase in your hips. Your past medical history may contain clues; your doctor should be able to go over that with you. Your lifestyle, past and present, would also have to be taken into account. For example, if you spend most of the day sitting down, or if you don’t walk at least 3-4 times a week, that could affect your results. There are just too many individual variables for us to be able to address the “whys” of specific results.

      The good news is that you can do targeted exercises for the lower back – in fact, here are a couple of Weekend Challenges that address this area (and stay tuned for this weekend’s challenge!):

      https://saveourbones.com/weekend-challenge-deep-core-stabilizer/

      https://saveourbones.com/weekend-challenge-no-crunch-abs-toner-and-balance-booster/

Join the Conversation. Leave a Comment.

The purpose of this comment section is to encourage you to interact with the other Savers. Thank you so much for joining the conversation!

Get Started With Your FREE
Natural Bone Building Kit.

Get a free copy of our ‘Stop The Bone Thieves’ eBook, exclusive content that you can’t find anywhere else, plus vital osteoporosis news and updates.

Get It Free

My Cart

Edit Total: