The vagus nerve is a bundle of nerves that originates in the top of the spinal cord. It activates different organs throughout the body (such as the heart, lungs, liver and digestive organs). When active, it is likely to produce that feeling of warm expansion in the chest—for example, when we are moved by someone’s goodness or when we appreciate a beautiful piece of music.
Neuroscientist Stephen W. Porges of the University of Illinois at Chicago long ago argued that the vagus nerve is [the nerve of compassion] (of course, it serves many other functions as well). Several reasons justify this claim. The vagus nerve is thought to stimulate certain muscles in the vocal chamber, enabling communication. It reduces heart rate. Very new science suggests that it may be closely connected to receptor networks for oxytocin, a neurotransmitter involved in trust and maternal bonding.
Arizona State University psychologist Nancy Eisenberg has found that children with high-baseline vagus nerve activity are more cooperative and likely to give. This area of study is the beginning of a fascinating new argument about altruism: that a branch of our nervous system evolved to support such behavior.
Your body’s levels of stress hormones are regulated by the autonomic nervous system (ANS) . The ANS has two components that balance each other, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
The SNS turns up your nervous system. It helps us handle what we perceive to be emergencies and is in charge of the flight-or-fight response.
The PNS turns down the nervous system and helps us to be calm. It promotes relaxation, rest, sleep, and drowsiness by slowing our heart rate, slowing our breathing, constricts the pupils of our eyes, increases the production of saliva in our mouth, and so forth.
The vagus nerve is the nerve that comes from the brain and controls the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your relaxation response. And this nervous system uses the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. If your brain cannot communicate with your diaphragm via the release of acetylcholine from the vagus nerve (for example, impaired by botulinum toxin), then you will stop breathing and die.
Acetylcholine is responsible for learning and memory. It is also calming and relaxing, which is used by vagus nerve to send messages of peace and relaxation throughout your body. New research has found that acetylcholine is a major brake on inflammation in the body . In other words, stimulating your vagus nerve sends acetylcholine throughout your body, not only relaxing you but also turning down the fires of inflammation which is related to the negative effects from stress.
Exciting new research has also linked the vagus nerve to improved neurogenesis, increased BDNF output (brain-derived neurotrophic factor is like super fertilizer for your brain cells) and repair of brain tissue, and to actual regeneration throughout the body.
As you get older, your immune system produces more inflammatory molecules, and your nervous system turns on the stress response, promoting system breakdown and aging.
That’s not just talk. It’s backed by scientific studies.
For example, Kevin Tracey, the director of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, discovered how the brain controls the immune system through a direct nerve-based connection.
He describes this as the inflammatory reflex (i). Simply put, it is the way the immune system responds to the mind.
Let me explain.
You immune system is controlled by a nerve call the vagus nerve.
But this isn’t just any nerve.
It is the most important nerve coming from the brain and travels to all the major organs.
And you can activate this nerve — through relaxation, meditation, and other ancient practices, such as the Mayan system of Light Language, combined with Vagus Nerve Activation Techniques given recently by the Group & Steve Rother, the Vagus Nerve can be activated and worked with energetically through geometry, frequency, color, and light.
What’s the benefit of that?
Well, by activating the vagus nerve, you can control your immune cells, reduce inflammation, and even prevent disease and aging!
It’s true. By creating positive brain states — as meditation masters have done for centuries — you can switch on the vagus nerve and control inflammation.
You can actually control your gene function by this method. Activate the vagus nerve, and you can switch on the genes that help control inflammation. Inflammation is one of the central factors of disease and aging.
Even more fascinating was the discovery that our bodies can regenerate at any age.
Diane Krause, MD, PhD, from Yale University discovered that our own innate adult stem cells (cells that can turn into any cell in the body from our bone marrow) could be transformed into liver, bowel, lung, and skin cells. (ii)
This is a phenomenal breakthrough.
It means that we have the power to create new cells and renew our own organs and tissues at any age.
And how are these stem cells controlled?
You guessed it: the vagus nerve.
For example, Theise et al.  have found that stems cells are directly connected to the vagus nerve. Activating the vagus nerve can stimulate stem cells to produce new cells and repair and rebuild your own organs.
So relaxation — a state of calm, peace, and stillness – can activate the vagus nerve.
And the vagus nerve, in turn, activates your stem cells to regenerate and renew your tissues and organs.
Scientists have even shown how meditation makes the brain bigger and better.
They’ve mapped out the brain function of “professionalmeditators” by bringing Tibetan lamas trained in concentration and mental control into the laboratory.
The result? They found higher levels of gamma brain waves and thicker brain cortexes (the areas associated with higher brain function) in meditators. (iii)
Relaxation can have other powerful effects on our biology.
In biology, being a complex system that can adapt to its environment and that is resilient and flexible is critical to health.
The same is true for us.
The more complex and resilient we are, the healthier we are.
Take, for example, our heartbeat.
Its complexity is called heart rate variability (HRV) or beat-to-beat variability. The more complex your HRV, the healthier you are. The least complex heart rate is the worst — a flat line.
So what does this have to do with relaxation?
The HRV is also controlled by the vagus nerve.
As you can see, turning on the relaxation response and activating that vagus nerve is critical to health.
Activating the Vagus Nerve Will:
* Reduce inflammation
* Help regenerate your organs and cells by activating stem cells
* Increase your heart rate variability
* Thicken your brain (which normally shrinks with aging).
* Boost immune function
* Modulate your nervous system
* Reduce depression and stress
* Enhance performance
* Improve your quality of life
Not bad for just learning to chill out!
Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, who discovered telomeres, explained that, ultimately, they become so short that the end of our DNA unravels and we can no longer replicate our cells, so they die.
Remarkably, mental stress produces a more rapid shortening of the telomeres — and leads to faster aging.
What’s even more remarkable?
In a study of caregivers of sick patients, the health of the caregivers’ telomeres was determined by their attitude!
It sounds impossible, but it’s true.
The caregivers who felt the care to be a burden had shorter telomeres, while those who saw their work as an opportunity to be compassionate had no shortening. (iv)
The Dalai Lama said that the seat of compassion is actually biological and — necessary for survival.
Perhaps the development of compassion and wisdom in coping with unfavorable life conditions is the true key to longevity.
It just may be that working to understand our true nature through the cultivation of our minds and hearts with positive practices like meditation or similar techniques is critical to health and longevity.
The ways we can change our bodies through changing our minds is not longer a theory.
There is a new scientific language to understand how the qualities of the mind control the body through effects on the vagus nerve, immune cells, stem cells, telomeres, DNA, and more.
Remember, your body has all the resources and infinitely adaptable systems to self-regulate, repair, regenerate, and thrive.
You simply have to learn how to work with your body, rather than against it. Then you can have a healthy, thriving life – and live out your full lifespan, which can be as high as 120+ years!
But here’s something even cooler – the research that Dacher Ketlner, director of the Social Interaction Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley is doing shows that stimulating that vagus nerve is not only good for you – it’s good for the planet!
“Our research and that of other scientists suggest that activation of the vagus nerve is associated with feelings of caretaking and the ethical intuition that humans from different social groups (even adversarial ones) share a common humanity. People who have high vagus nerve activation in a resting state, we have found, are prone to feeling emotions that promote altruism – compassion, gratitude, love and happiness.”
There you go. Do it for love.
Breathing is the FIRST place not the LAST place one should investigate when any disordered energy presents itself.”
– Sheldon Saul Hendler, MD Ph.D., The Oxygen Breakthrough
Arguably the most important aspect of mental and physical health and well-being is the respiratory process. This has been known throughout the history of mankind. Consider that during the course of your life you are “inspired” by ideas, “aspire” toward your goals and dreams, and finally “expire” at the end of your life. Many of the ancients developed lifestyles and physical exercises such as yoga and qui-gong that are based around the patterns of breathing and respiratory cycles. So why is breathing so important?
It has been suggested that the average individual can survive:
40 days without food
4 days without water
4 minutes without oxygen
It is true that oxygen is absolutely essential for all human function. In fact, the primary homeostatic mechanism in the human body is designed around necessitating appropriate cellular oxygenation. The respiratory and cardiovascular systems provide and properly distribute oxygen to the cellular mitochondria where it serves as the terminal electron acceptor in the oxidative phosphoralization process and the formation of cellular ATP. All human performance, energy, and function is based on appropriate tissue oxygenation.
Endurance, the ability to sustain vigorous effort, is substantiated by the ability of the heart and lungs to supply oxygen to the working muscles (1). Although many factors have an impact, endurance and human working capacity end when the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems can no longer keep up with the demands for oxygen. In addition, the structural and functional integrity of brain and viscera are profoundly dependent on regular oxygen supply. Any disturbance of this supply can be life threatening.
The world famous Dr. Arthur Guyton theorized that all chronic pain, suffering and diseases are caused from a lack of oxygen at the cellular level (2). Lack of cellular oxygen is termed hypoxia. Hypoxia has been implicated in central nervous system pathology in a number of disorders including cancer, heart disease, stroke, and various other neurodegenerative diseases (3). Among other diseases, regions of low oxygen tension are commonly found in malignant tumors and are associated with increased frequency of tumor invasion and metastasis (3)
Consider this: The average human being breaths between 12 – 18 breaths a minute. That equates to 18,000 to 26,000 breaths every 24 hours. It has been suggested that at rest we should consume 6 breaths in a minute to supply our needs. The extra activity involved in our short, shallow breathing habits is robbing us of precious energy, producing toxic waste products and promoting disease in our bodies.
Dr. Schunemann actually found in a long-term study that lung function predicts mortality rates. He explains, “The lung is a primary defense organism against environmental toxins. It could be that impaired pulmonary function could lead to decreased tolerance against these toxins. Researchers also have speculated that decreased pulmonary function could underlie an increase in oxidative stress from free radicals, and we know that oxidative stress plays a role in the development of many diseases.(4)”
Dr. Wendell Hendricks, (Two-time Nobel Laureate, Winner of the Nobel Prize for Cancer Research, Hendricks Research Foundation) said the following. ”Cancer is a condition within the body where the oxidation has become so depleted that the body cells have degenerated beyond physiological control. Similarly, the true cause of allergy is lowered the oxidation process within the body, causing the affected individual to be sensitive to foreign substances entering the body. Only when the oxidation mechanism is restored to its original high state of efficiency can the sensitivity be eliminated.”
Effective and efficient oxygenation of the cells, tissues, and organs of our body is an absolute energy necessity. Our respiration cycles are governed by the autonomic nervous system. When your body is under stress you tend to take short, shallow breaths. Because these breaths only penetrate into the upper portion of the chest and lungs they are called “chest breaths.” This reduces your bodies’ ability to effectively oxygenate. This is appropriate in order to increase respiratory rate when you are under truly stressful situations, like being chased by a lion or sprinting on a track. However, when it continues for an extended period of time it sets up the pathological processes described earlier.
Several studies have shown that heart disease, depression, anxiety, and chronic pain patients have an intimate relationship with persistent shallow, chest breathing behaviors. Several researchers have suggested maintenance of posture and breathing habits to be the most important factor in health and energy promotion.
Diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing is the proper way to respirate. Taking deep, diaphragmatic breaths is necessary to get the oxygen rich air deep into the base of the lungs where three times as many blood vessels are available for respiratory exchange compared to the upper lung region. Amazingly, when we are taking deep breaths, our diaphragm which is attached to the heart, is able to pull the heart down and massage it with each breath. This process optimizes the body’s natural ability to pump fluid and nutrients into the heart vasculature and suck out the wastes. In the absence of diaphragmatic breathing, the body is unable to adequately deliver nutrients and eliminate wastes from the heart
Dr. Guy Hendricks says “Healthy breathing should be the first thing taught to a heart patient. A Dutch Study conducted by a Dr. Dixhoorn, compared two groups of heart attack patients. The first group was taught simple diaphragmatic breathing, while the second group was given no training in breathing. The breathing group had no further heart attacks, while 7 of the 12 members of the second group had second heart attacks over the next 2 years.”
The diaphragm is also attached to the lumbar spine and produces a natural rhythm of movement that stretches the back and pumps fluid and essential nutrients into the avascular soft tissue structures like the intervertebral disc and ligaments preventing and possibly correcting spinal degeneration and chronic pain syndromes. The effects continue in that proper diaphragmatic movement pumps cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid around the spinal cord), which results in an increase in brain metabolism and the resulting feelings of physical and mental well-being and enhanced mental alertness.
It is essential to focus on your breathing throughout the day. Take pauses in your activities to correct your posture and take long, deep breaths from the belly. The body responds to this stimulus by relaxing, understanding that it is not in a life-threatening situation (obviously if you are breathing long, slow, deep breaths you are not being chased by a lion). The parasympathetic nervous system is activated, calming stress hormones, decreasing heart rate and blood pressure. As you consume more oxygen and release metabolic waste products like carbon dioxide you will improve your mood and energy levels.
Steps to Tranform Your Breathing Habits:
*If you notice your chest moving a lot as you breathe – than you guessed it – you’re a chest breather. The good news is that you can change that today and experience a new life of energy and “inspiration.”
To Optimize Breathing Habits For Life
I am open to receive with every breath I breathe.”
– Michael Sun
1. Engel R, Vemulpad S. The Effect of Combining Manual Therapy with Exercise on the Respiratory Function of Normal Indivuals: A Randomized Control Trial. JMPT Sept 2007;30, 7;509-513.
2. Guyton, Arthur C. The Textbook of Medical Physiology, (5th Edition.) Pennsylvania: WB Saunders Co., 1976
3. Acker T, Acker H. Review: Cellular oxygen sensing need in CNS function: physiological and pathological implications. The Journal of ExperimentalBiology, 2004; 207;3171-3188
4. Schunemann HJ, Dorn J, Grant BJB, Winkelstein W, Jr., Trevisan M. Pulmonary Function Is a Long-term Predictor of Mortality in the General Population 29-Year Follow-up of the Buffalo Health Study. Chest2000;118(3)656-664.
5. Bradley. “Hyperventilation Syndrome.” Celestial Arts (1991).
6. Hymes and Nuernberger. Breathing Patterns Found in Heart Attack Patients. Research Bulletin of the Himalayan International International Institute. 1980 2:2; 10-12.
7. Nixon P, Human Functions of the Heart. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1987: 37
8. Luna-Massey P, Peper E. Clinical Observations on Breath Patterns and Pain Relief in Chronic Pain Patients. The Association for Applied Psychophsiology and Biofeedback. 1986; 82-84.
9. Gay Hendricks, Ph.D. Conscious Breathing, Pg. 16.
Dr. David Jockers owns and operates Exodus Health Center in Kennesaw, GA. He is a Maximized Living doctor. His expertise is in weight loss, customized nutrition & exercise, & structural corrective chiropractic care. For more information go to www.drjockers.com Dr. Jockers is also available for long distance phone consultations to help you beat disease and reach your health goals.
Loneliness in older people is linked to an increased risk for serious illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and depression.
It’s an issue that’s long concerned health workers who deal with older patients, but a new UCLA study of 40 people, aged 55-85, suggests a solution may not be hard to come by.
The eight-week study trained subjects in a simple meditation program, which focused mainly on paying attention to the present and refusing to dwell in the past. Those patients who practiced the meditation exercise showed measurable reductions in loneliness and in gene inflammation (measured by blood tests).
Meditation’s effect on reducing gene inflammation is an especially important finding, researchers say, because chronic gene inflammation is known to promote a number of physical diseases and psychological disorders.
The study appears in the current online edition of the journal Brain, Behavior & Immunity.
Sylvia Klinkenberg, Charlotte N.C.J. van den Bosch, H.J. Marian Majoie, Marlien W. Aalbers, Loes Leenen, Jos Hendriksen, Erwin M.J. Cornips, Kim Rijkers, Johan S.H. Vles, Albert P. Aldenkamp
Received 3 April 2012; received in revised form 8 July 2012; accepted 15 July 2012. published online 08 August 2012.
In addition to effects on seizure frequency in intractable epilepsy, multiple studies report benefits of vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) on behavioural outcomes and quality of life. The present study aims to investigate the effects of VNS on cognition, mood in general, depression, epilepsy-related restrictions and psychosocial adjustment in children with intractable epilepsy, as well as the relation between these effects and seizure reduction.
We conducted a randomized, active-controlled, double-blinded, add-on study in 41 children (age 4–18) with medically refractory epilepsy. We performed cognitive and behavioural testing at baseline (12 weeks), at the end of the blinded phase (20 weeks) in children receiving either high-output or low-output (active control) stimulation, and at the end of the open label phase (19 weeks) with all children receiving high-output stimulation. Seizure frequency was recorded using seizure diaries.
VNS did not have a negative effect on cognition nor on psychosocial adjustment. At the end of the follow-up phase we noted an improvement of mood in general and the depression subscale for the entire group, unrelated to a reduction of seizure frequency. At the end of the blinded phase a ≥50% reduction of seizure frequency occurred in 16% of the high-stimulation group and 21% of the low-stimulation group. At the end of the open-label follow-up phase, 26% of the children experienced a seizure frequency reduction of 50% or more (responders).
VNS has additional beneficial effects in children with intractable epilepsy. As opposed to anti-epileptic drugs, there are no negative effects on cognition. Moreover, we observed an improvement of mood in general and depressed feelings in particular, irrespective of a reduction in seizure frequency. These beneficial effects should be taken into account when deciding whether to initiate or continue VNS treatment in these children.
Mediation, an eastern philosophy which was once dismissed as pretentious, can be effective in treating mental illness, brain scans have proved.
The buzzword is mindfulness. Meditation, which is practised a lot in India and in parts of Islington, is an NHS-approved treatment that combines conventional psychotherapy with meditation techniques, breathing and yoga.
It is sitting around trying to think about nothing and letting out the occasional “ommmm”.
Meditation has been around since the Seventies, but in the past decade there has been growing evidence that it is highly effective. Researchers at Britain’s most respected medical centres have found that it can halve the risk of relapse for those with depression.
“Psychotherapy involves patients analysing thoughts and feelings, with the hope that by understanding them some kind of change can be made. Mindfulness has some of this but it also involves meditation,” the Daily Mail quoted Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry and co-developer of one of the many variants, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), said.
“Meditation, which is an ancient practice and part of Eastern spiritual philosophy, involves sitting, usually in silence, and focusing on one thing, such as the sensations of breathing in and out.
“The mind wanders, so you invite your attention to come back to the thing you are focusing on. People who do this regularly feel very calm. And due to modern scanning techniques that measure activity in the brain, we are beginning to understand why,” he said.
Williams’s colleagues in the US and Canada have been able to pinpoint the parts of the brain that undergo changes during meditation, and the results are astonishing.
“Meditation helps to reduce the activity of part of the brain called the amygdala, which governs feelings of stress. Those who are more stressed and anxious have an amygdala that is overactive. Meditating reduces this.
“And there is an effect on the insula, the part of the brain involved in deep emotions, including love.
“We know from other studies that the insula allows us to feel emotions, so when we are heartbroken we really do experience a kind of pain.
“Normally activity in this area is closely linked to the part of the brain involved in analytical thought. So if we have a fight with our partner, we not only feel dreadful but we start to think about why, what this says about our relationship and what might happen if we don’t put it right,” Williams said.
In those with mental illness, this loop becomes overactive – the thinking feeds the emotions, which feeds more thinking until it becomes overwhelming.
“Meditating breaks this cycle by reducing the links between the insula and the parts of the brain that analyse, as we have seen on brain scans.
“It doesn’t stop a person from feeling or thinking but it uncouples these two parts of the brain, giving the patient more control.
“Further to that, we’ve discovered in clinical trials that mindfulness works as well as antidepressants in preventing relapse of depression. It can also be used alongside drugs,” he said.
Janet Jones, 48, was diagnosed with severe depression 10 years ago. The mother of two was introduced to mindfulness in 2008.
“I was very sceptical at first. But gradually it became part of my everyday life,” she said.
“I would find it difficult to get out of bed and when I got to work, I would feel miserable. Once I committed to mindfulness, my approach changed and my life improved. Mindfulness has given me more control over my life. I now know that no matter how painful something is, it will pass,” Jones added.
What you think is going on in your head may be caused in part by what’s happening in your gut.
A growing body of research shows the gut affects bodily functions far beyond digestion. Studies have shown intriguing links from the gut’s health to bone formation, learning and memory and even conditions including Parkinson’s disease. Recent research found disruptions to the stomach or intestinal bacteria can prompt depression and anxiety—at least in lab rats.
Better understanding the communication between the gut and the brain could help reveal the causes of and treatments for a range of ailments, and provide diagnostic clues for doctors.
The gut—considered as a single digestive organ that includes the esophagus, stomach and intestines—has its own nervous system that allows it to operate independently from the brain.
This enteric nervous system is known among researchers as the “gut brain.” It controls organs including the pancreas and gall bladder via nerve connections. Hormones and neurotransmitters generated in the gut interact with organs such as the lungs and heart.
Like the brain and spinal cord, the gut is filled with nerve cells. The small intestine alone has 100 million neurons, roughly equal to the amount found in the spinal cord, says Michael Gershon, a professor at Columbia University.
The vagus nerve, which stretches down from the brainstem, is the main conduit between the brain and gut. But the gut doesn’t just take orders from the brain.
“The brain is a CEO that doesn’t like to micromanage,” says Dr. Gershon. The brain receives much more information from the gut than it sends down, he adds.
Many people with psychiatric and brain conditions also report gastrointestinal issues. New research indicates problems in the gut may cause problems in the brain, just as a mental ailment, such as anxiety, can upset the stomach.
Stanford’s Dr. Pasricha and colleagues examined this question in the lab by irritating the stomachs of newborn rats. By the time the animals were eight to 10 weeks old, the physical disturbance had healed, but these animals displayed more depressed and anxious behaviors, such as giving up more quickly in a swimming task, than rats whose stomachs weren’t irritated.
Compared to controls, the rats also showed increased sensitivity to stress and produced more of a stress hormone, in a study published in May in a Public Library of Science journal, PLoS One.
Other work, such as that of researchers from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, demonstrated that bacteria in the gut—known as gut flora—play a role in how the body responds to stress. The exact mechanism is unknown, but certain bacteria are thought to facilitate important interactions between the gut and the brain.
Electrically stimulating the vagus nerve has been shown to reduce the symptoms of epilepsy and depression. (One treatment approved by the Food and Drug Administration, made by Cyberonics Inc., is already on the market.)
Exactly why such stimulation works isn’t known, experts say, but a similar procedure has been shown in animal studies to help improve learning and memory.
Earlier this month, researchers made a small step toward understanding a gastrointestinal ailment that typically affects children with autism.
In a study of 23 autistic children and nine typically developing kids, a bacterium unique to the intestines of those with autism called Sutterella was discovered.
The results, published online in the journal mBio by researchers at Columbia’s school of public health, need to be studied further, but suggest Sutterella may be important in understanding the link between autism and digestive ailments, the authors wrote.
Dr. Gershon, professor of pathology and cell biology at Columbia, has been studying how the gut controls its behavior and that of other organs by investigating the neurotransmitter serotonin.
Low serotonin levels in the brain are known to affect mood and sleep. Several common antidepressants work by raising levels of serotonin in the brain.
Yet about 95% of the serotonin in the body is made in the gut, not in the brain, says Dr. Gershon. Serotonin and other neurotransmitters produced by gut neurons help the digestive track push food through the gut.
Work by Dr. Gershon and others has shown that serotonin is necessary for the repair of cells in the liver and lungs, and plays a role in normal heart development and bone-mass accumulation.
Studying the neurons in the gut also may also help shed light on Parkinson’s disease. Some of the damage the disease causes to brain neurons that make the neurotransmitter dopamine also occur in the gut neurons, researchers say.
Researchers are now studying whether gut neurons, which can be sampled through a routine colonoscopy, may help clinicians diagnose and track the disease without invasive brain biopsies, says Pascal Derkinderen, a professor of neurology at Inserm, France’s national institute of health.
Following a positive lab test for breast cancer, a woman may feel overwhelmed and stressed. This reaction is common among breast cancer survivors and is a primary cause of depression. However, new research indicates that simple meditative practices may help prevent depression among breast cancer survivors.
For the study, a team of researchers from the University of Missouri recruited a group of breast cancer survivors to participate in a meditation class lasting between eight and 10 weeks. The class explained the basics of meditation and how to deal with stress that may arise during the course of recovery.
The results showed that participants were able to lower their blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate through meditation. Additionally, meditation helped many individuals improve their moods.
Given the fact that up to 50 percent of breast cancer survivors develop depression, the findings could have important implications. Jane Armer, one of the principle researchers on the study, said that meditation may serve as an effective complement to standard cancer therapies. This may help individuals regain a sense of control in their lives, thereby reducing their diabetes risk.
It is well known that there are relationships between gastrointestinal (GI) disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome anddisorders including anxiety disorders. Another aspect of these relationships was highlighted recently in an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that demonstrated that bacteria in the gut are likely to affect the and may influence psychiatric symptoms including anxiety and .
This study investigated the effects of a strain of Lactobacillus on mouse models of behaviors that correlate with human conditions such as anxiety and depression. Lactobacillus is a “good” type of bacteria that lives normally in our GI system. These bacteria, or similar bacteria, are found in certain foods, including yogurt. Mice who received chronic feedings of these good bacteria exhibited behaviors in various testing procedures that correlate with fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression in humans.
The GI system interacts with the brain via several mechanisms. One mechanism involves the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve plays a number of critical roles including conveying information from various body regions to the brain and vice versa. This nerve and its brain connections have become increasingly important in psychiatry and are targets for a novel form of treatment called “vagus nerve stimulation” (VNS), which may be helpful for patients with depression who have not responded to other treatment approaches. In VNS, a form of electrical pacemaker is used to activate the nerve. VNS is also used to treat patients with treatment-resistant epilepsy.
GABA (gamma amino butyric acid) is the major fast inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain and is involved in many aspects of brain function. The GABA system in specific brain regions can be involved in the regulation of anxiety andand is the primary target for benzodiazepine-type anti-anxiety medications such as Valium (diazepam), Xanax (alprazolam), and Ativan (lorazepam).
The PNAS study found changes in the GABA system of several brain regions in the mice fed the good bacteria. In addition, when the vagus nerve was cut in these animals, the anti-anxiety andeffects of the GI bacteria were eliminated. The influence of the gut bacteria on the brain’s GABA system was also eliminated. These results indicate that something related to good bacteria in the GI system influences the vagus nerve and that the vagus nerve then interacts with the GABA system and changes behavior.
In our opinion, it is likely that other neurotransmitter systems, possibly including the serotonin system, are influenced by various GI bacteria.
The take home message from this study is that our GI system can influence our brain and our behaviors. In turn, our brain influences our gut. The strong possibility that the foods we eat influence how we feel and how we act via effects on the GI system opens up new avenues of research that may lead to creative ways to treat people who suffer from various psychiatric disorders.
This type of research gives new meaning to the phrase “gut feeling.”