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Posts Tagged ‘aging’

15 June 2013 Activating the Vagus Nerve

by Angela Savitri Petersen
Rising Life Media
25 October 2012
WHAT IS THE VAGUS NERVE?
The 10th of the cranial nerves, it is often called the “Nerve of compassion” because when it’s active, it helps create the “warm-fuzzies” that we feel in our chest when we get a hug or are moved by something…

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.

STRESS & THE VAGUS NERVE

Your body’s levels of stress hormones are regulated by the autonomic nervous system (ANS) [3]. 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[6].

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 [4]. 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[1].

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.

HEALTH, LONGEVITY & AGING

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.

CELLULAR REGENERATION

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.

Here’s why.

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. [5] 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.

RELAXATION & MEDITATION

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!

COMPASSION & DNA

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!

LOVE

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.

 

references:

https://sites.google.com/site/stanleyguansite/health/health-tips/breathe-deeply-to-activate-vagus-nerve

http://tkcollier.wordpress.com/2006/10/05/how-the-dalai-lama-can-help-you-live-to-120/

http://www.subtleyoga.com/220/11

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=forget-survival-of-the-fittest

 

 

11 January 2012 Compassion, the vagus nerve and how to live longer

by David R. Hamilton PHD
Patterns of Experience:Body Therapies and Healing Trauma
September 23, 2010

The Philosopher’s Stone Has Been Found…It’s Inside You

For centuries learned people have searched for the mystical philosopher’s stone, believed to be the elixir of life and give immortality to he or she who owns it.

But could it be that the philosopher’s stone is not so much a stone but an attitude?

A groundbreaking piece of research by Kevin Tracey, director of the Feinstein Institute and Professor and President of the Elmezzi graduate school of molecular medicine in Manhasset, New York, has revealed how the nervous system (the vagus nerve) controls inflammation in the body, now known as ‘The Inflammatory Reflex’. Inflammation is one of the major contributors to aging of the body and plays a key role in illness and disease.

Most people think of inflammation as the swelling and redness after a cut. This inflammation is a vital part of healing and helps to ensure that nutrient-rich blood is drawn to the site of injury to help facilitate healing. But it turns out that if it wasn’t for the vagus nerve  – the longest nerve in the body that runs from the top of the brainstream, through the face, throat, chest, heart, the GI tract, all major organs, and even over certain immune cells – inflammation from a small cut would typically spill out into the bloodstream and lead to septic shock and multiple organ failure.

The vagus nerve is the brake on inflammation throughout the body. Once the vagus nerve senses that there are enough inflammatory substances (the chemicals of inflammation) following an injury it sends a signal to the immune cells that make those chemicals and tells them to turn off production.

The vagus nerve puts the brakes on inflammation in much the same way that you might apply the brake in your car when you’re travelling a little over the speed limit.

The vagus nerve is highly important because inflammation doesn’t only arise in response to injury; it is also a side effect of unhealthy lifestyle factors – like poor diet, drinking, stress, etc. It plays a key role in heart disease, some cancers, and in fact it is involved in just about every serious disease we know of in western medicine.

Indeed, it is one the ‘Major Agers’, which are phenomena that most cause aging. So much so, in fact, that many gerontologists believe that if science could develop a powerful body-wide anti-inflammatory drug then the average person would live until they were around 150 years old.

But we now know that the vagus nerve is our natural anti-inflammatory nerve. Maybe the wonder drug that pharmaceutical companies are currently searching for isn’t necessary. Maybe all we need to do is train our vagus nerves in much the same way that we train at a gym. Is this possible?

It seems that people have different vagus nerve activity, or what is sometimes called, ‘vagal tone’. Think of it like muscle tone. A person who exercises regularly might enjoy good muscle tone and similarly a person who exercises or does meditation, yoga or tai chi, might enjoy good vascular tone. Vagal tone is used in a similar capacity to indicate power, activity, health etc of the vagus nerve.

Some people’s nervous systems, then, are more efficient at keeping inflammation at bay, just as different people have different immune system robustness. Some are good at keeping them free of illness and some aren’t quite so good.

Recently, a link has been identified between the vagus nerve and compassion. In some studies people who are most compassionate were found to have the highest vagal tone, and similarly the reverse is also true. People who have the highest vagal tone tend to be the most compassionate. In some of this research Dacher Keltner, psychology professor at Berkley, calls these people ‘vagal superstars’. According to much of his research, the association between the vagus nerve and compassion is very strong.

So could training ourselves to be more compassionate actually train the vagus nerve and reduce inflammation in the body? Scientists have indeed recently studied the link between compassion and inflammation.

In a 2009 study, scientists at Emory University School of Medicine, trained 33 people in a compassion meditation, which involved the structured generation of feelings of compassion on a daily basis, and compared them with a group of 28 people who didn’t do the meditation. After 6 weeks those who did the compassion meditation had much lower levels of inflammation in their bodies than those who didn’t.

Since the vagus nerve is the primary brake on inflammation and compassion is correlated with the vagus nerve, it makes sense that compassion actually reduces inflammation in the body.

Could it be that the philosopher’s stone that many have searched long and hard for has always been right in front of our eyes? In fact, it is not so much in front of our eyes but in our hearts? Could it be that simple? History has taught us that things usually are that simple. Maybe it’s called the philosopher’s stone because it takes a philosopher to consider compassion to be the elixir of life. Perhaps humanity has only just reached a point of spiritual maturity to even contemplate such a thing.

So why is it that compassionate people everywhere aren’t living until they’re over a hundred? Well, we counter the effects of it with other lifestyle choices we make – the unhealthy foods we eat, the toxins and stimulants we take into our bodies, our unhealthy habits like smoking and drinking (too much), not exercising regularly, and also our mental emotional stresses of life. Many of us are so stressed that we neutralise the effects of most of our healthy habits. Perhaps, the journey now is to learn to treat our bodies and minds well.

The new healthy formula:

Eat well, sleep well, exercise well, think well, and show people that you care!

Perhaps this formula is the mystical philosopher’s stone. Maybe the stone is not a stone, but a Way, the philosopher’s Way.

And that way is compassion.

References:

For Kevin Tracey’s discovery of the inflammatory reflex, see K. J. Tracey, ‘The inflammatory reflex’, Nature 420, 2002, 853–9; also H. Wang, et al., ‘Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor alpha7 subunit is an essential regulator of inflammation’, Nature 421, 2003, 384–8

For the link between the vagus nerve and compassion, see Dacher Keltner, Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, Norton, New York, 2009

For the study of compassion meditation and inflammation, see: T. W. W. Pace, L. T. Negi, D. D. Adame, S. P. Cole, T. I. Sivillia, T. D. Brown, M. J. Issa and C. L. Raison, ‘Effect of compassion meditation on neuroendocrine, innate immune and behavioural responses to psychosocial stress’, Psychoneuroendocrinology 34, 2009, 87–98

For a good summary of the compassion-vagus nerve-inflammation link, see David R Hamilton PhD, Why Kindness is Good for You, Hay House, London, 2010.

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