Though I know that I have dallied with the vagus nerve before, as a most interesting cog in the wheel of overall health, a series of events in my own health has brought me back to study it some more. In fact, during a phase of experiencing an unsettling series of symptoms, including post-herpatic neuralgia and much worsened allodynia, stomach issues and chronic fatigue, the phrase “its the vagus nerve” pretty much showed up in my head one day and so I went off down another rabbit hole.
Indeed, my subsequent deep dive into this flagged up that a vagus nerve disorder is, quite possibly, central to a whole range of chronic health issues. Not for the first time, the possibility of a long-running viral cause underlying these chronic issues came to the surface, which really caught my eye. This line or exploration first opened up for me when I came across Anthony William, the Medical Medium a couple of years ago. His chapters on the Epstein Barr and shingles viruses, in the book Medical Medium: Secrets Behind Chronic and Mystery Illness and How to Finally Heal was like a light bulb going on the first time I read it. I will include a summary of my own “viral story” over many years (which he helped me to decipher) at the end so that it doesn’t take over this post but its possible you might find it useful as you work to decipher your own health history and how it came about.
Just briefly, I will say that, consistent with what I am reading about how a virus affects the vagus nerve, my own story began with widespread pain and “mystery” symptoms, from joint pains to hyper-sensitivity to sore throat and IBS (fibromyalgia) and chronic fatigue (CFS) plus frequent bouts of Post Exertional Malaise (PEM), which causes excessive loss of mental and physical stamina. In those early years, I would find myself out-of-action for days or even weeks at a time. Over time, more and more of the kind of issues that are termed auto-immunity have jumped on the band-waggon of my health; along with very severe issues related to the central nervous system and high sensitivity to my environment. An underlying viral cause would make sense of this hotch-potch of symptoms. It has been theorised that a virus infection of the vagus nerve can be the root cause of all of these things and even more bizarre and seemingly unrelated symptoms. In particular, researchers affiliated with the Tufts University PTSD Neuroimaging Laboratory, and from Massachusetts General Hospital, were the first to publish a hypothesis that a pathological infection of the vagus nerve could be a possible cause of CFS. The range of health conditions now bracketed in this way include Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and the work to get to know this “mystery” area of health continues.
What and where is the vagus nerve?
The vagus nerve, which is the tenth (out of twelve) cranial nerve, extends from the medulla part of the brainstem behind the ears and travels all the way down the trunk of the body via the neck, chest and abdomen; in fact ‘Vagus’ is Latin for ‘wandering’. It has its “fingers” into processes all along that route; networking the brain, ears, eyes, throat and facial functions with the stomach and digestive tract, the lungs, heart, spleen, intestines, liver and uterus. It is made up of thousands and thousands of fibres, 80 per cent of which are sensory, feeding back data to the brain. Needless to say, it is very complex in its functions; in fact I would hazard a guess that we only know a small part of its story. Here is the better-known portion of what it does, across a range of both sensory and motor functions:
- allows motor control of muscles in the throat
- stimulates the muscles of organs in your chest and trunk, including those that move food through your digestive tract (peristalsis) and the heart (controlling heart rate)
- stimulates muscles in the pharynx, larynx, and the soft palate
- provides a sense of taste near the root of your tongue
- provides somatic sensation information for the skin behind the ear, the external part of the ear canal, and certain parts of the throat
- supplys visceral sensation information for the larynx, oesophagus, lungs, trachea, heart, and most of the digestive tract
It is both involved with the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the nervous system; one of which, using a car analogy, is like the accelerator (often termed the “fight or flight” aspect) and the other the brake (in charge of regulating heart rate, sweating, digestion and so on). As already mentioned, it contains both motor and sensory fibres, in multiple different parts of the body; the former concerned with the use of muscles to perform action while the sensory functions are when our body responds to a stimulus and sends signals to the brain. Information, in fact, travels in both directions along its path; that is, both to and from the brain in a constant dialogue that goes to make up our daily experience of what it means to be human.
In fact, it is broadly regarded to be the link between the physical and spiritual aspects of “who we are” because of the way that it oversees two different very different sides of how the nervous system functions. Psychoneuroimmunology is a relatively new field and we are only just starting to get a handle on how the immune system, the nervous system, plus some other ingredient (far less easily defined), to do with being intrinsically human beyond the physical, all continue to affect each other as part of the daily workings of the human body; a complex business which is the very specialism of the vagus nerve. Yet just because we struggle to label it does not mean we should not underplay that more abstract part of its functioning; which could, in fact, be its crowning role. Neuroscientist Stephen W. Porges, Director at Brain-Body Center, University of Illinois in Chicago, in his Polyvagal Theory, termed the vagus nerve ‘the nerve of compassion’. It is known that, when activated (and this includes times when we, for instance, listen to music or are otherwise emotionally “moved”), it is likely to bring feelings of warmth and expansion in the chest and a flood of relaxation to all of the body’s cells. New science also suggests it plays a role in trust and maternal bonding. People with good vagal tone have been found to be more prone to feeling emotions that promote altruism, compassion, gratitude, love and happiness. If you can excuse the poetic license then, if human beings are instruments of love, the vagus nerve is like the primary string on their violin – and like any string, it plays sweeter music when it is well tended and appropriately tuned. (or “toned”).
Making us whole again
Many times, over the years, I have made reference to the power of three…where the marriage of two parts amounts to a sum total that is far greater than their combined sum of parts. In other words, the very act of two aspects working together harmoniously creates something vaster and infinitely more “whole” than the sum total of the two components we started with. We could say, it is love in action when we achieve this balanced partnership and the central importance of this three-part equation is very ancient knowledge that is represented as the ancient three-spiralled triskele symbol or the holy trinity of father, son and spirit (just one of many interpretations of something far more fundamental than a mere “religious idea”). My favourite expression of these three parts is “harmony”, “light” and “expansion”; the most fundamental ingredients of which the universe is comprised. I have talked long and hard, in previous posts, about how bringing yin and yang (feminine and masculine qualities) into harmony achieves something far greater and more “whole” than the sum of their two parts. The same applies when the left and right hemispheres of the brain collaborate; these are the times when we become truly gifted in the broadest sense of the word, leading to innovation beyond anything we were previously capable of imagining (when these two aspects worked separately and, often, in conflict with one another). In other words, these higher moments of balanced, collaborative function lead to our evolutionary leaps; those special moments when we surpass and out-leap all of our previous hurdles in order to get further, better, more complete…even, you could say, “healed”.
Why is this relevant? Well, the part played by the vagus nerve, within the nervous system and the mechanical body as a whole, reminds me of that three-part equation that leads to greater wholeness and thus healing. It serves as a bridge of multiple pairs of two functions and, somehow, by incorporating two functions in one, it leads towards a higher function that we often only gain the most fleeting glances of in the average life-span or which, if sustained, we regard to be a state of “perfect good health” (the very holy grail to anyone with chronic health issues). Yet we slip from this high pedestal whenever we become unbalanced once more…and so many people live out of balance their whole lives or at least for detrimentally long periods of time (and the body is such a creature of habit; not always good ones).
What makes the vagus nerve the most likely candidate for that “third part”, the rebalancing “bridge” that leads us back to health? Well, you could imagine that the vagus nerve is like a veritable ark full of two-by-two pairs; and when it brings them all on board, we can sail across any amount of choppy water. Whether we focus on the sensory and motor functions, or sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, or the obvious fact it connects both our brain to our heart, it holds the potential to go that stretch further in all of these functions, serving as a mediator or sorts, leading us to something akin to a “heightened level” of experience, a sort of optimal state of being. That is, assuming it is allowed to do its job.
The vagus as the sum of two parts
Science is starting to play with this key role of the vagus nerve; one which has “evolutionary trajectory” written all over it; in other words, we have added this function as we have evolved as a species and, I would speculate, we haven’t finished evolving it yet. This extract is from a post by Dr Arielle Schwartz who approaches the healing of PTSD from the point of view of healing the vagus nerve and refers to a recent study by Dr Porges:
Dr. Stephen Porges’ polyvagal theory reveals that our nervous system reflects a developmental progression with three evolutionary stages. The earliest evolutionary set of actions is maintained by what is called the “Dorsal Vagal Complex.” This branch of the vagus nerve engages the parasympathetic nervous system* in an unrefined manner and is sometimes referred to as an abrupt vagal brake because of the immobilising defensive actions such as fainting or feigned death. The second evolutionary stage of nervous system is maintained by the actions of the sympathetic nervous system* responsible for actions that mobilize us into self-protection (fight/flight) when under stress. The most recently evolved portion of the nervous system is the “Ventral Vagal Complex” which Dr. Porges has termed the “social nervous system.” This more recently evolved branch of the vagus nerve also functions as a brake on sympathetic activation; however, this occurs in a highly refined and regulating manner resulting in a calming and soothing effect.
*The parasympathetic nervous system deals with Salivation, Lacrimation (tear formation), Urination, Digestion, and Defecation, all highly essential functions. However, these are shut down as not critical to immediate survival, as determined by the sympathetic nervous system, which operates on a fight or flight basis.
Left to the devices of the two lower functions, we are potentially at the mercy of two ends of a see-saw, neither of them ideal and chronic health issues can feel just like that. It’s hardly surprising that when one signal is to hype up the body’s functions and the other is to abandon them all, to freeze on the spot and feign death in order to hide from an endless stream of crises, we are forced to a complete standstill; yet many people experience life this way. Like living in a constant tug-o-war, many people with chronic health issues will identify with how it is not unusual to alternate between panic or feelings of being terribly overstimulated and detrimentally low-energy or even depression, and this is a sure sign that the vagus nerve is disrupted. For me, it is a common experience to feel like I have an imperative to get many things done and am full to the brim with high brain activity, urges and inspiration…whilst simultaneously feeling almost paralysed by indecisiveness, brain fog, pain and sheer exhaustion. I give you chronic fatigue syndrome at its worst and it can be desperately frustrating and demoralising over the long-haul; plus, you can never predict when it will strike.
This is where the vagus nerve’s special “higher” role as mediator comes in; or should do, when it is working properly. Dr. Porges identifies how the Ventral Vagal Complex helps to regulate both of these reactions; i.e. sympathetic hyper-arousal and parasympathetic hypo-arousal, yet this assumes the vagus nerve isn’t being interfered with, say, by a virus.
What virus might this be?
Harvard neuroscientist Dr. Michael Van ElZakker (in an interview with health journalist, Yasmina Ykelenstan) speculates as follows:
According to the hypothesis, there are a lot of pathogens that really like nerve tissue. That includes chicken pox, the herpes zoster virus, Epstein-Barr, HHV-6, some kinds of enterovirus, even the Lyme bacteria is a bacteria that really likes nerve tissue. I would say, not coincidentally, all of those are also pathogens that are linked to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Possible symptoms of a virus affecting the nervous system, especially the vagus nerve
- Ear issues such as itching, soreness, tinnitus.
- Eye issues such as blurriness, sharp pains, unexplained tiredness.
- Throat issues such as hoarseness, altered voice, sore throat, dry cough, disrupted or inappropriate gag response, choking on food or saliva, problems swallowing.
- Mouth issues such as “electric” tongue and unquenchable thirst, bitter taste.
- Tingling and itching or crawling sensations and even pain to face and scalp.Weepy or sore scalp.
- Mystery tooth and gum pain that seem to require dental treatment such as root canals and extractions or fillings (but could “just” be neuralgia).
- Reactions to food and other smells that seem to have near instantaneous effect on another part of the body, eg. close proximity to a food causes a stomach reaction as though you have eaten it.
- Facial and jaw pain, tingling, numbness, nasal congestion, forehead pressure, itchy scalp, equally bladder, bowel or urethra issues (remember the vagus nerve is one of 12 cranial nerves and there are likely to be cross-over behaviours when a virus is involved; in my case, the trigeminal and pudendal nerves have had many episodes of bizarre behaviour).
- Chest issues such as chronic cough and tightness, breathing issues, intercostal pain, costochondritis.
- Stomach issues such as gall bladder, over or under acid production and digestion malfunctions, IBS, Crohn’s, bloating, reflux, gasteroparesis.
- Unexplained uterus, vaginal and pelvic nerve pain.
- Tender lymph nodes.
- “Deep” chronic pain that cannot be explained by other means.
- Electrical tingles and stabbing pains, fast roaming symptoms that start in one place and seem to relocate to another before you can identify them, glutamate sensitivity and excitotoxity.
- Pinched nerves, frozen shoulder, chronic pack and neck pain.
- Low, high or irregular rates of heartbeat (arrhythmia), especially if prolonged after a startle event or at inappropriate times, fluttery feelings, fainting, dizziness and panic attacks.
- Overactive bladder, interstitial cystitis.
- Chronic fatigue and flu-like symptoms with no other cause. In fact, flu-like symptoms would not even exist without the vagus nerve since it is its signal to the body to just stop everything to deal with a pathogen (if there was no vagus nerve, the body would just carry on, pathogen or not).
- “Burning body” and hot flushes, burning skin, allodynia (pain from typically non-painful stimuli such as clothes and bedsheets etc) and generalised over-sensitivity to the environment, chemicals, food, touch etc. Especially pay attention to post-herpatic neuralgia type pain, even if you think you have never had shingles.
- Severe headaches including those that seem outside usual headache criteria (not quite migraine or cluster headaches, for instance).
- Inflammation that keeps returning in spite of numerous measures to mitigate it.
- Mood disorders with no other cause, especially if prone to sudden changes as though triggered by an unseen source.
- Pronounced or sudden need to withdraw from people, noise, light, electrical sources and other stimulants.
- Seeming over-reaction to environmental stimuli such as electro-sensitivity and related fear-based thinking about ordinary things; feeling things that others don’t notice (this is real, not imagined, but very hard to diagnose of explain).
- One-sided symptoms (the vagus nerve has a left and right branch), though not always the case.
- Periods of time when all the things you usually do – successfully – to lessen your health challenges suddenly seem to stop working or have the opposite effect; in my experience, this can be a clue that the central-nervous system is overwhelmed and throwing out erratic signals.
* IMPORTANT: Please note that all of these symptoms may have many other causes, which should be ruled out by a medical professional before assuming they are exclusively to do with the vagus nerve. This list is comprised of both well-documented symptoms from various sources and my own observations and should be treated as anecdotal.
The Vagus Nerve ~ Chronic Illness Connection
A new hypothesis has highlighted how a viral issue with the vagus nerve could be at the very root of chronic illnesses such as chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. This hypothesis was proposed by Michael VanElzakker, a Tufts neuroscientist, in 2013. Such a virus is almost impossible to detect in the conventional way via the serum, in fact stealth seems to be its middle name, helping explain why illnesses such as CFS have proved so hard to diagnose and get to the bottom of. The vagus nerve, triggered by the virus, sends signals to the brain to initiate “sickness behaviour” and so a widespread reaction begins, given the sheer extent of the domain that the vagus nerve oversees, Yes, this virus could not have picked a more centralised vehicle for its all-over attack strategy. In fact, the viral presence in the body might not be all that significant since even the slightest viral load could mimic a far greater attacking force than it is, given the vehicle it is using to send out its signals. This could then instigate an out-of-proportion response affecting multiple body processes all at once, or in a confusing sequence of events that feels like your health is falling apart one symptom at a time, destroying your morale. What a clever virus!
It should be added that the kind of widespread issues that can be triggered by a viral vagus nerve can be just so alarming that these trigger a cycle of anxiety as we strive to work out what is wrong with us; possibly whilst being met by a wall of miscomprehension from doctors as test results fail to deliver any useful answers.
Stress can raise the body’s level of epinephrine and norepinephrine, which stimulates the sympathetic nervous system to over-ride the parasympathetic nervous system, of which the vagus nerve is the main component. When the vagus nerve is affected in this way, people can experience palpitations, tachycardia, or premature ventricular contractions (PVCs). These are extra, abnormal heartbeats that begin in one of the heart’s two ventricles. Patients describe vagus nerve induced palpitations as a thud, a fluttery sensation, or a skipped beat. The sensation varies depending on the point during the heart’s normal rhythm that the vagus nerve fires. In many cases, this becomes a vicious cycle where the anxiety caused by the missed heartbeat further exacerbates the fight between the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system, leading to more palpitations. (Article by Jill Blakeway, MSc, LAc, Clinic Director of the YinOva Center in New York City )
Likewise, the convoluted mystery that can be irritable bowl syndrome or what some people term “leaky gut”, and all the many interrelated components of this ever-popular area of investigation, can set you off on a long-running detective saga and food-avoidance nightmare that has you spiralling into one stress after another, to which I can testify. One visit to an autoimmunity “specialist” last year had me almost losing what little was left of my morale and all in the space of one consultation; in which I was faced with giving up most of my favourite foods and undergoing long sequences of expensive investagative tests. So I decided enough was enough and to take matters fully into my own hands but, for some people, “diagnosed” guts issues can be a life-sentence, especially if they fail to see (or don’t even know how to begin to explore…) the bigger picture; and the vagus nerve might help lead us there.
Again, Jill Blakeway (who incorporates a Chinese Medicine approach; a combination of eastern and western medicine – yet another “bridge” across two perspectives, as can often prove so insightful), has tackled such cases using the vagus nerve as her way in to the heart of the mystery. About the vagus nerve, she says:
It plays a key role in the mind-body connection and, in particular, the way that the heart responds to emotions. It is also one of the mechanisms by which the stomach and intestines are affected by stress. Many of the patients I treat for IB who have the classic symptoms of Wood invading Earth have a vagus nerve that is either under or over performing. Likewise, the Five Element pattern of Wood not generating Fire correlates to the way the vagus nerve links the heart and gallbladder anatomically. The chong meridian links the heart and stomach in a way that is also similar to the path of the vagus nerve….Gastrointestinal bloating, indigestion, loose stools, shortness of breath, and hiccups can also be caused by an overstimulation of the vagus nerve, because branches of the nerve innervate the GI tract, diaphragm, and lungs. (Using the gall bladder divergent channel to calm an irritated vagus nerve – Jill Blakeway, MSc, LAc)
The “Psyche” of Epstein Barr Virus
Let’s take a brief detour to look at what we are dealing with here. Let’s see what a virus setting out to compromise the vagus nerve is all about; what is its game plan? Whilst personification of a virus is not a conventional approach, by any means, I have found that it can help us to get to know what we are dealing with in what is, really, the quite deep and inimate relationship we are having with it. After all, it lives with us and us with it; even if it is the squatter in our “house”. Yes, like an an uninvited house-guest, we are effectively “sharing house” with this virus, like it or not, and it pays to get to know it much better.
This is an approach to EBV that I’ve written about before (see Healing Bullies Inside and Out) and has served me well as I seek to intuit what exactly is going on with my health. In fact, I feel that I have got to know EBV pretty well over the years, in exactly the same way we all get to know the various bullies in our lives; whether at school, work, in our neighbourhood or families. It is this familiarity which allows us to notice how they operate and what motivates them, as long as we pay attention and don’t get emotionally involved. Like most bullies, the EBV is an opportunist and will leap onto situations where it feels we are compromised by inside and outside stressors. It literally “feeds” on these circumstances, making itself bigger and gaining more territory during times of weakness..and, as is typical of all opponents, it loves to divide in order to conquer; in fact, it relies on this as its main tactic, turning one function against another and making each part of the body feel isolated and desperate.
When a virus takes hold of a nerve, the aim is to fragment; to break up the communication wires; to separate or cut-off one part of the body from the rest and make them feel remote and stranded, fearful and desperate. We become complicit in this when a new symptom appears in one part of the body (our stomach, heart, eyesight..etc) and we allow fearful and overly-blinkered thoughts to take over whilst we analyse what is wrong with “it”. We run tests, seek expert help, become locked and invested in theories and labels rooted in this localised issue and forget to look at the whole picture; which thrills the virus since we are now doing its work for it whilst feeding it copious amounts of fear-vibe for breakfast (its very favourite “food”). The worst thing we can do to it is reopen the communication wires and get the whole of the vagus nerve “talking” again; in fact, when we do this, the EBV probably quakes in its shoes and knows its days are numbered.
Meanwhile, let’s remember, the vagus nerve serves to joins things together and is a great mediator; a kind of beneficent overseer, or an imparter of balanced and even-handed wisdom. Even under the influence of a virus, the vagus nerve wants to default to this skill set and, once we polish this ability and start it working optimally again, we have the very best tool at our disposal, like a master-key to the door of our healing!
Two sides of the vagus nerve – and its “crowning glory” third trick
This dual potential of the vagus nerve – the deliverer of overwrought messages to the brain or the great mediator that calms things down – is why there is the seeming contradiction that “stimulation of the vagus nerve” is touted as the best way to heal an overwrought vagus nerve. Surely, if the nerve is already far too stimulated and overwhelmed to the point of breaking down at every turn, the last thing it needs is more stimulating, right? One side of its function seems to stop us in our tracks at every turn, like abruptly putting a foot down on the brake of a car whenever anything new happens so, surely, if we stimulate it more, we will never get anywhere?
This is when its important to really understand its two distinct functions and how both are required for health. The function that has been “taken over” by the virus is the parasympathetic aspect, which now acts as a brake on the body…literally, causing it to “break down” with overwhelm every five minutes (I give you chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia). We need to support its other function in order to relax these responses and, to do this, we need the vagus nerve to be working optimally or to be well-toned. To quote Dr Arielle Schwartz:
the “Ventral Vagal Complex” which Dr. Porges has termed the “social nervous system.” This more recently evolved branch of the vagus nerve also functions as a brake on sympathetic activation; however, this occurs in a highly refined and regulating manner resulting in a calming and soothing effect.
In fact, I prefer the phrase “to tone” the vagus nerve rather than to “stimulate” it, so that, akin to a muscle in your leg, it is better equipped to adapt to many different situations and move back and forth between them, without breaking down.
How to heal the vagus nerve
As mentioned above, though it sounds contradictory when the vagus nerve seems to be “overstimulated” already, the consensus from all angles (scientists and zen meditators amongst them) is that we need to stimulate or tone the vagus nerve in order to heal it. The more toned it is, the more adaptable it is able to be to different circumstances; never lingering too long in an over-reaction (for instance) or failing to respond at all.
The vagus nerve uses a neurotransmitter to communicate with the body. Called acetylcholine, this neurotransmitter is responsible for learning and memory, feelings of calm, peace and relaxation throughout the body and is a major brake on inflammation in the body. Stimulating the vagus nerve, perhaps surprisingly, sends feelings of contentment and calm throughout the body and turns down the fires of inflammation related to pain and the negative effects of stress. Studies that are starting to appear relating to inflammation have had promising results (see articles linked below). It has even been shown to encourage altruistic behaviour and feelings of love. So the suggestions that follow will include methods of healing it and also stimulating / toning it, sometimes both at the same time.
On this topic, I can do no better than to point you at the Medical Medium and his various books for answers to this question and many recipe ideas. Assuming you now suspect you may have a viral infection affecting your nervous system, taking the recommended action through diet has everything going for it and nothing to lose since this way of eating is so good for you, regardless. Follow the diet, take the supplements, drink the herbal teas (lemon balm and liquorice are top of my favourite list) to both tackle the virus itself and support the nervous system in its rebound. The more consistently you eat a diet that does not feed the virus and which supports your nervous system in remaining calm, the more sustained the healing process becomes. In other words, avoiding foods that feed the virus is also key and is thoroughly covered in all of his books.
Treating the underlying virus and plugging gaps in your diet for general good health can be a brilliant way to support the vagus nerve. There is a wide range of supplements that are useful for the vagus nerve; the Medical Medium covers most of them. Ones I would especially mention are:
Magnesium L-Threonate, which is particularly beneficial for the brain and nervous system.
EPA & DHA Omegas, including vegan versions (I use one that is from marine algae).
Taurine, an amino acid that helps the nervous system to properly use calcium and magnesium. I find this particulalry helpful before going to bed, and notice how my nervous system may have a more sensative night when I don’t take it.
L-Theanine – I am singling this one out as it is a great ally, on a daily basis and taken in good quantity. You can find it in green tea but I have discovered that caffeine, even in this well-balanced natural formulation, can still be a problem during a neuralgia flare-up or when the vagus nerve is all over the place (otherwise, I drink maximum one cup of green tea a day). Supplements are an easy option as you can get them as tiny caplets which are easy to carry and take whenever you need them.
Lemon balm, incredibly soothing to the nerves, as above – either as a lovely herbal tea or as supplements.
Other daily support – such as taking daily zinc and a good source of antioxidant (my favourites are olive leaf, chaga mushroom, blueberries, esther-c), taking anti-inflammatories such as curcumin or boswellia. Keeping these routines helps to make sure there are no spaces of opportunity for the virus to strike back, which will help to get it back under control for more sustained periods of time (the goal, as per the Medical Medium’s advice, is to get the virus to retreat back to wherever it hides when it is not active).
L-Lysine, for keeping the EBV virus in check. The Medical Medium doesn’t seem to talk about arginine but most information sources about controlling herpes viruses and shingles via diet talk about needing to keep lysine levels higher than arginine in their ratio. Therefore you may want to look at the foods that make up your diet and address any shortfalls with appropriate lysine supplements at the time of eating foods higher in arginine. I found this useful resource: Chart of Lysine vs Arginine in Common Foods.
Lions mane mushroom supplements for rebuilding myelin (the protective sheath on the our nerves; see my article Repairing Your Myselin).
Natrural progesterone cream, if required for hormone balance, also for myelin repair and neuroprotective qualities (see section about menopause below).
CBD oil and the endocannabinoid system
CBD is something I have been experimenting with for the last four months, and with great success. There are wonderful amounts of information about this on the internet but, in summary, use of this non-psychoactive substance can make a huge difference to the nervous system at the time of taking, and also in a way that gains momentum since it encourages our own natural production of cannabinoids (as all mammals do; since we all have a built-in endocannabinoid system). “Modulating the ECS can have therapeutic potential in almost all human diseases” (Phystec: see below for more on this) yet we have hardly explored below the tip of this iceberg.
The endocannabinoid system supports the basic activity of the parasympathetic nervous in multiple ways and cannabinoid receptors can be found all along the vagus nerve, amongst many other places in the body. Our body produces its own cannabinoids, though this ability can become compromised by chronic health issues and stress. In fact, sustained stress is postulated as a main reason for this natural system breaking down in humans and, by taking CBD, the body can be reminded how (I already find I need CBD less often than when I started). When we introduce CBD to the body, this works the same as our own natural cannabinoids, to modulate the activity taking place wherever these receptors are located. When there are changes in the environment, our endocannabinoid system works to support the parasympathetic nervous system in supporting cell function, eliciting a healthy immune response and reducing the heart rate, amongst other functions, working towards homeostasis.
My own practice is to dose with CBD two or three times a day including, or additional to, taking it whenever I feel a nervous system reaction coming on, for reasons known or unseen (symptoms as above). As soon as I feel the familiar sensations in nerves or heart rate, pain levels or mood change, I reach for my drops and allow them to do their work. The modulating effect on how these episodes pan-out is remarkable and I continue to experiment with dosage. Of course, this is my personal anedote only and I cannot tell you that this will help in any way with your own symptoms. I can only suggest that you do your own reading and eperimentation.
For similar (but not identical) reasons, the Medical Medium recommends California Poppy tincture, though I have yet to find a reliable non-alcohol based source in the UK.
Other natural substances known to have a positive effect on the endocannabinoid system include capsaicin and truffles, included because of the presence of anandamide, sometimes referred to as “the happiness molecule”:
“Among other effects, anandamide triggers the release of chemicals in the brain and helps one to feel good, delivering major benefits to alleviate pain and fight depression. When humans consume black truffles they experience effects similar to those provided by cannabis, or those sensed when they naturally secrete anandamide.” (What Black Truffles, People and Cannabis Have in Common)
Breathing has a profound effect on the vagus nerve, the deeper the better so taking time out to do those yogic breathing exercises and keeping an eye on how deeply and slowly you breathe at different times of the day can be important. When you do this as an exercise, encourage making a noise deep in the throat by half-constricting the airways with your muscles as though trying to fog-up a mirror (known as Ujjayi Breath). Breathe out against resistance by holding your nose to create temporary pressure, thus stimulate nerves in the head, heart and chest (Valsalver Manoeuvre – this is a useful article). Various forms of Pranayama breathing are helpful, including alternate breathing, by holding one nostril at a time as you breathe in and (switch sides) breathing out through the other.
Mantra, singing, humming and tongue
By various means, we can influence our own vagus nerve by using the voice due to the fact that the vagus nerve passes through the neck right past the vocal cords and the inner ear. Singing, humming, chanting or “om”-ing can be such a useful (and pleasurable) tool for healing the vagus nerve; a combination of sound, intention setting and healing vibration. This can become even more focussed to the task if you chant your way through the chakras using the chakra-stimulating sounds (from bottom to top)
which places sound-focus on the progression up (or down) the full extent of the vagus nerve as you make the sounds gutturally through the throat. This can feel like you are literally unblocking any parts of it that have become energetically “stuck”. Soothing music – whether or not you join in – can have a wonderfully therapeutic effect on this nerve and delivers benefits to your entire nervous system and all the many functions under its control.
I have a theory that the reason sound and meditation is just so powerful for healing a virally infected vagus nerve is because of the way these viruses hijack our so-called “junk” DNA, the popular term for the empty spaces that remain a mystery to scientists (which I read somewhere is likely what they do). Possibly this is why a viral infection can feel so much like it tampers with our innate vibration, dampening down our mood and morale right from inside our very core. So when we counteract this through sound and mediation practice (both of which have been demonstrated to utilise “junk” DNA as a means of influencing cellular behaviour…using vibration or “frequency”) we, in effect, get to select a higher vibration for ourselves, which works to eliminate the lower-vibe virus in the same way that all living organisms tend to choose the highest vibration made available to them. We make that higher-vibe available to ourselves though our positive behaviours…and our DNA does all the rest of the work, simply because it is designed to do so. This becomes a self-perpetuating healing process and can seemingly take all the effort out of healing since “all” we are required to do is remain positive and “high-vibe” in our intentions and focus. Yes, this can be challenging when we are feeling unwell but it has proven track-record in my own experience of healing; the key being to sustain it for as long as possible without interruption in order to make the real breakthroughs in health.
The power of the sound “Om” to serve as an effective vagus nerve stimulator has now been demonstrated scientifically and is reported in the study listed by Bangalore G Kalyani , et al. (see excerpt of the study and its conclusion below).
Coughing, clearing the throat, even burping
These too can vibrate and thus stimulate the vagus nerve in a way that finds incredible relief. Possibly why they can be so deeply satisfying, within reason!
A good belly laugh not only stimulates the throat, similar to the humming and singing mentioned above, but vibrates throughout the whole torso, waking up the diaphragm, stomach and lungs, even jiggling the stomach and sending ripples and tingles through the lower abdomen, thus toning the vagus nerve all along its length. It also releases chemicals that serve as our own stress-tonic, releasing tension in the body and relaxing the face into that tonic of all tonics – the smile. When we smile, the whole face joins in, including the skin around the ears where the vagus nerve has some of its most sensory “feelers’. You can see how the effect of laughter is like an all-over therapy session for the vagus nerve!
As above, the benefits of meditation are well documented and it seems to be the same for healing the vagus nerve. A study was carried out by Barbara Fredrickson and Bethany Kok in 2010, with around 70 participants, and involved teaching half the cohort how to meditate whilst all of them recorded the strength of their emotions each day. Vagal tone was also measured at the beginning of the experiment and after nine weeks later.
Those who meditated showed a significant rise in vagal tone, which was associated with reported increases in positive emotions. “That was the first experimental evidence that if you increased positive emotions and that led to increased social closeness, then vagal tone changed,” Kok says. (Hacking the Nervous System – Gaia Vince.
In one article, which refers to the vagus nerve as “the meditation highway” (see link below) it is suggested that “the ability to locate and work with your vagus nerve is just as effective at ‘centering’ you as taking a sedative”.
Working with your heart
Get to know about, and notice, heart variability, which can also be done using a special device that takes readings as you go about your day. I have a HeartMath monitor and this helps me to understand how variable my heart rate can be and to optimise this by working with my own reactions to situations in a conscious way and through breathing. For more on this fascinating area of study, consult the HeartMath website.
Holding a hand over your heart, with or without closing your eyes, can be an incredibly supportive and discrete action for the vagus nerve, wherever you are; you will be surprised at the power of your own hands. Also taking time to slip off your shoes and ground yourself on natural surfaces, preferably outdoors, is a wonderfully heart-supportive practice and, once you can visualise where the vagus nerve is, this brings a whole new meaning to the phrases “centering yourself” or “bringing yourself back to your core”.
Massage your ears
The vagus nerve has a sub-section known as the auriculular branch which is connected to the skin on the back of your ears and the posteria part of the ear canal and I am convinced this is why many people with fibromyalgia report intense ear-cartiledge pain (as do I) at times when their nervous system feels overly sensitive. Since long before I realised this connection with the vagus nerve, I have found it helpful to thoroughly massage the ear cartilage and the skin behind the ears; in fact, I find myself doing this automatically when I am being challenged by EMFs in the environment, to which I am profoundly sensative. This can both release the pain and send a cascade of calming feelings along the vagus nerve to other parts of the body. Although, in my own case, this does not particularly reduce tinnitus, I feel that many answers relating to what tinnitis is and how it can be allayed will be found in connection with the vagus nerve and related viruses.
“Palm” your eyes
Vision issues including blurring, unexplained tiredness and stabbing or sharp nerve pains can be related to various cranial nerve issues, in which the vagus nerve plans a part. By gently placing the palm of your hands over each eye and massaging the area, you can often reset this nerve malfunction and enjoy improved vision and less strain. Its why we tend to do this automatically when we are tired or overwrought. I tend to interpret increased blurriness or sparkles after doing this as a measure of how much I needed this reset and as a sign to watch out for an overwrought nervous system. Having rests from close-work and making use of long-range vision throughout the day (especially when doing computer work) is so important for nerve health to do with the eyes.
Vigorous gargling on a regular basis…to the point where you get tears welling in the eyes (this is not pain but an automatic response) will help to tone the vagus nerve and can be a great work-out for the throat.
Even chewing gum has been shown to be of benefit to the vagus nerve’s tone.
Give time and attention to your face
Splash cold water on your face or duck your face in a bowl of cold water, a technique that has good results in relation to the vagus nerve since it activates the diving relax. Hold cold or lukewarm water in your mouth and allow yourself to really feel it before swallowing.
I would add to this the importance of self-massaging the face. I particularly find benefit from this in the sauna or warm bath, which allows for gentle yet deep massage of all the facial nerves, stroking outwards from the centre; a myofascial therapist will show you how you can do this most beneficially. A tool I have invested in is called a kansa wand and has a wonderfully cool and therapeutic effect on the surface of the face, amongst other places. I also like to massage eyebright gel (kept in the fridge) around the eyes and eyelids and use the opportunity to massage all those sensitive nerves as I do so.
Consider how you hold your face when on your own or concentrating; do you frown or hold onto contorted or tense expressions and, if so, work to relax these.
Stretch out your back and neck
Doing yoga or qigong not only relaxes you but vastly improves your posture, which gives the vagus nerve a chance to do what it does without constriction and pressure whilst improving vagal tone. Walking, of course, and ample time standing each day is key to good health.
I’ve very recently started using a device called GravityLife as a way of stretching out and correcting back posture for my back pain and am finding it incredibly helpful, not just for these reasons but because I sense my nervous system is getting an overhaul from the improved layout of the torso region. My posture has undergone incredible improvement in just a few days and I am walking without back pain, with correct stance and easily swinging arms, not to mention a feeling of being “more joined up” somehow from my feet to my head. The first time I used it, I felt as though tiny nerves were unwinding in multiple parts of my body and felt amazing pain-free and “light” afterwards. It was only afterwards that I considered this had potentially helped to tone the vagus nerve by releasing some of the compression that it must inevitably experience in various parts of the body where poor posture and habit put it under a great deal of strain.
Neck extensions are also of benefit; for instance, sitting straight against a wall and extending chin down to neck, and then (without the wall support) extending head back as far as it comfortably goes. I also enjoy the side versions of this for relieving tension, though be careful if your neck is a weak area and prone to spasms. Yoga is magical for working all these areas and keeping then toned.
Listen to music
Obviously, we’re talking the “right” kind of music here, not thrash metal. Also singing bowls, binaural tones, nature sounds…these all have benefit for the vagus nerve and elicit that deep relaxation response that feels like you are flooded with warmth in the chest, neck and stomach areas. Doing this often, as a conscious thing, perhaps when overwrought or before bed, becomes a healing modality in its own right.
Menopause and vagus nerve issues – being aware of the link without panicking
Studies are starting to suggest a link between classic menopause symptoms and the behaviour of a dysfunctional vagus nerve, including hot flushes and heart palpitations. “Doing menopause” as gracefully as possible is my best advice, using natural hormone replacement, healthy diet and herbs as medicine plus keeping out of fear and stopping yourself from thinking there is “something wrong” with you. Menopause can be a ride but its a perfectly natural life phase. By healing the vagus nerve in other ways, the so-called symptoms of menopause should get easier.
Meanwhile, be aware that hormone imbalances can rock the nervous system’s boat quite a lot. The sudden drop in oestrogen levels at menopause is associated with an increase in neuropathy (see article Estrogen Levels Drop Leads to Peripheral Neuropathy in Post-Menopausal Women). Meanwhile, progesterone is emerging as an important player in the repair of neuralgic damage. It not only serves as neuroprotection but supports myelin production. This, below, is taken from an article a study Progesterone prevents development of neuropathic pain in a rat model: Timing and duration of treatment are critical (Dableh L, Henry J):
“Progesterone is emerging as an important protective agent against various injuries to the nervous system. Neuroprotective and remyelinating effects have been documented for this neurosteroid, which is synthesized by, and acts on, the central and peripheral nervous systems…These results indicate that progesterone, when administered immediately after nerve injury, and for a sufficient period of time, can prevent the development of neuropathic pain, and may offer new strategies for the treatment of this highly debilitating condition.”
Then this from a study Progesterone Produces Antinociceptive and Neuroprotective Effects in Rats with Microinjected Lysophosphatidic Acid in the Trigeminal Nerve Root (Min Ji Kim, Hea Jung Shin, Kyoung Ae Won, et al):
Our present data demonstrate that a daily administration of progesterone produces a significant anti-allodynic effect. Interestingly, delayed and prolonged significant anti-allodynic effects were observed after the final administration of progesterone in our rat model. These results suggest that treatment with progesterone produces not only early anti-nociception but also delayed and prolonged anti-nociception. Accumulating behavioral evidence supports the antinociceptive effects of progesterone.
See link at the bottom of this article for a collection of other studies on progesterone and nerve pain. I have certainly found that if I interrupt or reduce the application of my usual 2x daily natural progesterone cream, my allodynia symptoms and post-herpatic neuralgia type pains seem to become much more intense; so, coincidence?
Reducing Exposure to EMFs
The vagus nerve’s responsiveness to EMFs is no imagined thing, even if it is an overreaction so, quite logically, we would do well to mitigate how much exposure we get. Keeping wi-fi off overnight when we sleep and turning off phones when not in use is the least we can do for ourselves to give it a rest from over-stimulation of the wrong kind as well as essential time to recover overnight. For more thoughts on this topic, see my other posts on electro-sensitivity
Acupressure and gravity
Standing up regularly, going for daily walks and thinking about the kind of footwear we choose are important ways of supporting vagus nerve health. I use a combination of “barefoot” shoes (which keep your foot in close contact with the ground and naturally massage them as you walk) and more supportive “ergo” shoes for pavement pounding and longer standing, according to my needs. By massaging these points in the feet, which is easy enough to do for yourself as you sit there of an evening, you can target all the key organs in the body that are influenced by the vagus nerve and send healing messages back to that nerve, thus to the brain.
Checking whether your jaw is functioning as it should can be key to the vagus. In my case, I used to have terrible jaw issues including clicking and grinding but work with a myofascial specialist over a reasonably long time helped to release pressure and issues I was having, especially where the vagus meets the trigeminal nerve. This has provided long term relief from symptoms of facial, tooth and neck pain plus headaches that I was experiencing beforehand and, when I get the occasional flare-up, I now mitigate using all of the vagus nerve toning methods listed.
Tapping and energy healing
I start every morning with a routine outlined by Donna Eden as part of her Energy Medicine method and it includes massaging and tapping various energy centres from my face downwards (it only takes 5 minutes). I am convinced that, amongst other things, this is really useful for resetting the vagus nerve; and you can feel it as an upsurge of warmth and revived energy. See below for a video showing you how.
Especially if chronic fatigue is how this takes shape for you, make sure you get lots of rest and appropriate amounts of sleep. Allow those times when you just have to stop without resisting them; in fact, consider your rest time “doing something productive” since it is allowing your vagus nerve to heal. On the other hand (and this often works) if you suddenly crash and have no energy just as you were wanting to do something, try some of the techniques I’ve listed, such as massaging your ear cartilage and behind the ears, palming the eyes, breathing out against your pinched nose, tap your energy points and so on. I have turned my energy levels right around from crashed to ready to go in just a few minutes using some of these techniques (and without resorting to coffee).
Avoid 1 + 1 situations
Following these practices and by being attentive, you will get to know what challenges the vagus nerve, so try to avoid two such situations at once. For instance, don’t encourage stressful, argumentative conversation (or watch TV!) during meals…the vagus nerve already has enough on its plate processing your food! If you know you are challenged by extrasensory (compared to most people…) feelings such as being sensitive to wifi, crowds, noise or other people’s feelings, avoid high-exposure at times of other stress. Bring vagus calming practices into every day life, such as deep breathing, holding a hand over your heart and grounding yourself plus supplements as above.
Respect the vagus but also play your conscious part as interpreter
This is a longer topic but, in my view, one of the most important and is an area of study I feel I have made my own, derived from vast personal experience.
First, we need to respect that the vagus nerve knows things that we don’t always notice at the conscious level. It possesses what you could term “extra-sensory” skills, although I would say they are sensory but in a way that we don’t yet full understand in scientific terms or in our daily lives where the five senses monopolise most of our preoccupations.
Then, once you have conceded this area of expertise, but are also aware that the vagus might be compromised by a viral infection (potentially making it over-zealous at interpreting some of these sensory stimulants as “fear-inducing”) be prepared to add your own interpretations to the mix. The vagus nerve is incredibly sensitive to unseen data from the environment. It might very-well tune into things that are going on in that outer, or inner, environment which are less than ideal, at the broadest scale, but which you don’t want to be worrying about in this moment. These things might be out of your direct influence zone and noticing them might just be a sure-fire way to become chronically overwhelmed and exhausted. If we have suddenly flipped from being the family soothsayer, in other words the person who has all the really great yet unexplainable instincts about things, to being the family misery, it might be time to tone-up our vagus nerve!
When we start to subliminally worry about all the things going on around us and, equally, inside of us, at the plasma level, we start to buckle under the strain and this is the dysfunctional vagus nerve at its worse. We become systemically overwhelmed without even really knowing why. So, at this point, we need to say “thanks for telling me” to the vagus nerve that flags up too many sensitivities, such as (in my case) electro-sensitivity and then assert that we really don’t need to be dealing with that information right now; nor is it necessary for us to know about everything that is going on. Like being the CEO of a company with an over-zealous junior rushing up to the top floor every moment to tell you about every minor drama going on in the post room (or outside the window), you have to step in and declare “Enough, I don’t need to hear all this”. Not that you are taking away from the importance of what it has to say; but you can only deal with so much if you are going to focus on what you are really wanting to get on with in this life. And at some level, the vagus already knows (but has temporarily forgotten) it will all work out in the end; there’s no need to sweat over all the small stuff to see the beauty in the bigger picture.
Space weather sensitivity…and other weird effects of an overwrought vagus nerve
For instance, I am also sensitive to the phenomena known as space weather, which means I feel events such as geomagnetic storms and solar flares through my senses…and I have no doubt my over-wrought viral vagus nerve has something to do with this. How do I know this? Well, typical symptoms, when this occurs, include temporarily increased and erratic heart rate with no other cause, non-linear onset of stomach issues, sudden dramatic changes in mood, energy or motivation, reactions that mimic extremes of cold or heat even when I’m in a consistent environment, episodes of frozen shoulder which self-resolve, severe headaches, severe yet temporary issues with vision, teeth and facial nerves, bladder and pelvis (as other nerves jump on board), burning or crawling skin sensations and, one of my very typical clues that there has been a space weather event, intense pain and tightness to the skin behind and around my ear where the vagus nerve begins its wandering journey. Exhaustion can come over me in a sudden wave and I find myself having to suddenly shut down from other people and outside stimulants until the moment has passed. Lately, I sometimes get hoarse voice or intense sore throat episodes which are gone as quickly as they arrived once the space weather event has passed.
To cope with these bizarre reactions, I have had to learn to say “thanks for the tip-off, but this isn’t helpful to me right now” so I can get on with my life. I use vagus toning exercises, as above, to over-ride or soothe as many symptoms as I can, calming down the nervous system whichever way I can, which means (being the wandering nerve) the positive effects cascade to the whole of the rest of the body. Once I have done all this, I can even get a different spin on space weather events by finding them quite the high ride of new insights, joyfully heightened feelings and new inspiration. The key to all of this vagus nerve management is to keep out of fear.
Even if you don’t identify with this particular source of vagus nerve trigger, your version of vagus nerve overwhelm might be to become overly sensitive to other people and their emotions or to events outside your spectrum of influence. You might, as mentioned above, notice that you get a reaction to food in the supermarket even as you hold it in your hand or walk past the display and, whilst these reactions can seem like an over-reaction, they might actually be telling you about a food sensitivity and its your job to interpret. Initially, the more you tone this nerve, the more you might notice your extrasensory responses to things going on around you, but your job is to keep your interpretation high-vibe, not fear-based (which is what a viral load will try to tip you towards; which is why a healing diet that keeps a viral load in check can have such a dramatic effect upon emotional wellbeing). The inner work involved in doing this can feel like a full-time job and yet, once you get into its momentum, it becomes exponentially easier…since you learn how feelings are your guide. When you steer your direction in life according to feelings of excitement and joy, you know you are on the right track. Finally…
Try not to worry
This might sound easier said than done when your health feels like it is cascading downwards in so many departments, but worry will only encourage the virus and undo all your hard work. Focus if you can on taking proactive steps (this is why I love the Medical Medium’s books and other resources) and celebrate small triumphs when you notice improvement or how you are managing symptoms better. Small increments are as important as giant leaps in a recovery like this and knowing that the viral load might be smaller than you imagined, and that the vagus nerve is “on your side”, should be helpful to morale. In fact, knowing about the vagus nerve, at all, is encouraging when you compare with the scenario that you used to think you had to take charge of your own health in order to get better; how on earth were you supposed to learn how to manage and control functions that the nervous system is designed to take charge of for you? (Thinking you have to become a control freak in order to heal is a popular misnomer perpetuated by so many people after years of struggling to gain traction with their health.) Now you can focus on one primary thing – supporting your vagus nerve back to health, trusting that it knows just what to do to return the body to homeostasis. It’s not our job to micro-manage the body and letting go of this misplaced belief can be such a relief, which allows us to relax at a very deep level, which is also part of the healing process. We start to visualise how, in the not too distant future, the body can be left to go back to looking after itself just as long as we provide the right ingredients for a health life; something we know much more about than before our health journey started.
Well on the way home to ourselves (= health)
This long and winding nerve has probably, by now, started to feel like the pathway home to yourself…because it is. The journey of discovery it has taken you on has never wasted a single step since you have probably learned more about yourself and your relationship with the world at large though this than you could have done via any other route. And it’s not over yet!
After a time of getting to know the vagus nerve better, visualising where it is, the many-faceted “job” that it performs, we can really start to love and appreciate it…and to notice how it is a kind of lynchpin to our body. It’s not to blame for whatever is going wrong; it is, in fact, to be respected for working so hard to try to keep everything together to the best of its ability. The thing about lynchpins is that they are, in a way, like a golden master-key; you know, the one that unlocks all the doors. So it can become a very real prospect that this is the very key that we have been looking for all this time as we sought to restore our own health. Treated respectfully and worked with by all these conscious means, there is no reason why it couldn’t live up to that prospect.
*For loads of useful links, articles and resources refered to, scroll on to the bottom.
My story with “mystery” invisible viral infections
I came to the conclusion, some time ago (courtesy of Anthony William) that I have been harbouring the EBV and shingles viruses for many years, mostly without knowing it. Herpes, after all, comes from the Greek word herpein, meaning “to creep”. It is a high probability that I inherited (*see below) both EBV and shingles – my live-in grandma had the latter – and displayed by first evidence of EBV as an eight year-old child during a phase of being bullied. I then had glandular fever when under stress in my early 20s and classic stage 3 and 4 symptoms, as described by Anthony William, in my late 30s (when I had a burn-out health crisis) and 40s. Both viruses “hide out” in the body, waiting for opportunities to play havoc with health and, in my case, they took advantage of a prolonged era of intense personal and circumstantial stress to show themselves.
At this point, I “fed” my hidden viral load two of its very favourite things…stress and heavy metals. The first came in the form of 2 to 3 years that I lived in almost constant fear, overwork and stress. The second came in the form of a flu vaccination I decided to have, during this stressful time, to avoid taking any time off work (ironically). My personal hypothesis is that the emotional state we are in when we undergo vaccinations, together with any underlying “hidden” viral load, may well be what determines why some people experience vaccine damage and others do not. Afterwards, I came down with the flu…and never seemed to get over it. Withn two years, I had left work and was dealing with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, amongst other things.
I seemed to make no breakthrough of any significance for the first few years. My first real chink of light appeared when I had a spiritual epiphany and came to see myself as part of something much vaster than myself; and from a perspective where everything was both unified and perfect “just as it is”. The key was that I had changed my perspective about what was “happening to me” and why; and I also started to meditate. I suddenly gained all-new traction, motivation and energy with my healing process and seemed to just happen upon helpful information in the coming months. Within a year, I had utterly transformed my diet, lifestyle and outlook and things began to look up.
Then a broken mercury-containing filling caused a noticeable relapse; and the subsequent treatment to remove the remainder of my old fillings rocked my health for several months (no doubt because the shifted heavy metals gave my viral load the opportunity to come back out of hiding and be “fed”). I came down with a severe kidney infection for several months, became suddenly electro-sensitive, my hormones became destabilised all over again (after years of carefully stablising them using natural progesterone cream and great diet) and I developed a strange butterfly-shaped leision on my back that itched and burned with stabbing red-hot pain which stayed for many months. At one point, my whole torso went off into a joined up rash and I became very ill for a few days. I now believe this was all shingles.
This lower-back episode died down in time but left one patch of the same itchy-burning skin, with a visible brown mark (that has now multiplied into several such disk-shaped marks), on my right hip which would flare up then retreat at different times. I developed allodynia (severe sensitivity to clothing) around my midriff, lower abdomen and hip which would come and go according to my general state of health, which constantly yoyo-ed. Excruciating headaches occurred regularly until I managed them with lion’s mane mushroom and all the measures I took to eliminate EMFs in my immediate environment. My sensitivity to wi-fi, bluetooth and electricity became a significant problem and I took steps to make my home into a neutral zone (or, as far as is realistic in the modern world) which helped me to overcome chronic fatigue and the sense that my symptoms were forever snowballing. Vision issues (blurring, tiredness, nerve pains) and dramatic deterioration of my close vision, beyond what I would expect for my age, significantly affected the kind of work I do as an artist. Joint pains became intense, especially to fingers, wrists and knees, along with a range of “mystery” symptoms as above, including stomach issues that led to me undergoing a range of tests which took me (inconclusively) down the thyroid, food-inolerance and leaky gut route. Menopause further rocked this boat from the end of last year and chronic fatigue returned with a vengeance. As this year progressed, I also noticed a significant increase in symptoms that feel like post-herpatic neuralgia (badly affecting the sides of my torso on an almost daily basis), electrical stabbing pains and generalised aching in my torso and frequent allodynia.
This is the point where I decided to take the Medical Medium’s books more seriously and to treat all of the above as a viral issue affecting the nervous system; especially as my enquiries into the vagus nerve had me ticking most of the symptoms I have listed above. Anthony William offers such hope when it comes to tackling EBV and shingles and I believe fervently in the methods he outlines, combined with what new science is telling us about viruses that affect our nerves in ways that don’t show up in conventional tests. Delving into the vagus nerve, as I have shared in this post, has offered me some major insight into what is happening and I continue to make slow but steady headway. It can feel like a long and winding pathway…yet, if your own symptoms are “all over the place” consider this…so too is the wandering vagus nerve. Those habits I have outlined above as ways of toning the vagus nerve are healthy and uplifting lifestyle practices for all; so imagine if we did them anyway? There’s literally nothing to lose and everything to gain from a healthier vagus nerve. Like all the best paths, it starts out a little mysterious but that’s where its adventure lies. Having found it and become so much more aware of it, I like to think the vagus nerve is a path worth following as it may very well lead us back to ourselves in more ways than one!
Shingles virus (including 8 types of non-rashing shingles) – Anthony Williams
Chronic fatigue syndrome from vagus nerve infection: A psychoneuroimmunological hypothesis – Michael B.VanElzakker
Harvard Neuroscientist Dr. Michael Van ElZakker: Chronic Fatigue Vagus Nerve Link – interview with Yasmina Ykelenstan
Natural Vagus Nerve Stimulation – Dr Arielle Schwarz
One Theory To Explain Them All? The Vagus Nerve Infection Hypothesis for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – Cort Johnson
The Lipkin Study, The Vagus Nerve Infection Hypothesis and HHV-6: Kristin Loomis of the HHV-6 Foundation Talks – Pt. I – Cort Johnson
Hacking the Nervous System – Gaia Vince for The Huffington Post
Junk DNA: Doorway To Transformation – Brendon D Murphy
“The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is an essential regulator of bodily function in its many facets. There is hardly any physiological process that is not affected by it to some degree. It is surprising then to realise that the ECS was totally unknown prior to one generation ago. The name derives from the fact that the bodies of all higher animals harbor natural chemicals within that resemble in many respects the activity of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the photo – (plant) cannabinoid that is the main psychoactive component of Cannabis sativa, sometimes derisively labeled as marijuana. Despite the prominence and importance of the ECS as an essential regulatory mechanism in the body’s biochemistry and physiology, the basic machinery of everyday life, knowledge of it remains quite limited among American physicians due to a dearth of appropriate education in medical schools. This is a knowledge deficit that must be filled in order to benefit the public health as a whole.” Introduction to the Endocannabinoid System, Ethan Russo, MD, Medical Director, PHYTECSCannabinoids in the management of difficult to treat pain – Ethan B Russo
Learn the Ujjayi Breath, an Ancient Yogic Breathing Technique – Melissa Eisla
Vagus Nerve Yoga – Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Vagus Nerve Stimulation in Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS: A Trial of One – Cort Johnson
The Meditation Highway – Anne Green
Vagus Nerve Stimulation and Inflammation – Cort Johnson
Breathing, Anxiety, and the Vagus Nerve – youcanrelaxnow.com
Donna Eden 5 min energy routine – video
Chart of Lysine vs Arginine in Common Food
Neuroregenerative potential of lion’s mane mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Bull.: Fr.) Pers. (higher Basidiomycetes), in the treatment of peripheral nerve injury (review). – KH Wong et al.
Estrogen Levels Drop Leads to Peripheral Neuropathy in Post-Menopausal Women
Progesterone and nerve pain – a collection of scientific studies
Regarding EBV and Shingles, as above*: ” All of those burdens—the chemical toxins, the heavy metals and pathogens—can actually be passed down the family line from generation to generation. That means a baby born today can, unfortunately, inherit some of grandma’s DDT and heavy metal exposure and great grandpa’s strain of Epstein-Barr virus, shingles, streptococcus (all of which have multiple undiscovered strains) or any other pathogens that may be in the family line. It’s important to know this doesn’t mean it’s in your genes. It’s inherited, which as I explain in my books, is entirely different to a genetic DNA issue.” (Anthony William, The Medical Medium).
This blog, its content and any material linked to it are presented for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or prescribing. The material and opinions shared are anecdotal and should not be considered to be medical advice or diagnosis. Please consult with a licensed healthcare professional before altering or discontinuing any medications, treatment, diet or supplementation program, or if you have or suspect you might have a health condition that requires medical attention.
9 thoughts on “The vagus nerve: leading us back to our health”
Thank you so much for this article, for the explanations, the useful insights and recommendations and for sharing your story! Reading your post has been so enlightening and helpful as I share almost all of the symptoms you wrote about! I felt so comforted and inspired by reading about your health experience, cause it also gave me a reflection of what has been my personal journey so far and I felt less lonely (and to be honest, also less “crazy”). Me too, I was bullied at school and I find it quite astonishing how similar health issues are directly connected to similar traumatic life experiences. Your metaphor about the viruses behaving like bullies was spot on and gave me the key to finally interpret what is going on in my body and in my mind! So thanks again!
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Receiving positive feedback like yours is what makes sharing my experiences oh-so worthwhile so thank you for sharing with me and I’m so heartened to hear its been of help to you. I know I have touched upon the bullying theme many times, not least in my most recent post written this week (about being an INFJ – though you may not share that personality type but the outcome of what I shared in that was was very closely related to what I wrtoe about in the vagus post…just another way of looking at it and why it likely resulted in health issues) so maybe you will find other material that resonates in my blog now you are following. Wishing you all the best.
Dear Helen, I am actually an INFJ too! I’ll definitely have a look at your new post! Thanks again for your work!
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…I am finding these things in common between some of us more and more often. On that topic I’ve just started reading a book called the INFJ Revolution by an author whose works I’ve really eenjoyed before as she tackles some of the things we find so challenging and isolating not to mention bewildering (and finds the postives…), her name is Lauren Sapala, in case you are interested.
Unfortunately, I haven’t read anything by her, but I’ll catch up soon. Thanks! Until now I’ve read some books about HSP by Elaine N. Aron, Georg Parlow (in German) and Birgit Trappmann-Korr (in German) that have been very useful to understand what hypersensitivity is in first place and finally on how to accept it and find ways to live with it in your daily life using it to your advantage. These books highlighten more the day to day struggles, the psychological/social implications of being a highly sensitive person and how to overcome difficulties in order to embrace and accept your Self. I highly recommend them. Now I’m kind of trying to connect all the dots, finding the relationship and connection between me being an HSP (INFJ) and my physical pain coming from both my hypersensitivity and the constant bullying at school. Finding your blog and reading your articles has been a real bless! Wishing you a great weekend!