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Dysregulation and the Vagus Nerve

The vagus nerve, also known as the tenth cranial nerve, is a crucial part of the body’s autonomic nervous system. It extends from the brainstem to various organs, including the heart, lungs, and digestive tract, and is responsible for regulating bodily functions such as heart rate, digestion, and the immune response.

In the context of trauma, the vagus nerve is important due to its role in the body’s stress response. It’s involved in what’s known as the polyvagal theory, which explains how the nervous system responds to stress and danger. According to this theory, the vagus nerve helps to regulate our emotional state and our fear response, playing a role in emotion regulation, social connection, and the body’s response to stress and trauma.

For those who have experienced trauma, the vagus nerve can become dysregulated, which can lead to a range of physical and psychological symptoms, setting off a danger response to our cells, sometimes referred to as CDR (Cell Danger Response) which is good when regulated, but not if the response becomes chronic. When dysregulation impairs vagal tone, it may contribute to feelings of anxiety, being constantly on edge, or feelings of numbness and disconnection from emotions.

Understanding the function of the vagus nerve and its importance in trauma can be essential for therapeutic approaches that aim to help individuals recover from traumatic experiences and improve their overall well-being.

The vagus nerve can become dysregulated by many things such as:
  • Previous Infections or Inflammation: Past infections or inflammatory conditions can affect the functioning of the vagus nerve, leading to dysregulation
  • Physical or Psychological Stress: Stress can impact the vagus nerve’s ability to regulate bodily functions properly
  • Neurological Conditions: Disorders such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease can cause vagus nerve dysfunction
  • Headache Disorders: Conditions like migraines and cluster headaches may be associated with vagal nerve dysregulation
  • Emotional Regulation Difficulties: Challenges in managing emotions can lead to a dysregulated vagus nerve, contributing to conditions like depression, anxiety, and PTSD

If the body doesn’t shift out of CDR as it should, it can lead to fatigue and illness, and affect the body’s ability to heal itself. With a chronic infection, people typically shift to a prolonged CDR state with low energy production.

Here are some issues that could be caused by a dysregulated Vagus Nerve:

Disruptions Caused by the Vagus Nerve:
  • Gastroparesis: Delayed stomach emptying, leading to nausea and vomiting
  • Heart Rate Irregularities: Abnormal heart rhythms due to improper regulation of cardiac function
  • Anxiety and Depression: Dysregulation can affect mood and contribute to mental health disorders
  • Digestive Issues: Problems with digestion, including diarrhea or constipation
  • Vasovagal Syncope: Fainting spells caused by a sudden drop in heart rate and blood pressure
  • Chronic Inflammation: Poor vagal tone can lead to persistent inflammation in the body due to altered immune responses
  • Difficulty Swallowing: Disruption can cause issues with the muscles that manage swallowing
  • Voice Changes: Since the vagus nerve affects the voice box, damage can lead to hoarseness or loss of voice
  • Respiratory Problems: The nerve’s role in lung function can lead to breathing issues
  • Emotional Dysregulation: Difficulty in managing emotions, leading to heightened stress responses

When the ventral part of the vagus nerve is in full swing, you feel good. You feel happy and uplifted. You feel socially connected. You are in a state of well-being. In order to optimize your health, your job is to get the nervous system to shift to the rest, digest, and heal mode by stimulating the ventral vagus nerve, which will help fight chronic illness, reduce inflammation, and stimulate more healing functions.

How You Can Regulate the Vagus Nerve:
  • Deep Breathing: Slow, deep breathing can stimulate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation
  • Meditation: Practices like meditation can enhance vagal tone and reduce stress
  • Exercise: Regular physical activity, especially yoga, can improve vagal function
  • Cold Exposure: Brief exposure to cold, such as cold showers, can activate the vagus nerve
  • Singing and Humming: These activities can stimulate the nerve and improve mood
  • Intermittent fasting: It can provide many health benefits. Intermittent fasting can improve mitochondrial and cognitive function, and reduce the risk of diseases

  • Massage: Massaging certain areas, like the feet, can stimulate the vagus nerve
  • Laughter: A good laugh can be a stimulant for the vagus nerve
  • Gargling: Gargling with water activates muscles connected to the vagus nerve
  • Social Interaction: Engaging with others can improve vagal tone and emotional well-being

The vagus nerve manages key areas of well-being, including digestion, recovery, and rest. You may have cleared different obstacles along your health journey, such as removing toxins, heavy metals, mold and allergens, but if the vagus nerve is stuck in the wrong mode, it can block your progress as it does for many people. Need some guidance? Let me know.


I work with mid-life men and women who want to feel younger through improving their relationship to food, movement and mindfulness.

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