Summary: Vagus nerve stimulation is an up-and-coming intervention for chronic inflammatory disorders including IBD. Clinically, it involves electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve through implanted or external devices, but natural methods such as yoga, meditation, and specific breathing practices have also been shown to increase vagal tone. Research in both animals and humans indicates that stimulation of the vagus nerve is able to reduce inflammation via various neural and hormonal pathways, with similar targets to popular pharmacological IBD treatments. Clinically, this is an exciting new treatment that is actively being researched; practically, vagus nerve stimulation via natural methods provides a safe way to reduce inflammation and improve health.
This article is part of the IBD Index. Last updated on January 27, 2022.
Vagus nerve stimulation is an ongoing area of research and experimentation for me. If you want to follow along on my personal journey, follow me on Instagram! Eventually, I will update and expand this post as well.
Table of Contents
What is vagus nerve stimulation?
What is the vagus nerve?
What’s the science behind vagus nerve stimulation for IBD?
Activation of the HPA axis
Cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway
Activation of sympathetic anti-inflammatory pathways
Is there clinical evidence for vagus nerve stimulation in IBD?
Are there any risks to vagus nerve stimulation?
How can I increase vagal tone at home?
Mind-body disciplines: yoga, tai chi, qigong, meditation
Other possible interventions
Review of the literature
Technical details of clinical vagus nerve stimulation
What is Vagus Nerve Stimulation?
In the clinical research setting, vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) refers to stimulation of the vagus nerve via electrical impulses. This can be done either invasively, via a surgical implant, or noninvasively, via electrodes stuck to the skin in the ear. (For technical details, check out this section at the bottom of this article.)
VNS has been approved by the FDA for the treatment of drug‐resistant epilepsy and depression, and interest is building for its application in the treatment of chronic inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis (and of course, IBD). VNS is not yet available as a clinical treatment for IBD, but two small trials have been conducted in patients with Crohn’s Disease (CD), and two more trials are underway.
Outside of clinical research, talk of stimulating the vagus nerve typically refers to at-home practices that naturally stimulate the vagus nerve, including things like deep breathing and meditation. More on these techniques below![Read more…] about Vagus Nerve Stimulation for IBD