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Natural Awakenings Dallas -Fort Worth Metroplex Edition


What Happens with Vagus Nerve Doesn’t Stay in Vagus

Kenneth Saland, M.D., is an interventional cardiologist with Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas and Texas Health Physicians Group. He says, “My brother and I are both third-generation doctors, as our grandfather and father are physicians. We grew up around medicine and saw firsthand what it means to be a physician. Our mother was a neuroanatomy professor at the local medical school, so I guess you can say we were preordained to work in healthcare.”

He explains, “With respect to choosing a career in cardiology, it was the logical choice for me. It was a blending of clinic, hospital patients and intricate procedures that attracted me to this specialty. Cardiologists can make a dramatic impact on an individual’s health and well-being, and I wanted to be involved to help others in this way.”

Saland advises that the vagus nerve, also known as the 10th (X) cranial nerve, is the main nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system, as opposed to the sympathetic nervous system, which is associated with the fight-or-flight response. The parasympathetic response allows us to rest, digest our food and calm down. The parasympathetic (vagal) control interfaces with the heart, lungs and digestive tract.

The vagus nerve communicates with the diaphragm. With deep breaths, a person feels more relaxed; decreases heart rate and blood pressure which is beneficial, but in some cases excessive vagal nerve activity can lead to dizziness or passing out; and sends information from the gut to the brain, which is linked to dealing with stress, anxiety and fear. “The so-called ‘gut feeling’, are signals that can help someone manage a stressful or frightening situation,” says Saland.

The vagus nerve and vagal nerve stimulation has been linked to improvement in patients with symptomatic heart failure by improving heart rate variability, heart rate tone and cardiac electrical stability. Decreases in vagal tone has been associated with increased mortality in heart failure. Reduced vagal tone contributes to hypertension and hypertensive organ damage.

Regular, moderate exercise has long been known to reduce heart rate. Higher exercise capacity is strongly associated with reduced risks of cardiovascular disease. Lower resting heart rate and higher cardiac vagal nerve activity suggests that the parasympathetic nervous system plays a key role in physical fitness and overall cardiac health.

Clinical studies have demonstrated a strong association between vagal dysfunction as measured by reduced heart rate recovery with exercise and cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.

Therefore, the vagus nerve can be considered as highly important to our overall health and cardiovascular health.

The doctor notes that cardiovascular disease is still the leading cause of death globally and that more than four out of five cardiovascular deaths are due to heart attacks and strokes. One-third of these deaths occur prematurely in people under 70 years of age. Saland shares, “The most important risk factors of heart disease and stroke are an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and tobacco use. In my daily practice, we always stress the importance of a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and plenty of exercise. Everything is linked together. If you can achieve all three components, then for sure, you have made your vagus nerve happy!”

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