An image of a man's  vagus nerves in a dark blue background.

The Relationship Between Red Light Therapy and The Vagus Nerve

With the name rooted in Latin, meaning ‘wandering,’ the vagus nerve explores the majority of the body.

While many put in the work to improve muscles and better the heart, the vagus nerve often goes unnoticed. It’s not an aspect that is commonly talked about either, despite its influence in regulating bodily functions.

A healthy vagus nerve is actually vital for overall health and well-being as it spans digestion, respiratory rate, heart rate, and even the immune response. So when the vagus nerve is out of whack, the body can feel ‘off’ with symptoms like dizziness, acid reflux, high blood pressure, abdominal pain, bloating, and more.

If you’re dealing with a weak vagus nerve or are simply looking to improve your health, consider the use of light. We’ve put together everything you need to know to understand the relationship between red light therapy and the vagus nerve.


What Is The Vagus Nerve?


The vagus nerve (otherwise known as the cranial nerve X) is the longest cranial nerve, running from the brain stem to part of the colon. It’s one of twelve cranial nerves in the human body and is by far the most complex, with the role of regulating many bodily functions.

Its two sensory functions are divided into two: Somatic and Visceral components. The first relates to sensations that are felt on the skin or in the muscles, while visceral means the sensations felt in the organs.

These functions provide visceral sensation information for the larynx, esophagus, lungs, trachea, heart, and most of the digestive tract. It includes somatic sensation information for the skin behind the ear, the external part of the ear canal, and certain parts of the throat too.

Going beyond the sensory elements, the vagus nerve has several motor functions including stimulating the muscles in the pharynx, larynx, and the fleshy-like area at the back of the roof of the mouth. It does so with the muscles in the heart as well, helping to lower the resting heart rate.

A graphic image that has this text, "Join the Kineon Community." This encourages viewers to join the facebook group with over 3,000 people to know more about reducing joint pain, inflammation, and more with red light therapy.

Its Role In The Central Nervous System

The vagus nerve acts as a link between the central and enteric nervous system which creates the connection between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract. As such, it plays a pivotal role in regulating several functions of the central nervous system.

Known as the brain-gut axis, this nerve is responsible for monitoring psychological homeostasis and connecting the emotional areas of the brain with intestinal functions. This includes immune activation, enteric reflex, enteroendocrine signaling, and intestinal permeability. The nerve carries sensory information from the organs back to the brain which involves information about the body’s internal state.

Another primary role is its involvement in the parasympathetic nervous system, focusing on promoting relaxation, digestion, and other ‘rest and digest’ functions.

Due to this, the nerve can be a mediator of the body’s stress response and can counteract the effects of the sympathetic nervous system which creates the ‘fight or flight’ response. The vagus nerve can issue a relaxation response which then regulates the heart rate, blood pressure, and promotes homeostasis.

According to research, the vagus nerve plays a part in the signaling controls for the immune function and proinflammatory responses through the inflammatory reflex.


Impact On The Digestive System

The vagus nerve plays a huge role in the digestive system as it stimulates involuntary contractions in the digestive tract. This includes the esophagus, stomach, and most of the intestines. 

Essentially, the vagus nerve tells the stomach to churn the food within it so it has a pretty fundamental role in the function of the body.

It’s actually the main player in carrying signals between your brain, heart, and the digestive system so when the vagus nerve is damaged it can cause issues like gastroparesis. This is a long-term condition that impacts how the food passes through the stomach and it causes a much slower process than what it should be.

Poor vagal function could bring in other conditions too like acid reflux, heartburn, IBS, inflammatory bowel disease, or small intestine bacterial overgrowth.

It can affect mental health when it’s not in a healthy state as well as it heightens the stress response, resulting in depression and anxiety. Brain fog, trouble sleeping, food sensitivities, and irritability are other by-products of an unhealthy vagal nerve.


Can Red Light Therapy Stimulate The Vagus Nerve?

Red light therapy device put in a man's shoulder to alleviate pain and inflammation.

With the vagal nerve playing such an important role in our bodies, improving its tone and function is key. Interestingly, you can stimulate the nerve yourself to improve mood and digestive issues, as well as overall well-being.

While some opt for the incredibly invasive surgical procedure that involves an implantation of a device behind the ear, there are natural ways to go about it too.

A non-invasive, accessible, and affordable way to stimulate the vagus nerve is through red light therapy. This method can reduce inflammation due to the treatment’s anti-inflammatory effects while improving mood and pain.

Red light therapy used to be an alternative practice that was reserved just for doctor’s offices and clinics, but the expansion of this means at-home red light therapy devices have been created so people can explore the healing benefits of light in a much more convenient way.


How Red Light Therapy Works

Red light therapy uses specific wavelengths of light to penetrate deep beneath the skin to stimulate various biological processes within the cells.

The wavelengths are part of the visible light spectrum and range between 620 nm to 750 nm which is the area of the spectrum that boasts longer wavelengths and lower energy compared to other light therapy variants.

It’s a holistic healing treatment as it has numerous benefits, meaning it’s being used by the likes of Kim Kardashian for skincare purposes whilst athletes like worldwide top 10 CrossFit athlete Brooke Wells uses it for tendonitis in her knee.

This method has been found to increase bone mineral density, accelerate healing, reduce inflammation, act as a pain reliever, and stimulate the vagus nerve.



Does Red Light Therapy Work On Nerves?

Red light therapy can stimulate the vagus nerve as the light-induced signaling pathways that are brought on through the wavelengths can influence the activity of the vagus nerve, along with other components of the nervous system.

It has been found to diminish pain through blocking nerve fiber conduction and its anti-inflammatory properties and blocking of substance P can have a huge impact.

As the wavelengths penetrate the skin and reach the mitochondria within the cells, red light results in the increased production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and the release of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is thought to be an activator of the vagus nerve.

Another huge area that red light therapy can assist with is in reducing inflammation. When the vagus nerve is performing at poor health, it can result in chronic inflammation and an impaired immune function.

Red light therapy has anti-inflammatory effects due to the modulation of cellular processes and immune responses. Once the light is absorbed by the cells, inflammation can be reduced. It can speed up the body’s natural process and response too which could reduce the amount of time people are troubled with symptoms of an impaired vagus nerve.


The Benefits Of Vagus Nerve Stimulation

An image showing vagus nerve stimulation.

While there’s often a focus on working out our muscles, the advantages of fine-tuning the vagus nerve are relatively unknown even though they are vast.

There are ways to boost stimulation and this can see greater overall health results, resulting in better sleep, reduced inflammation, and the modulation of mood and autonomic functions.


Reduced Inflammation

As the vagus nerve interacts with the immune system, it can control inflammatory responses. 

When healthy, the vagus nerve can release pro-inflammatory cytokines which are responsible for reducing excess inflammation in the body.

Although this is a normal part of the body’s response to injuries and invaders, inflammatory cells that stay too long in the body can lead to chronic inflammation which then can bring on an onslaught of conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, joint damage, and Type-2 diabetes.


Manage Anxiety

The vagus nerve regulates the body’s stress response through modulating the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system. It’s the one responsible for the dreaded ‘fight or flight’ response and the better alternative the ‘rest and digest’ response.

‘Rest and digest’ can bring on a sense of calmness and is a complete contrast to the negative which can leave you feeling extremely stressed and anxious.

As we know it has anti-inflammatory benefits too, it’s worth remembering that inflammation can trigger anxiety and mood disorders. When the vagus nerve can regulate inflammation levels, excessive inflammation can be dealt with and symptoms of anxiety can be lessened.


Handle Depression

Neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine can influence mood massively. Serotonin is known as the happy hormone as it mediates satisfaction, happiness, and optimism. Norepinephrine can regulate arousal, attention, cognitive function, and stress reactions.

It’s believed that stimulation of the vagus nerve can enhance the production and release of these neurotransmitters which helps to relieve and alleviate symptoms of depression.

This nerve can promote relaxation and counteract the stress response in the parasympathetic nervous system too which can help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.


Enhances Heart Rate Variability

Vagus nerve stimulation has been found to increase heart rate variability which has long been associated with better cardiovascular health. 

A healthy heart can mean good blood circulation throughout the body which promotes proper lung function - leaving you feeling more energized.

Having a high heart rate variability usually points to people who are happier and less stressed, while the other side of the spectrum can be an indication of a current or future health problem. This is because people with a lower heart rate variability could be less resilient and struggle to handle changing situations, leading to an impact on overall health and the body.


Other Methods for Stimulating the Vagus Nerve

Herbal remedies and other methods have been used for centuries to stimulate the vagus nerve, with many of the options providing a holistic approach to health.

Here are four simple ways to stimulate the vagus nerve.


Breathing Techniques

Your outbreath is directly connected to your well-being, so practice and focus on your breathing where possible.

The best way to stimulate the vagus nerve through breathwork is by breathing in through your nose for a count of six and out through your mouth for a count of eight. The breathing should be slow and deep, with a real emphasis on taking your mind away from its usual chatter and towards your breathing.

In turn, this will lower the heart rate and stimulate the vagus nerve which is boosted through the rhythmic rise and fall during abdominal breathing.


Meditation and Mindfulness Practices

Whether you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or inflamed in the gut, carve some time out of the day to dedicate to yourself. Meditation is loved by many for its ability to induce a state of relaxation.

This state activates the parasympathetic nervous system (which includes the vagus nerve!) and will help you to feel calmer and less stressed.

There are many methods you could focus on and it’s all about finding what you resonate with most. Turn on YouTube and find a 10-minute guided meditation tutorial to ease you in.

This can be done in the comfort of your own home, you just need a quiet corner. Then, decide which type of meditation you’re opting for whether it’s a guided or silent meditation, the mantra type, or a visualization method.


Exercise and Physical Activity

The vagus nerve has been found to be active when exercising. The heart requires more blood flow to fuel an increased workload when lifting or doing any cardio and research shows how the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems work together to help the heart pump harder and faster.

So the vagus nerve is actively engaged and working to increase output when exercising, meaning this is an easy way to stimulate the nerve and see it working in action.

After all, you can’t underestimate how incredible consistent exercise can be on the body - with the heart and vagus nerve being no exception.

As well as stimulating the nerve, a regular exercise routine can lower blood pressure, lessen the risk of developing diabetes, maintain a healthy body weight, and reduce inflammation within the body.


Dietary Considerations

Believe it or not, there are certain foods and nutrients that support vagal tone and function better than others. When you’re not feeling great and it’s down to the vagus nerve, consider changing some habits to have a more inclusive, balanced, and healthy diet.

The Omega-3 fatty acids that are found in fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts have anti-inflammatory properties and support brain health. An increase in these in your diet can enhance vagal tone and improve the nervous system function.

Fiber-rich foods are another goodie. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes can promote gut health and indirectly support the nerves.

Fermented foods can improve gut health and potentially influence vagal health too so look for ways to introduce yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha into your diet.

Above all, you should make sure you’re eating a balanced macronutrient diet that contains protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates that will give you the essential nutrients for the nervous system function.

Aside from food considerations, staying hydrated is another important element for overall health and this helps with digestion and proper nerve signaling.

For more articles on wellness and red light therapy, read:

About Kineon

Bringing the latest advancements in enhanced red light therapy for home use. Our mission is to get you back on your feet and moving pain-free.

image 23.png