Above image illustrated by Kieran Blakey.
“The System in the body that down-regulates defense is also anti-inflammatory.” – Dr. Stephen W. Porges
The almighty vagus nerve, our 10th cranial nerve, leaves the central nervous system and innervates (connects/taps into) all major organ systems in the human body. It is critical in the regulation AND dysregulation of these body systems depending on the threat, or perception thereof.
Something else of interest to note is that the vagus nerve is poly, meaning that in human systems, unlike its reptilian and mammalian counterparts, this massive sprawling nerve has branches that have different roles despite being one unit- if that makes sense. Upper branches of the #vagusnerve are responsible for mobilization and something called prosody (that 95% nonverbal cuing we do in human speech). Whereas lower branches immobilize us, and/or send fear signals to the body preparing it for fight flight.
Funny thing about the vagus nerve- we can be in those lower branches, readying for threat, but still have an upper branch that seems to be engaged, but the person is faking it trying to make it…
- “No, I never loved you.”
- “I stay for the kids (despite the abuse).”
- “I didn’t get high.”
- “Sure I can help!” Despite exhaustion.
Millions of ways we say and do things despite our body signaling otherwise.
Additional implications of dysregulation in this system are disease related.
When the vagus nerve ignites, an inflammatory response begins and suddenly, many hormones and neurotransmitters infiltrate both the brain and body, while others go offline. This is critical- its design is to fight pain, illness, and disease.
But GUESS WHAT… this system also turns on and stays on when the threat is purely psychological! Example: that guy who massively broke your heart? Seeing him and remembering the heartbreak alone, vagus nerve engagement and a full blown inflammatory response in the body.
Now, good news. That response can also DOWN-regulate or learn to calm itself and as a result (!) quiet inflammation! This can result in healing massive inflammation-rooted disease and illness sweeping our nation… diabetes, autoimmune dxs, cancer, chronic pain, IBS, endless ailments plaguing many Americans.
But we need systems that integrate this information including medicine and education.