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What does the Vagus Nerve have to do with Cryotherapy?

Updated: Dec 1, 2021

There are many ways to describe a wanderer, but in latin the word for wandering is Vagus. Appropriately the longest cranial nerve in our body, which wanders from the brainstem to the colon making its way through the heart, lungs, digestive tract and much more, is called the Vagus Nerve. The nerve is responsible for many of our sensory and motor functions, ranging from our senses such as touch, sight, and smells to movement of muscles and other motor functions. Like a banyan tree its branches reach afar throughout our body and affect a lot of functions in our body. It has been described as being responsible for the connection between our mind and body, a moderator between our thinking and feeling.

How it relates to Cryotherapy

Visual description of the vagus nerve and its branches

Sensations felt on our skin or muscles, such as someone touching your skin to feeling the cool wind on

your face are the Somatic components. Sensations felt in the organ of the body are part of the Visceral components. These sensations can be felt during a whole body cryotherapy session when our bodies are exposed. Consequently your body will send alerts through the Vagus Nerve warning that the body is too cold. The process signals the brain to turn down the stress response and reduce the production of inflammatory cytokines. Therefore helping inflammation in conditions like Rheumatoid Arthritis.

A study from the Institute of Rheumatology in Warsaw compared the outcomes of patients with rheumatoid arthritis. The patients were divided to receive Whole Body Cryotherapy or Physical Therapy showed that after WBC sessions, patients with RA histamine levels were considerably lower over a period of at least three months after treatments were discontinued. No significant changes were shown in the patients who were divided into the Physical Therapy section. The vagus nerve helps prevent inflammation through the presence of tumor necrosis factor which alerts the brain and draws out anti-inflammatory neurotransmitters that regulate the body’s immune response.

Girl stressed out in her desk holding her head.

Another function of the vagus nerve is dealing with balancing the nervous system. The nervous system is divided into two areas sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic side increases alertness, energy, blood, pressure, heart rate and breathing rate also known as the flight or fight state. The parasympathetic side on the other hand deals with alertness, blood pressure, which helps decrease your heart rate, increase calmness and relaxation for the human body. As our bodies are exposed to the cold temperatures of cryotherapy it’s sending signals to our brains through the vagus nerve warning that the body is too cold. The body’s natural response at that point is to use breath to calm down which then transitions us from the sympathetic state to parasympathetic state (45-75 secs for avg people). Therefore, activating the nerve through cryotherapy can help to relax one's body.

Smiling girl stepping out of Whole Body Cryotherapy chamber

Because the vagus nerve helps reduce the stress levels and improve your mood it may help people deal with depression symptoms. The stimulation of the nerve can result in many short term benefits including wakefulness, consciousness, sharper memory, lower blood pressure, reduction of stress, anxiety and brain.

As biohacking becomes more and more popular, it’s helping many of us take control of our biology through better educating ourselves about our bodies and using various tools guided by science to become the best version of ourselves. Whole body cryotherapy is changing what some feel as a chore to take care of our bodies and replacing it into a quick addition to the errands in our day.

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