You’ve probably never heard of the vagus nerve before. But you really should. The longest of the twelve cranial nerves in the human body- the vagus nerve is promiscuous as far as biological entities go: It travels from the brain stem down all the way down into the abdomen – getting involved in lots of involuntary functions—keeping your heart pumping – your lungs breathing – and your intestines digesting. What happens in vagus most certainly does not stay in vagus.
The vagus nerve’s winding wandering path isn’t just a useless anatomical oddity. Doctors can manipulate it to treat a whole range of human disorders – from epilepsy and depression to heart failure and diabetes. It even impacts processes relating to psychiatric health – the inflammatory system – movement- and the gut’s microbiome. Medical and biotech researchers have spent much of the last two decades developing ways to stimulate the nerve to treat a number of those problems – and with a number of new therapies recently approved by the FDA—including one to treat obesity of all things—it seems like the vagus nerve’s time has finally come.
The best way to stimulate the vagus nerve though depends on what bodily system it’s trying to change or suppress or activate. Here are the kinds of vagus nerve treatments researchers have been developing—and how promising they look.