Vagus Nerve and Histamine
Calming your nervous system is an essential part of healing, no matter your symptoms. Yet, I notice that so many of my patients are stuck in a stressful state. Their sympathetic nervous system is ramped up, and they are constantly in a ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ mode.
Unfortunately, when your body is under a constant state of alertness, and you are stuck in an ongoing state of emergency, your mast cells will feel like they are under attack as well. They will release histamine as a response. This ongoing stress-related release of histamine can cause histamine intolerance and ongoing symptoms.
To address this problem, you need to activate your parasympathetic nervous system in order to calm your internal system and to bring everything back to balance. Your vagus nerve is the main activator of your parasympathetic nervous system and serves as an anti-inflammatory agent. Vagus nerve stimulation may help to reduce stress, mast cell activation, histamine release, inflammation, and related health issues.
How does it do that? Let’s talk about it and find out. In this article, you will learn what your vagus nerve is. You will understand the connection between your vagus nerve and histamine.
What Is the Vagus Nerve?
Your vagus nerve is the longest nerve in your entire autonomic nervous system. Starting at your brain stem, it runs through your neck and chest, ending at your abdomen. It’s not only the longest but also one of the most important nerves in your body. It connects your brain to your gut. It transports critical sensory and motor information between the two. It stimulates your heart, intestines, esophagus, stomach, airways, lungs, and major blood vessels. Your vagus nerve helps to regulate your digestion, heart rate, blood pressure, sweating, speech, mood, emotional well-being, and overall health.
Vagus Nerve and Histamine
Being in a stressful state can lead to mast cell activation and histamine release. Vagus nerve stimulation may help to reduce stress, decrease mast cell activation, lower histamine release, and improve histamine-related symptoms (1). Let’s get into the connection between your vagus nerve and histamine and the potential benefits of stimulating your vagus nerve.
Stimulating the Vagus Nerve May Decrease Histamine-Related Itching
Allergic reactions trigger histamine release, which can cause skin inflammation, itching, flushing, rashes, and other skin reactions. Histamine intolerance may also cause chronic itching. According to a 2002 study published in Neurology, vagus nerve stimulation may help to reduce histamine-induced itching (2).
Stimulating the Vagus Nerve May Regulate Mast Cells in Your Gut
Mast cell activation and histamine intolerance are common underlying issues behind gut health issues. It turns out, vagal tone stimulation may help to reduce your histamine-related gut problems. A 2012 study published in the American Journal of Physiology has found that certain fats may cause the nutritional activation of the vagus nerve, which may help to regulate mast cell activation and have an anti-inflammatory effect on your gut (3).
Stimulating the Vagus Nerve May Reduce Inflammation
Encountering a toxin or an infection results in mast cell activation, inflammation, and histamine release. Your nervous system and nerve signaling play an important role in regulating this inflammatory response to regain homeostasis in the body. According to a 2000 study published in Nature, acetylcholine, which is the primary vagus nerve neurotransmitter, helps to reduce the release of tumor necrosis factor (TNG) and interleukins (IL)-1, (IL)-6, and (IL)-18, which all play a role in mast cell disorders (4). This suggests that vagal tone stimulation may help to lower mast cell-related inflammation.
Stimulating the Vagus Nerve May Improve Mental and Brain Health
There is a link between histamine intolerance, mental health, and brain function, including anxiety, depression, brain fog, and cognition. A 2015 study published in Brain Behavior and Immunology has found that stimulating the vagus nerve may prevent IL-6-mediated hyper-excitability triggered by stress. The research suggests that vagal tone stimulation may have an important role in addressing anxiety, depression, autism, schizophrenic psychoses, epilepsy, and other neuropsychiatric conditions (5). According to a 2002 study published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, vagal nerve stimulation may also help to improve the symptoms of neurodegenerative conditions (6).
How to Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve
Stimulating your vagus nerve offers a list of health benefits if you have histamine intolerance, MCAS, or related health issues. I recommend that you try the following strategies to improve your vagal tone.
Practice Meditation, Breathwork, and Gratitude
Practicing meditation, breathwork, and gratitude may help to improve your nervous system, stimulate your vagus nerve, reduce your stress levels, and improve your well-being (7, 8, 9). I recommend starting your day with a short meditation and breathwork each morning to stimulate your vagus nerve, calm your nervous system, and create safety in your body. Follow this session with a moment of gratitude.
Try Chanting or Singing
Poor vagus nerve function can impact the muscle in your mouth and throat, which may affect your speech and the ingestion of food. Since your vocal cords and palatal muscles are connected to your vagus nerve, stimulating them may help to improve your vagal tone. Chanting or singing helps to stimulate your vagus nerve. Other beneficial practices include humming, gargling, and talking (10).
Try Acupuncture or Bodywork Therapies
Acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, massage therapy, and chiropractic care may all help to calm the nervous system, reduce inflammation, and create balance in your body and mind. You may benefit from any or all of these forms of therapy to stimulate your vagus nerve and improve your health (11, 12, 13, 14, 15).
Exercise and Movement Therapy
Regular movement and exercise help to release tension from your body, calm your nervous system, and improve your mood. In addition to exercising at least five days a week and moving your body regularly, you may benefit from certain body-based and movement modalities as well. Body-based therapies, such as somatic experiencing and Stress, Tension, and Trauma Release (TRE) therapy, and movement therapies, are excellent complementary strategies that allow you to intentionally use your body to stimulate your vagus nerve, release stress, and improve health (16, 17).
Follow an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
You may not be surprised when I say that your diet matters too. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet rich in nutrient-dense whole foods, such as greens, vegetables, fruits, herbs, spices, grass-fed meat, etc. can help to support your nervous system health. If you are dealing with histamine intolerance or MCAS, I recommend avoiding high-histamine foods and following a lower histamine diet.
Vitamin B12, B6, and folic acid are particularly needed for your vagus nerve and nervous system function (18). I recommend taking a vitamin 12 and vitamin B complex supplement and eating vitamin B-rich foods, such as dark green vegetables. Since your gut health and your vagal nerve function are closely connected, I recommend taking a high-quality probiotic as well.
1. Working with a healthcare practitioner knowledgeable in MCAS and histamine intolerance is the best way to get to the root cause of your symptoms and to create an individualized treatment plan. I welcome you to start a personalized functional medicine consultation with me. You may book your consultation here.
2. Check out my Histamine Intolerance Course here. Learn on your own time, from anywhere. Get an inside look at the most helpful functional medicine tests for pinpointing imbalances, ways to identify and manage the most common (and sometimes surprising) mast cell triggers, and learn what to eat, what to avoid, and why.