1. What is the vagus nerve and why does stimulating it reduce stress?
The vagus nerve, also referred to as the tenth cranial nerve, starts at the medulla oblongata, a cone shaped part of the brainstem. Often known as the great “wandering” nerve, the longest in our body, it forms an information superhighway between the brain and all of our major organs.
Experimental stimulation of the vagus nerve has been widely explored in medical research and is successful in the treatment of epilepsy and drug resistant depression and is looking very promising for inflammatory conditions such as sepsis, lung injury, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes. Driven by such findings, we are now taking forward the potential of vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) as a therapeutic intervention to reduce stress, increase performance and treat chronic stress related conditions.
2. What is Heart Rate Variability (HRV)?
We use Heart Rate Variability (HRV) as a biomarker for detection of stress. HRV is simply a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat and is controlled by the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which regulates our heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and digestion. HRV reflects the ability of the heart to respond to different situations and can react to stress or illness before any changes in resting heart rate are seen. This makes it a very powerful signal providing insights in stress and recovery status.
3. Can you use stress in brain waves?
We are also developing new biomarkers obtained from electroencephalogram (EEG) signal analysis,. We are interested in the changes across the five frequency bandwidths: (delta, theta, alpha, beta and gamma). Alpha rhythm power decreases under stress conditions, while beta rhythm power increases. The ratio of theta over beta power (theta/beta ratio) also increases as does the activity in the prefrontal cortex compared to the left hand side.
Combined these biomarkers give us a powerful picture of stress.
4. Why do some people cope better with stress than others?
Stress is a common feature of our modern lives and whilst some of us are quite resilient and bounce back quickly, for many our bodies do not get enough time to recover from a stressful event before the next one happens. After a while it seems our switch to stop producing cortisol, one of our main stress hormones gets damaged and is left on.
The constant release of cortisol drives the ongoing release of glucose to provide energy to deal with a perceived threat and priroitises this over energy for our immune and digestive systems. Over time this can make us feel depressed, tired and can lead to reduced heart, gut and immune function. In other words we develop chronic mental and physical health problems.
Our mission is to help everyone get a visual picture of their stress levels.
5. What is HRV biofeedback?
Biofeedback is all about tapping into things you can control, like your rate of breathing & your diaphragm (cool fact - this is the only organ you can control, you can’t tell your kidney to speed up) to influence your brain.
So if you’ve ever tried to tell yourself not to worry and its failed and its just made you worry more, join the club. Our brain doesn’t respond to self-talk very well so you need to be more covert and influence with more devious methods.
In the same way you train and build muscles with exercise, HRV biofeedback uses your respiratory apparatus (lungs and diaphragm), particularly on your long slow exhale to activate your vagus nerve which sends messages to relax. This can be measured through increases in your HRV and been used by elite athletes and the military for years to maintain focus and control in stressful situation as well as increase resilience, ie recover more quickly after each stressful event.
And if you look at the 2,500 year old eastern breathing practices of monks and yogis, it turns out they uses the same breathing patterns and there is indeed nothing new under the sun, except we understand the science now of how it works and can use today’s tech to watch it happening.
6. What is bioelectronic medicine?
Bioelectronic medicine combines neuroscience, molecular biology, and bioengineering to tap into the nervous system to help the body heal itself. Making effective and targeted bioelectronic medicine devices relies on how much information we have about a condition and its neural signaling.
Once we know how the neurons in the vagus nerve are signaling the disruption of homeostasis in various diseases, we can use our technology to diagnose this disruption in its earliest stages, even before symptoms arise.
Our werarable ear piece will then stimulate the nerve to either stop or modify this signalling and act only when it is needed.