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tVNS stands for Transcutaneous Vagus Nerve Stimulation. tVNS is non-invasive electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve by clipping electrodes to the tragus region of the ear.
The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve and connects the brain with all the major organs in the body, including the heart, gastrointestinal tract, and skin. The vagus nerve has important physical and emotional effects in the body and helps the body to achieve balance between states of stress (“fight or flight”) and states of relaxation (“rest and digest”).
Connection to Gut Health
If you’ve followed me for awhile, you know that I truly believe that food is medicine, and that gut health plays an important role in our overall well being. My family limits processed foods in favor of healthier options with fewer ingredients. We cook, do canning and read ingredients like it’s our job. That’s because my daughter’s autism has many co-conditions — and it took many years to peel back the onion to figure out what was truly autism, and what were other treatable medical conditions. (One of those co-conditions was stomach pain, which took us down the dietary path)
Our experience has sadly found the medical community to quickly dismiss co-conditions, because, well, AUTISM. Before the armchair army comes at me, I want to say that I fully support my daughter’s neurodiversity. I do not subscribe to the belief that Autism is something to be cured. I do, however, fully believe that there are treatable co-morbidities that when addressed, can make a positive difference in her life.
Putting it all together with the Autonomic Nervous System
So, how does that relate to tVNS? Well, its use can improve the function of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). ANS is a network of nerves in our brain and spinal cord made up on the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system controls more active responses (heart rate, blood pressure, muscle activation) where as the parasympathetic nervous system controls more restful responses (sleep, digestion).
Stimulating the vagus nerve has proven to be beneficial for a wide range of issues from chronic inflammatory disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, migraines, fibromyalgia, depression, autoimmune disease and improving gut function (see reference articles below).
Simply put, when inflammation is the root cause of co-conditions, reducing that inflammation can allow the body to heal. As a matter of fact, reducing inflammation is the core of the Nemechek Protocol, which I’ve written a lot about.
Gradual Improvements We’ve Seen
tVNS was prescribed for our daughter about 8 months ago. Since, there have been many improvements – especially in the area of social communication and memory. Most recently, my daughter attended her homecoming dance. She asked to shop for a dress, have her hair, nails and make up done. Perhaps this seems about as mainstream as white bread, however, a year ago she would not have cared what she looked like, let alone allow me to touch her hair.
Is my daughter still awesomely autistic? You bet’cha. That is not going to change. However, I do sincerely believe that by balancing the gut and reducing inflammation, it has allowed some of those co-conditions to heal. Certainly, I’m no doctor, but I am hard-pressed to argue with the results.
This week, in fact (after a gradual dose reduction) we discontinued her daily medication for ADHD. Am I nervous? A little bit, but so far, have not seen any huge impact. So far, she is more chatty, and wants more hugs and sensory input. Nothing that can’t easily be managed.
To me, the developmental delays that my daughter experiences are an ellipsis… not a period. We continue to watch her grow, and continue to support that journey. We’ve found that tVNS plays an important part.
Have questions about the Nemechek protocol? Get an overview HERE, or just ask me – firstname.lastname@example.org and I’m happy to share our perspective.
Our experience with the Nemechek Protocol
References and Further Reading
Jin, Y., & Kong, J. (2017). Transcutaneous Vagus Nerve Stimulation: A Promising Method for Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders. Frontiers in neuroscience, 10, 609. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2016.00609
Vagal Nerve Stimulation in Autonomic Dysfunction – A Case Study,” Autonomic Neuroscience: Basic and Clinical , vol. 192, p. 83, 2015. [https://www.autonomicneuroscience.com/article/S1566-0702(15)00158-7/abstract].
A. Yuen and J. Sander, “Can natural ways to stimulate the vagus nerve improve seizure control?,” Epilepsy Behaviour, vol. 67, pp. 105-110, 2017. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28152451].
So one of the documents I tried to read (this is all written at a much higher reading level than mine) implies that the mechanism is surgically implanted. Your daughter did this with an external mechanism, correct? Is it something she wears all the time or just for concise periods during the day? And what type of doctor do you work with for this? A neurologist? Also, how long did it take before you notices results.
This peaks my interest. I wonder if it would be useful for other ND situations such as Tourette Syndrome (which I’ve really been struggling with lately).
Many articles about tVNS also reference a surgically implanted device (or vice versa) but what we have is a cable that attaches to an app on our smartphone. There is a clip on the end that attaches to her ear. We are doing tVNS as part of the Nemechek protocol to reduce gut inflammation for 5 minutes per day. Interestingly there is some mention of Tourette’s in his latest book: (https://www.nemechekconsultativemedicine.com/blog/2nd-edition-of-the-nemechek-protocol-is-now-shipping/) – he says that it “could potentially be triggered by an unusual chemical produced by a unique strain of overgrown bacteria,” and that many people find relief of symptoms within a few weeks of restoring intestinal balance.
The tVNS we are doing is in addition to the protocol – but it does reduce inflammation on its own as well. In fact, Dr. Nemechek is successfully using it with long haul COVID patients – fascinating stuff! (I am not affiliated w/ Dr. Nemechek in any way – I am familiar because my kiddo does the protocol). He has a You Tube Channel where he talks about a whole host of topics – and he has helped kids and adults alike.
I know that the tVNS unit that we use can be purchased here online without a prescription: https://nemechektechnologies.shop/ (we purchased it when we went to AZ for an appt with Dr. N)
I would imagine as it relates to providers – maybe a chiropractor or holistic medicine practitioner, functional medicine doctor – and I know sometimes PTs use a similar technology. As far as results – we were getting results prior to use, however we hit a plateau, and the device seemed to help break through in a matter of a few weeks — and we continued to see slow but steady gains in memory and social communication skills. We have also been able to d/c her ADHD medication recently – so the jury is still out on this — but so far, so good.
She uses it for 5 minutes per day. That’s it. It’s really simple, and she doesn’t feel anything. Every night we play games (usually Farkle) and will generally do it at the same time. It seems to have a calming effect right after use. As it relates to time for improvement, often it’s described as ‘watching hair grow’ — but once the gut is balanced, things seem to fall into place. I am always happy to answer questions about our experience – email me anytime email@example.com
Nemechek, Dr. Patrick; Nemechek, Jean. 2nd Edition, The Nemechek Protocol for Autism and Developmental Disorders: A How-To Guide For Restoring Neurological Function (p. 215). Autonomic Recovery LLC. Kindle Edition.