Vagus Nerve Infection?

A relatively new friend who I told that I’m now coaching people with CFS just pointed me to this interview with Harvard neuroscientist Dr. Michael Van Elzakker, who hypothesises that CFS might be caused by an infection of the vagus nerve.

Wikipedia reckons it looks something like this. "Gray793" by Henry Vandyke Carter - Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body. Gray's Anatomy, Plate 793. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons -
Wikipedia reckons it looks something like this. “Gray793” by Henry Vandyke Carter – Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body. Gray’s Anatomy, Plate 793. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons –

Listening to the interview, it sounds like a pretty compelling theory. On the same day, another friend of mine who has suffered depression and fatigue for a long time messaged me to say that supplements he was taking to boost his acetylcholine, which happens to be the principal vagal neurotransmitter, are working wonders for him.

This article suggests that acetylcholine can also be boosted by being kind and compassionate to others, which could explain why I feel better physically when I’m putting my attention on helping other people. It also mentions chanting; I joined a chanting/kirtan group a few months ago, and find that singing just plain feels good. Perhaps the reason it feels good is because it stimulates the vagus nerve.

If doing this reduces the stimulation/inflamation/whatever-mechanism-makes-us-feel-bad then the symptoms lessen because the brain no longer believes that the body is under attack. I’ve noticed for a while that we get symptoms when we’re under stress, like people with HSV-1 get cold sores when under stress. Most of our stress is interpersonal (I heard someone once say “all stress is social”), which could explain why the assertiveness keys of Mickel Therapy seem to work.

I also really liked Dr Van Elzakker’s compassionate attitude to people with CFS. Researchers seem to come in for a lot of criticism online, and it’s awesome to hear him saying things like: “If your doctor believes that your condition is psychological, fire them.” He also had some good practical advice for dealing with symptoms while waiting for the magic cure. I found just listening to the interview gave me a greater sense of inner peace about the whole thing.

Author: Graham

I'm a guy in his late 40's, recovering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome since May 2009. I now offer coaching and support to other people with CFS/ME.

9 thoughts on “Vagus Nerve Infection?”

  1. Graham, I take offense at your comments, I would never purposefully “withhold” information that might help someone. If you read my blog you would know that the reason I write is to let other sufferers know that about this very interesting theory and little known treatment for CFS. I feel a moral responsibility to share this information in order to help others…I feel quite strongly about that. And no one EVER told me not to tell others anything… and if they did I certainly would not do that…You want to know specifics…but to resolve the symptom of “buzzing in my head” would require a very different action on your part than it would on mine. You have to work with your own body and your own symptoms…you must be used to the medical model “one size fits all” approach which I personally think is not a good model for anyone with any chronic illness…its very individualized. You have to do a lot of work to recover, but it is well worth the effort. No one can tell you what that “buzzing in your head ” symptom means …that is YOUR work…that is yours to figure out…and that is why it is very helpful to have a trained “guide” to help you understand what your body is trying to tell you…if I could tell you, I would, but I’m not you and I’m not trained to help you to figure that out…I would also never try to take that step to help someone decipher their physical symptoms…I am not trained to do that and for me that would simply be unethical.

    1. I hear that you’re offended, and I note that you STILL haven’t given a specific example of an action that you took to resolve a symptom. I feel angry that you continue to withhold this information, and I don’t wish to continue this conversation with you.

  2. There IS a cure..which is why I write my blog…to let others know they can recover..the problem is that people can’t wrap their minds around the fact that even though they are deathly ill, and extremely debilitated, they can’t believe that a simple mind/body therapy can heal their illness…and it really is “self” healing…your energy and health will return …

  3. This is an interesting theory, and one I have heard before, but I would argue that this si not the “root cause” of CFS. If the Vagus nerve is truly infected, then how did that happen? What would cause your immune system to be so dysfunctional that a rare infection could invade your Vagus nerve? The root cause would be an immune system that isn’t functioning properly. But why isn’t your immune system functioning properly?Could the answer be stress? And there IS a cure for CFS, I write about this in my blog. It’s a cure that is NOT based on the medical model…because there isn’t a medical cure for CFS…and it’s a cure that is NOT based on a psychological or emotional/therapeutic model either. because CFS is NOT an emotional problem…is’t a physical illness…but the cure is NOT magical, because there is no magic “pill” …but there is a cure…it takes some work and dedication, and an open mind, but if you succeed you will never look at life in the same way’s quite profound…but if you are familiar with the movie The Matrix…you can take the red pill or the blue pill…the choice you make will determine the direction of the rest of your life! Cheers! I enjoy your blog…very thought provoking!

    1. Dr Van Elzakker answers these questions in the interview. The diverse range of pathogens that precede many cases of CFS all have one thing in common: they like to infect nervous system tissue. As to why infections happen at all, you could equally well ask how someone caught the rhinovirus: our immune system isn’t perfect, and stress suppresses it even further. I’ve read your blog, and still aren’t clear what you actually did to recover, which I find frustrating when you claim to know the cure. I would appreciate you being more direct about what you think the cure is, rather than talking about what it is not.

      Cheers, Graham

      1. Graham, CFS is caused by autonomic nervous system dysfunction, …i’m sorry you feel like I am not clear about how I recovered…I think I’ve said it numerous times in my posts…I recovered using a simple mind/body therapy that is based on both Mickel Therapy and Reverse Therapy…again, all the strange and diverse range of pathogens that precede CFS ( and Lyme Disease) are caused by immune system dysfunction caused by ANS Dysfunction…any stress can trigger infection of any kind, but severe ongoing stress results in an over stimulated ANS that is “stuck” on fight/flight..although you are not feeling anxious, your ANS is constantly sending out stress hormones…so that your body can’t get into “rest” and “relax” mode…Mickel Therapy and Reverse Therapy teach you to work with your body, and to “reverse” out of your symptom state…your body recovers once you learn to listen and respond differently to symptoms…

        1. I appreciate the clarification Rebecca, and I have also found Mickel Therapy and the philosophy behind it very helpful too. What’s missing for me in your posts and comments is specific detail on precisely what actions you took in response to which physical symptoms. For example: “When my head started buzzing, I phoned a friend and talked about the anger I felt towards my mother. I found that when I did this, my head stopped buzzing.”


          1. I see, so you are looking for specific examples of actions I took to reduce symptoms. What I did in response to my symptoms in order to resolve them will be quite different than what anyone else does…so a symptom of “buzzing in my head” will mean anger at my mother to you, but “buzzing in my head” to me might mean that I need to set a boundary. It’s very individualized…it’s not general…that is why it is necessary to work with a person who is well trained…and unfortunatly those people seem to be few and far between. But remember, talking about a symptom will not resolve it..a symptom is simply a call to action…so it’s not helpful to talk about all the anger you have towards your mother. You have to do something about it…and the very moment you do something, your symptom will resolve and you will know your true power…you have control over how you physcially feel…don’t hand that over to the medical profession.

          2. I hear that you’re clear that I’m asking for specific examples, and I notice that you aren’t offering them. This is what I find frustrating about your comments. Did someone teach you not to answer this question when you did your therapy? My Mickel therapist had the same response when I asked for examples of what other clients had found helpful, and I found it so frustrating that it’s one of the reasons I stopped working with him. I value clear and direct communication, not evasive non-answers backed by flimsy justifications like “what I did will be quite different from what anyone else does”. Why not just tell the truth and answer the question? For me, the lack of specificity undermines the very thing you’re attempting to promote.

            Bewildered, Graham

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