s2 e12: Supporting the vagus nerve with Ami Brannon from Neuvana

In this episode, we are covering an important topic for the healing journey and that is the vagus nerve. I’m joined by Ami Brannon. Ami is a co-founder of Neuvana and was the company’s Chief Executive Officer in its startup phase.  She currently serves as Chief Revenue Officer, focusing on marketing, sales, and the customer experience.  She is devoted to optimizing wellness and mental health through neuroscience to fight the devastating health effects of stress-induced illness.  Ami is a Registered Nurse with over 20 years’ experience in hospital-based healthcare.  She served in both clinical and leadership roles in ICU and invasive procedural areas. Ami holds a BS in Nursing and a BS in Psychology from the University of Central Florida.

The goal of this episode is to give you an introduction of how the vagus nerve works and how you can support it on your healing journey.

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Amanda Montalvo 0:00
Hey, this is Amanda Women’s Health dietitian.

Emily 0:03
And I’m Emily nutritional therapy practitioner. And this is

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Each week we will be diving into a different topic on women’s health and sharing our perspective using nutrition, email physiology and metabolic health.

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Amanda Montalvo 0:37
In this episode, we are covering an important topic for the healing journey and that is the vagus nerve. I’m joined by Amy Brannon. Amy is a co founder of Nirvana and was the company’s chief executive officer and its startup phase. She currently serves as Chief Revenue Officer focusing on marketing sales in the customer experience She’s devoted to optimizing wellness and mental health through neuroscience to fight the devastating health effects of stress induced illness. Amy is a registered nurse with over 20 years experience in hospital based health care. She served both in clinical and leadership roles in ICU and invasive procedural areas. Amy holds a BS in nursing and a BS in psychology from the University of Central Florida. I’m very excited to have you here. Today with me, Amy, the goal is really just to kind of go through what is our vagus nerve, you know, how can we support it and get people to start thinking about this topic. So thank you for being here.

Ami Brannon 1:31
Thanks, Amanda. I’m super excited. I think it’d be a fun conversation. So

Amanda Montalvo 1:34
do you want to people know your background? Right? Secure, you are a nurse for a long time, what made you focusing so much on the vagus nerve, I know you have the bs in psychology, so I’m sure that has something to do with

Ami Brannon 1:45
it. Yeah, it actually it winds up just been convenient that I have that background, when I met. One of the surgeons that I worked with at the hospital for years, he had invented numerous medical devices. And his brother, also a physician was using something in his pain practice that actually targeted the vagus nerve. So it looks like that’s what was happening. But it involved needles, and that just seemed really invasive. And when we looked at it, it seemed like you could access this branch of the vagus nerve through the ear canal. So the vagus nerve just kind of back up on that, that actually is one of your cranial nerves. So it comes out two sides of the back of the brainstem. And then comes down the neck and wires together basically in one cable and reaches all the major organ systems in your body. But also this little branch comes through the ear. So that branch, the only direction that that branch goes is to send messages to the brain. So the rest of the vagus nerve goes two ways. So it communicates from the body to the brain and from the brain to the body. But this one little branch of the nerve is kind of like the doorbell for the brain. So that’s kind of what I call it when you stimulate it, and we use electrical stem for that, then it’s kind of like waking up biggest nervous China, it’s time to do your thing. I

Amanda Montalvo 3:13
love that doorbell for the brain. I’m gonna like make a note make sure that’s in social media. It’s a big concept, right? It’s a lot to explain to people. We haven’t even talked about the nervous system yet because the vagus nerve is part of that. I feel like little analogies like that can make this more it feels more applicable to be like, Okay, but what is that? How does this actually apply to me in my life?

Ami Brannon 3:33
Right? I you know, and it’s, it’s funny when you think, too, historically, when you think of children who are tired or need to self soothe, it seems like so many of them rub their ears. And that’s thought to be connected to the fact that the vagus nerve, which is a very calming, you know, it accesses the calming side of the nervous system, that even children recognize that and they that’s why they will rub their ear. So pulling might be an ear infection, but rubbing might be self soothing.

Amanda Montalvo 4:05
Oh, that’s so interesting. And I know before we got on, I mentioned I was just talking with my friend Leo, about the lymphatic system, and all that and how there’s like a huge ear focus. And there’s a lot of massage techniques and stuff you can do on your ears to help stimulate that parasympathetic state. And it makes sense because it sounds like we can connect with our vagus nerve there.

Ami Brannon 4:25
Right? Yeah, it’s super convenient. And there’s, you know, there are different spots on the ear. We target the ear canal and then the very front of the ear has that little triangle piece that sticks out just a little bit. But that’s known to have a lot of the nerve fibers from this branch of the of the vagus nerve that

Amanda Montalvo 4:44
was so interesting. And we’ll talk all about that

Ami Brannon 4:47
electrical kind of stimulation and then and how you can different tools that you guys can utilize. So before we dive into like, all the kind of big concepts around the vagus nerve What can you talk a little bit about the nervous system and the two branches of it so that we can kind of better understand like where that vagus nerve lives? Sure, there’s a part of your nervous system that is completely automatic, okay, and it’s called the autonomic nervous system. But you can think of it as the automatic, you don’t have to think about anything, these are the things that run in the background. So the two sides that we’re most familiar with is the fight or flight. Some people say fight flight, or freeze or fright flight, there’s all these little words that you know, people try to use all kinds of words in there. But this is the part that gears you up for something, it’s important. So stress is important in our lives. So I don’t want anyone to think that we’re trying to cancel stress, right? Stress is actually what makes you stronger, mentally stronger, emotionally stronger, physically stronger, when you put your body under stress, it’s ongoing stress, chronic stress that is not managed, or you don’t give yourself time to recover, that becomes a problem. So if you’re in this fight or flight stage, your heart rate goes up, your blood pressure will go up, your focus is very different, and you are targeted to protect yourself. Right, so you’re fleeing from the tiger that’s chasing you. Whereas the opposite side of that is to help recover from those episodes. So this is the drop in respiratory rates. So you’re breathing slower, deeper, your heart rate drops, your blood pressure drops, your food digests, you know, this is your rest and digest side, the the issue that we have now, and I think all of us can argue that over the last two years, the onslaught of new information that is very stressful is continuous. Many of us may have had family members who were ill or isolated or even passed during, during the pandemic. I mean, there’s been a real, a lot of awful things going on. And that’s not withstanding social issues, and political, all these things that come at us that we have strong opinions about, but actually create some sort of visceral response. So if you have all of those things, and you don’t have a good tone to your nervous system, and now you’re in gear all the time, then that’s what starts causing chronic disease. And you had asked earlier about, you know, kind of what was my attraction to this whole project and looking at the vagus nerve? Well, as an ICU nurse, I would take care of the sickest of the sick. And in that environment, I could see everyday that so many of those situations could have been avoided, but they would have had to have been avoided years ago. Right. So it’s, when, when we’re in our 20s, you know, we kind of think that we’re invincible, and we don’t have to worry about all these things that come later in life, and we’re in our 30s, we’re gearing through the career and you’re building family, and you still have to give yourself these exercises, these tools to recover. So that long term, your body and your brain and your organs are still in good shape to keep you, you know, when all of those things are passed, and you want to have fun in life,

Amanda Montalvo 8:27
I think do when we think about how our bodies are designed. And I’ve probably said this, so many people probably secure me citizens podcast, but we’re not designed to constantly be in fight or flight, right, we’re not designed to always be in that sympathetic nervous system state. And like you said, it is healthy for us, you know, to get in to get in and then get out. And I think that’s the part that a lot of us are missing is the the getting out part. Because we are kind of stuck in a state of high stress. I mean, if you think about it, screens are super stimulating there, that blue light that they emit, and everything. It’s like, most of us are spending the majority of our days in fight or flight and we don’t realize it. And then, you know, we might think I don’t have that much stress. But then, you know, I think of the people that have a really hard time sitting in quiet or slowing down, or like sitting down eating a meal and that rushed or without distractions. It’s like those are all signs that you are probably addicted to cortisol and addicted to that stress response. Because that’s all that your body really knows it’s it gets like stuck in that nervous system state. When we think about what is a healthy nervous system look like it’s going in and out. Right? It’s getting to the stress state and then coming back down to that relaxed state. And like you said, the last two years have been in an already stressful worlds like the way of life that we have now in our society. We add on top of that this huge chronic stress that we think is going to end it feels like it never does, and then adding in To that, like illness not being able see family isolation, like all those things, of course, that’s going to push people past that breaking point. And I think it’s just really messed with a lot of people’s nervous systems. And now they don’t have that healthy stress response.

Ami Brannon 10:14
Yeah, I think that’s, that’s all, those are all really good points. And I look at it, even for myself. There’ll be times if. So I make a lot of decisions on a daily basis. If I find myself having a hard time making a decision, and second guessing a lot of things, it’s just like too much rumination going on, then I know something’s off. Because I should be able to focus, make a decision, not spend so much time second guessing, but that’s just me knowing myself. And if I’m irritable, I have, you know, less tolerance for conversation or for human interaction, then I know, my nervous system is way off. So and that’s, I, you know, if we look at the product that we have, or vagus nerve stimulation, in general, I’ll say a lot. It will talk about meditation for a minute. You know, a lot of people believe that meditation and mindfulness will help stimulate the vagus nerve. So while it may do that, indirectly, people who are consistent meditators know, when they’re not meditating, they see the, that they’re off kilter when they’re not doing that. And so I would say it’s the same. And that’s what I noticed. Yeah, you have less resiliency to stress, because your body’s not getting out of that state enough. We talked about like the two different nervous systems, where does the vagus nerve come in the rest and digest? Yes, so the vagus nerve is really the major portion of the rest and digest side of the nervous system. And when you stimulate it, then it lets the brain send messages to the body that say, Okay, it’s time to slow the breathing down, slow your heart rate down a little bit, digest the food. And even there are, there are parts of the brain that are associated with focus. So the vagus nerve is also very associated with increased focus. So you can sit down at whatever you’re doing and have this really nice hyperfocus on typing report. Or if there’s, if you’re up against the deadline, if you have to do your taxes, and you don’t want to, you know, all of those things that will just help you move through some things a little bit faster.

Amanda Montalvo 12:45
I didn’t realize the focus piece of it, like I, you know, I always think of the digestive system and gut health, because there’s such a big piece of communication there. And if you’re not digesting your food, well, then that will lead to gut health issues down the road, you know, our stomach acid is that first line of defense. And if we are not getting into that relaxed state, before we’re eating, then we’re not going to make the digestive juices that we need. So then our food doesn’t get broken down, doesn’t get processed correctly. We don’t get the nutrients it ferments we get gut bacteria overgrowth, all that fun stuff, right. So I always make that big connection. But I’m, I’m really glad you mentioned the energy piece or the focus piece, because I do think a lot of people could relate to that. And a lot of people have a hard time focusing now. I mean, you do, you’re in the marketing, right? Obviously, I’m doing social media and stuff for my business. And a huge battle is people’s attention spans and getting them to want to listen to a longer podcast or not just like look at an image or watch a reel on Instagram, like the 15 second clips and stuff. So it makes sense because I think a lot of us are so sympathetic, dominant in stress that like we can’t quite get into that relaxed focus state,

Ami Brannon 14:02
right? And it’s so even on functional MRI in a bunch of different studies, they show that when electrical STEM is applied to the vagus nerve that this part of the brain lights up called the locus coeruleus. And that is what releases norepinephrine into the system. So it’s then you get these folks in really hyper focus states.

Amanda Montalvo 14:28
So how does our vagus nerve as far as like, you talked about how you if you notice, you’re feeling off, right? Like maybe you don’t have like the same resiliency, distress conversation, you can’t make decisions, that sort of thing? How does the vagus nerve lead to that? Like, how is it going to impact that?

Ami Brannon 14:48
So when you I think knowing yourself is really important, right? And you had mentioned that a lot of people don’t realize the amount of stress they’re under. So even If we can just peel it back and say you don’t, maybe you don’t have to admit or see how much stress you’re under, maybe you just need to pay attention to how you interact with others, how you make decisions, how you spend your time. What what makes you exhausted, what gives you energy, and how you’re spending your time and call it stress, or call it something else. I think some people shy away from it, because it’s such an overused word. But when you when you practice getting yourself into a relaxed state, that triggers the activity of the vagus nerve. Now, what I’ve seen over the last several years in building this company, and talking with so many different people, is that a lot of us don’t even know what relaxation feels like. So let’s take a person who might have had a difficult childhood may then have gone into, you know, gone into this mode that I’m going to be super successful. And so they overcome all odds. So now they’re super type A personality, very control, everything is control, right? So they don’t even know what it feels like to relax. So meditation is impossible. And how many people have you talked to that say, I can’t, can’t do it. I can’t sit still that long. I can’t be quiet for that long. So this is sort of a hack. Stimulating? The vagus nerve is a bit of a hack to get past that. So it’s not saying it replaces anything necessarily, it could. But I think everybody needs tools in the toolbox. So you need to be able to access your vagus nerve somehow. And there are thoughts plunging into an ice bath, does it? Well, I don’t want to do that. I live in South Florida for a reason and ice baths sounds miserable to me. It’s really exciting for some people, but definitely not for me. So that’s not not a tool I would use. So in this case, we have electrical stem that is a direct line to the vagus nerve, and that helps jump that step.

Amanda Montalvo 17:19
And I think to an important thing to mention is a lot of people’s nervous systems cannot handle it and is like their adrenal literally just can’t handle it. It would be because that’s, that’s a positive stressor, right? So even though it is it does stimulate that vagus nerve, or like I mean, contrast, showers are an easy one for people to like, slowly start implementing. But honestly, even sometimes that can feel too stressful, a hot bath, I’ve had be too stressful for people. So that’s one of the things I love about the Zen, that little cool little earpiece product that Nirvana makes, because you can control the level of stimulation that you are giving to the vagus nerve. And I’m sure we’ll talk about that. I want to share my experience. I’m curious with your feedback on it. And like what it means, because I’ve noticed like trends over it since like, my gosh, what has it been like, six months now? I think I’ve been using it. Yeah, so that’ll be interesting. But the whole kind of going back to the stress or like identifying your stress, whatever people want to call it. One thing I think people are becoming more aware of now is their stress or whole life and like trauma, whatever you want to call it. I feel like that’s another one of those buzzwords that people are like II I don’t know if I want to call it trauma. Even though it’s not the trauma, it’s how your body reacts to it. That’s important. We had a great podcast episode about that with Theresa from living roots wellness, if you guys want to go back and listen, and we talked about like little T vs Big T trauma, but also just didn’t matter what it was. It just matters how your body what kind of response it had I and I’m just interested in curious of like, how you see that impacting vagus nerve especially like later in life where we think like I’m overall that like, I’m past that, but I’m still dealing with all these health issues. Yeah, well, that’s

Ami Brannon 19:12
a really interesting question. And I’ll say a little bit loaded. And I’m sure you understand, because I hear the big T little T and I’ll have to go back and listen to that podcast episode myself. What I see and I being associated and really overseeing the whole customer experience, I talk with a lot of customers directly. If I see something that looks interesting, and I want to learn more, then I’ll reach out and talk to a customer directly as well. And we have had a few people with with Trump traumatic background so traumatic experience in the past, that they have not resolved. And so I had an I had talked to a customer who said, I actually get a little bit anxious. So I’m relating to your, your comments about a bath or a shower that actually can increase anxiety. So the story there is when you start bringing down the sympathetic nervous system, which is that fight or flight, so you start bringing it down, it almost creates this situation where the brain now sees, what’s what they’ve been hiding, right. So we, we lock some things up in boxes, and we put them away for a reason. But we also have professionals to help us unlock the box in a safe way. Right. So I would say that when trauma is being an I’ll just call it trauma for the sake that I think that’s what everyone will understand. But these traumatic experiences, if people haven’t dealt with them, they will continue to create this sympathetic overload in your whole body, which creates chronic disease, early aging, diabetes, heart disease, insomnia, depression. So if you can go ahead and commit to resolving that with a professional, to cognitive behavioral therapy, find a professional that fits with you. And something like one of these things, whether it’s vagus nerve stimulation, through electrical stem, or through a different series of activities that you’re doing, it’s so important because that, that high level sympathetic load has to come down to save all of your organs. But the parasympathetic, that rest and digest also needs to come up so that you can help save your emotions and your brain and you can be more resilient with the way you you respond to things. Does that make sense?

Amanda Montalvo 22:01
Yeah, and I always think of it from like, a nutrient and mineral perspective, because that’s what I spend most of my time but looking at, like every mineral has, and the people that are they’ve been say they’ve been in that fight or flight for a really long time. They’re most of them are what’s called a fast for. And they have very low depleted mineral levels. So it means that fast means that their body is still in the fight or flight, that sympathetic state. And then the number next to the metabolic type, the four that is describing what their thyroid and their adrenals are doing. And so a one is like everything is fast switch a fast one, that would be like a healthy stress response, right, everything is going it nothing is dysregulated. It’s all working as it should, the further you get out to three, and then when you finally hit four, that means that your thyroid and adrenals are burnt out, they don’t have the mineral resources anymore to respond properly to the stress. So not only is it that you’re stuck in this fight or flight state. So of course, that’s going to lead to thyroid issues, hormone imbalances, of course, digestive issues, like we talked about previously, but also deficiencies because you’re using up these minerals, you’re burning through the manifester array. So that’s like the first thing I think of and it’s like it can it’s uncomfortable when you first start trying to get out of that state. Because you’re used to being in the fight or flight whether you have a good response to stress or not, your body’s used to the stress hormones.

Ami Brannon 23:30
That’s it, I like the word uncomfortable. Because that that lets you see it’s not dangerous, right, it’s in in order to sometimes in order to get where we want to be, we have to cross through that uncomfortable zone.

Amanda Montalvo 23:50
Hey, Amanda here, just giving you a quick break, hopefully a break for your brain in the middle of this podcast episode, to remind you that if you haven’t gone through our free training, optimizing hormone health or mineral balance, we really do recommend starting there. And the main reason for that is because you’re going to hear us say things like mineral foundation, having a solid foundation, are you putting the foundations in place, especially what as we get deeper and deeper into different hormonal topics and specific imbalances in the body, the the mineral foundation, it’s always going to be so essential. So if you haven’t watched the free training, you can find it in our show notes. Or you can go to hormone healing rd.com. And it’s going to be right on that front page there. But we really recommend starting there too, you can understand how is your current mineral status? How do you assess this and how to get started with all that just you can get as much as you possibly can out of the rest of the podcast episodes. But that’s it I hope you enjoy the rest of this episode. So do you find that like for those people that maybe they maybe they feel like they’ve been there like I have been in fight or flight my whole life, you know, they think back to childhood and that’s Something I have people do in my course is it’s like your stress journey, right? Because we want to understand, okay, so we see this hair test. Now it’s looking at the last three months. But how did we get here? Because you could be in a place where you’re eating really well now, and you’re trying, maybe you have reduced a lot of stressors in your life, and you kind of feel like, I feel like I’ve done all the things. But we then we kind of come to realize, Oh, when I think back of my childhood, like, maybe you moved to Thailand, maybe your parents got a divorce, maybe you had digestive issues, your whole life growing up, and you never associated that with being stressed as a kid, but it was and like you’ve had, you know, constipation or gut issues for a long time. All those things are going to impact your health today. And so I feel like it’s an understanding that is helpful. But then, you know, what can we start to do to combat that? Would that just be to, like, slowly start implementing that Vagus Nerve Stimulation?

Ami Brannon 25:53
Yes. Yep. Exactly, that it’s slow. So little bits at a time. You know, even though we recommend when people are just starting. So the average person, let’s say, whatever that looks like, but sort of the average person would be twice a day, 15 minutes for three weeks, just to give yourself the chance to do this. And see results, because sometimes it does take about that long to see results. But someone who may have had

Amanda Montalvo 26:29
trauma in the past unresolved issues very, very if they start using it, and it feels like you start feeling that anxiety creep up, then just a couple of minutes at a time, and still daily for a couple of minutes at a time. And then if it’s something you have not resolved, and you’re not sure where all this is coming from, then I would say that you need to talk to a professional and see if you can sort through what’s really going on. Yeah, we can’t, we can’t leave out that other. It’s like, everything goes together, right? Like I find a lot of a lot of clients that will do talk therapy, and it’s helpful to a point. But then they hit a wall. And they feel like they’re kind of not getting beyond that. But then it’s like the other piece where it’s like, if you try to do too much on your own, then all this stuff comes up and you don’t quite have the tools to deal with it. And you can kind of feel like you’re going backwards. So I love the idea of like marrying them together. Do you want to talk a little bit about some signs that your vagus nerve needs support? And like you said nervous system tone before? Can you talk like, what does that mean? Like a lot of people I feel like it’s usually like vagal tone like what’s your vagus you have good vagal tone? What does that mean? And how do people know they might need that support?

Ami Brannon 27:45
So, you know, a lot of times vagal tone is kind of a newer term. And it’s it depends on who’s defining it. So we’re, you know, I read constantly. So even if our studies, you know, with our device, we don’t, we may not have 27,000 studies, but Google Scholar does, right. So I am constantly reading all the different studies on vagus nerve stimulation, and vagal tone is something that typically it’s how quickly your heart can get in and out of rapid, a rapid beat. Right? So it’s typically measured with heart rate variability. Now, of course, nothing is just that simple. There are 100 different ways to measure heart rate variability, and you can look at little bits and pieces. But in general, most people are going to look at their aura ring at their HRV strap, whatever they’re using, if they look at HRV, I would say so that’s one way to look at it. Higher. HRV shows that you have heart rate variability, meaning there’s more variability between beat to beat, so not A, not an A with Mia, which is something that is not normal. This is normal, it goes up and down with the flow of your breathing. Okay, so that means that your heart is actually more resilient. And if you’re running a really high heart rate all the time, you’re going to have fewer, fewer longer spaces in between those beads, right. So everything is like too fast. So when other signs for vagal tone. If you don’t track and measure things, maybe that even stresses you out. Sometimes that happens, right? If we track too much. It’s irritability, digestion, tolerance to new information. And that’s an anecdotal comment. And from me, but I will say if you really, really are, any new information that comes at you, you are super annoyed, irritable, you want to crawl into a hole, then your nervous system is probably just like on fire. And you need to get that under control somehow.

Amanda Montalvo 30:19
And I always think about like, I mean, now, it’s like hard not to have information overload in the world that we live in, like we take, we’re not meant, if we look at, you know, how we evolved, it’s like, we’re not meant to know what’s happening beyond like a 10 mile radius. And now we know it’s happening, like all over the world constantly at our fingertips, which can be very stressful, and even just coming into contact with so many people. I mean, think about like scrolling on social media, you see what so many people are doing. And it’s just one of those things where it’s like, yeah, that that should be overwhelming. Because ideally, like, be in your typical like village, it wouldn’t be more than, like, 150 people. But most of us are following 1000s of people on social media. So it’s, I feel like, it’s like one aspect of this is like information overload and putting devices down. So that you, that’s probably great for your vagus nerve.

Ami Brannon 31:16
Yes, I and I completely agree, I think that we have to develop guardrails for ourselves. So you said something earlier that, you know, people are kind of looking for one thing, or are looking for something a quick fix or one thing, it’s just not, we have to, we have to discipline ourselves, first of all, into some sort of a routine that’s good for us. So sometimes easier said than done, I get that I have three kids. And, you know, I’ve had one career on while doing another one at night, I have done all that. So I get it. But we do have to put pieces together that are good for us. So if you know that your tendency is to incessantly scroll on social, then you probably need to set a timer before you start. Right. So little things, I mean, these are simple little things that we can do. If you know you struggle, going to sleep or falling asleep right away, then you need to set a routine around bedtime. And if you tend to over commit, then it’s time to start practicing saying no. And start with something easy, you know, start with something super easy, and then get that into practice. But we have to learn to put these processes around the tools. So we can’t just have tools. And we can’t just have processes sometimes because life is too fast. So we may need both. I like that it’s

Amanda Montalvo 32:55
very strategic, and it can be personalized to you. And I think it helps you to like build more of a habit. You know, if you like tag, a tag a habit onto another habit, it’s a lot easier. Like you already have the habit of going on your phone, whenever you get a break, you can tag on to that habit, I’m going to set a timer, I actually have like one of those little like, egg timer is on my desk, I use it more for work than anything like I’ll like set it work without distractions for a certain amount of time it goes off, I’ll take a break, go do something. But I really like the idea of setting like just like having a boundary for yourself. Because it’s Think about it like something like watching TV or being on your phone or on a screen. It’s addictive. It’s meant to be that way. And it’s like it’s it’s, it is our normal and healthy response to not want to get off of those devices. So it’s more of just, it’s like combating the things that are normal and accepted in our society with these little tools so that, you know, you’re just kind of everything’s kind of working against our health and the way that our Bibles are designed. And it’s just you kind of coming back at that and being like, Okay, well how can I make this a little bit healthier for

Ami Brannon 34:07
me? Right, exactly. And like I’m at the point in my life where my kids are getting older. I have two in college and one in high school. And so I’m looking past that now. So I’m looking at oh my gosh, I want to be able to play what if my kids choose to have kids then I want to be able to play with their kids and not not have an illness that I could have prevented? Yeah,

Amanda Montalvo 34:35
definitely puts it in perspective. So what are some of the other ways we’ll talk about the actual Zen device and like go into like what it is, obviously, it’s using that stimulation in the inner ear. But what are some other ways that we can support our vagus nerve in our day to day

Ami Brannon 34:52
so in general, supporting your vagus nerve is eating how I’ll see, right Whole Foods, I don’t think, I don’t think enough emphasis can be put on whole foods, whatever, whatever form of diet you choose is up to you. And I think you, you know, you obviously coach people on this on a daily basis. Second is exercise, you have to be able to, to stress your body a little bit. And I, we all hear different things, whether it’s 10 minutes a day of sustained cardiovascular exercise, or 20 minutes or 180 minutes a week. It starts somewhere, if you’re not doing anything, you have to start somewhere. So Jim quick, who’s very well known for memory and learning and all of that one of the one of his tricks is small successes, right? You take tiny, tiny goals, and start with that. So even with your vagus nerve, you gotta be moving. So if you can’t move your legs, you move your arms, but you need to get your body moving, Whole Foods sleep. And some of these things are going to have to be helped with vagus nerve stimulation, because you’re, you know, they’re too difficult. For some people like sleep is one of the biggest issues that we’re all having right now. We’ve seen a huge uptick in people with sleep problems. So this will, having a toned vagus nerve allows you to fall asleep easier, stay asleep longer, and go into a deeper sleep overnight, I

Amanda Montalvo 36:40
use my before bed test

Ami Brannon 36:45
before. Yeah. And you know, I think that these are things people are probably tired of hearing them. But, guys, this is I mean, it’s really seems pretty simple. Whole Foods, exercise, sleep water, and I think it’s like it’s making the time for it. And that’s,

Amanda Montalvo 37:02
I know, I get a lot of questions like people want a fancy supplement, or like some specific regimen, they want some things because they have this health issue, this main health concern. Usually, like for a lot of my population, it’s like, maybe it’s PCOS, maybe it’s hypothyroidism, or an autoimmune thyroid condition, endometriosis, and they’re like, but what should I do? And I’m like, it’s not really different. Like there might be there’s definitely nuances, of course, and you can get more specific if you get any sort of lab testing done. But at the end of the day, the foundation you can’t get you can’t skip the foundations like you, you just can’t because they are going to impact everything else.

Ami Brannon 37:42
Right, yeah, that’s the perfect way to put it. They, I mean, this is start here.

Amanda Montalvo 37:47
And I think eating enough, like that is something that is so under appreciated, especially for women. And, you know, if you’re in that fight or flight stressed out state a lot, you’re probably not going to have great appetite. And it’s going to be a lot harder for you to want to eat throughout the day. And then you’re starving at the end of the day and you eat a ton of food, then you don’t sleep good. It’s like this vicious cycle. So I the little things of how I always talked about like eating breakfast, after you get up eating regularly throughout the day, not skipping meals, that’s a great way to handle one of the biggest stressors your body deals with all day, and that’s bouncing your blood sugar. You know, it’s like if we can, if we can support this simple process, we’re gonna have way less spikes and cortisol, which is a huge one of the reasons things I hear about women on their healing journeys a lot when they start eating enough and like balancing their meals and eating more whole foods is they they have more energy and more stuff starts to come up for them, because they have the energy to deal with it now after like being like you said, being in that fight or flight for so long, and like suppressing all that stuff.

Ami Brannon 38:54
Right. You know, one thing that that we didn’t mention earlier is how stress adds to inflammation. And how inflammation is really at the crux of so many of these illnesses or disease processes, whatever. But it’s everything from depression is now the research around depression right now is being linked to inflammation. You have everything from joint problems, arthritis,

Amanda Montalvo 39:29
bowel issues, and all of those things are made worse when your inflammation is on fire, which, you know, if your nervous system is out of balance, then you’re just adding to that inflammation because that rest and digest side has an anti inflammatory effect. And I mean, hopefully it helps make people feel better that things are simple. You know that it’s not something super fancy that they have to do. I mean, you It can be hard to because then you realize, oh, I have to kind of deal with this now, and I don’t really want to, maybe you don’t want to address it. But even starting very slow, and really small, like you said, like getting those quick wins. In the beginning, I mean, that’s really what it’s all about. If you don’t eat breakfast, just start with eating breakfast, that’s what I usually have people do. And then that will help stimulate your appetite all day. And then that will encourage you to want to eat more and want to prioritize it. And then maybe when you’re eating enough, you actually want to move and get exercise in. And then eventually, you know, once you get that eating and movement and getting outside in that can really help with your sleep, and your circadian rhythm. And then when you have an alcohol, I

Ami Brannon 40:41
was gonna say, I like how you put that that, you know, sometimes we, if we realize it’s that simple it is, it can be frustrating, because it’s the same message that we’ve heard for a long time. And we feel like, maybe there is that fancy supplement or that something that that would just fix what we’ve gotten instead of putting a little bit of work in. And it once you start creating those habits, then they just come easier. Once you start learning how to relax. Or once you learn how to get your eating routine down and prep your food or buy where to buy your food. Sometimes that’s half the battle is just if I’ve forget to make food, where do I get it?

Amanda Montalvo 41:27
Or it’s like life gets really crazy and busy. And you’re in like a super stressful season. That’s the other thing is like, yes, we’re gonna go through stressful seasons where we have more stuff going on. And we there’s not enough hours in the day. And it’s like, you have to just do the best you can with what you have during those times. But then adding in like tools, like additional things like how you mentioned like ice baths and stuff. It’s like, if you’re not eating enough, and you’re super stressed out and you’re not sleeping, well your digestion sucks, like probably not gonna, like move the needle. Right? So it’s like, of course, you want to do the foundation’s first. But I’m curious, like, for people that do feel like they have a hard time calming down? Or they maybe they think they hear meditation, they’re like, oh, no, no, rather not. With something like that tool like that electrical stimulation that year. That’s what the Zen does. I feel like that’s when it can be helpful when you are working on these other areas and you have a good foundation, then you can kind of build off of that. So do you want to talk about like, what is this, then? You talked about some of the electrical stimulation that year and how it connects to the vagus nerve, and but like, how can people actually use it?

Ami Brannon 42:39
Sure, I think I Where’s mine, I got it over here. So the Suzanne is a portable vagus nerve stimulator, it uses mild electrical stem. So you can feel a little bit of either some people say it feels like a vibration, and it might just feel warm, you can change the intensity. So it can be really uncomfortable. But that’s not the goal. Right. So we all have different skin resistance. So that’s why we have this intensity that you can change. But it sends electrical stem through an earbud. That’s really simple. They just look like in ear headphones. And you pop the left one is the one that delivers the electrical stem, you can listen to your music, or your podcast while you’re doing it. So we have a couple of different modes. The electrical STEM is designed to stimulate this branch of the vagus nerve that’s on the front of the back of the ear canal. So when you put this in, and you spray little saline on it just to help with conductivity, and you can the app. So there’s an app that is you can think of it as your remote control, right? So you can choose different waveforms. And that in and of itself can be a little daunting, because people are not really comfortable exploring and seeing Okay, well which one will work for me. So if if you look at the different waveforms, they just mean there’s different parameters. There are different parameters, like different frequencies to each of these. And people just respond differently. So while waveform D, I may feel really focused when I’m using waveform D, I may get really someone else may get really sleepy with waveform D and I think some of that is just a little bit of exploration. But all of the waveforms are based on science. They’re based on things that we have either conducted research on ourselves or based on published randomized controlled trials that are published online. So That said, you can you start off, you make sure that the earbud fits really well, because you need to have good contact with the skin. And then you run 15 to 20 minute sessions, you can go up to 25 minutes, you can go down as low as five minutes, or just, you can end the session any time. But you increase the intensity until you feel it a little bit in your ear. Now, what’s interesting is, the trials that are being done, are actually being done when people can’t feel the stimulation at all. Because otherwise you can’t, you can’t blind the study. So we have, we work with research partners, and we actually have a research app that allows them to double blind, so no one knows if they’re getting the stimulation or not. But it’s still running, which is super interesting. It’s wild. And it’s it’s hard for people to understand that it’s really hard to wrap our brain around that you can be stimulating this nerve with electrical impulses, but they’re below the perceptible threshold, so below the level that anyone can feel, and they still physiologically make a difference. So the body’s physiology changes, I was gonna say that I

Amanda Montalvo 46:17
didn’t imagine if they actually felt it. Like, I feel like it’d be really interesting to compare, like to have like the double blind study, but then also compare it to like people who actually like could feel

Ami Brannon 46:29
the simulation, right, that are doing higher intensities, there are some studies that look at that. And we don’t see a lot of difference there. There are a couple that are coming out, you know, that have come out recently that show that really a lot higher intensities may make a difference for some outcomes. But I will tell you at higher intensities are not comfortable. We’ve had, you know, we have people go out, you know, it’s it, I’ll use the word shocking, even though it’s not a shock, it’s an electrical impulse, you just turn it down. So you just turn the intensity down. And that’s much easier. And

Amanda Montalvo 47:07
it’s like, yeah, it’s right on the app. So it’s like, it’s like a little line. And then you can click the thing, the plus sign, and it’ll go up. But it’s gradual. So it’s funny. So when I first started using mine, like six months ago, I had it on like a 20. For my intensity, like I had, I burned up the intensity pretty high. Because I’m like, I don’t feel it, you know, and now, I only needed at like a 10. I wonder if it’s like created more sensitivity there.

Ami Brannon 47:35
It’s interesting, because it’s actually more related to skin resistance. And sometimes it’s hydration. So I’ll tell people make sure you’re hydrated. Because the way if you think of how, if your skin is dry, and you pinch the skin on the back of your hand, it will stand up. Right, it doesn’t, it doesn’t snap back. So the skin on your ear has even less tissue underneath it. But you’ve got to have hydration to make that skin I don’t know more pliable and easier to maneuver. So when the electrical STEM is going through the skin, then it just kind of depends on either. There are factors like ear wax, you obviously have wax in ears, so you need to make sure that you’re not trying to get electrical stem through that. But you just wipe the inside your ear a little bit with a tissue or something. And make sure you’re hydrated, but some days are different than others. So some days, you may be at a 20. And some days, you might be at a 12 or a 10. That’s interesting though, that over time your sister I was like, Oh, I

Amanda Montalvo 48:51
just don’t need it quite as high anymore. And I can like sense it more. But then also makes me wonder like maybe because I can get into that relaxed state quicker, because I’ve been doing it more frequently, if that impacted it, but and I know people are going to ask so it’s like, Is this safe during pregnancy? Because obviously I’m pregnant right now is the as of this recording, what would you typically say to that?

Ami Brannon 49:13
So we and we talked about this right before the show, but we don’t recommend using during pregnancy. But the reason for that is we haven’t tested it directly. So there’s there’s no real reason that it would be unsafe. But I think you I’m sure you’ll nod your head when I say a lot of companies are going to always put the X mark on pregnant women and children because it’s nobody wants to I don’t want to be wrong and it’s right so if Right, right, exactly. So if you choose to do that, then you know obviously that’s that’s your choice and I I don’t see that there would be cause for concern, but because women’s physiology changes so much during pregnancy, then that’s just something we just don’t recommend. Yeah,

Amanda Montalvo 50:11
I felt safe using it. And I knew like, for me, I was gonna go, I knew I was gonna go through a few really stressful seasons. I mean, pregnancy itself is like, especially your first year, like, what’s going on what’s happening, you know, you kind of you don’t know what to expect, it’s a lot. And my husband was deployed for three months, he’s still gone, but he’s coming back in two days, I can’t wait. And so that was super stressful. And then, you know, just having a business and my, the nature of my work, I know so many people that work from home, or they have really busy schedules where they’re just constantly behind the computer. I’m doing stuff on my phone for Instagram, you know, I’m like, I just know that for me personally, I am, it’s much more common that I’m going to be in that fight or flight when I am working. And so I find it really helpful to have tools like that. I’m also like, very, like data driven. So that kind of stuff. Like really resonates with me. But that’s it. I was like, I, I felt safe being like, Okay, if I know I’m going to be in this fight or flight more, how can I support myself and coming out of that, because we do, you know, we imprint our nervous systems, on our babies, and I’m like this poor baby, you know, I wanted to try to call myself as much as I could. And I do use it at night. And it was, like I, I find I get into a good nighttime routine, like with my dogs and stuff, we’ve got like their routine, we use a red lights, like a whole thing. And then the Zen kind of just fit into that really well for me. And it would just I noticed like I slept better. I when I used it like much deeper, I would sleep through the night. And that’s something I hear a lot from pregnant women. Obviously hydration is huge for that. If you’re drinking too much water, you’re going to be constantly being you need to put minerals in your water, drink, journal, cocktails, all that good stuff you your stress and like being in more of a stressed out state all day, that’s going to also impact your stress patterns at nighttime. So there’s so many different possible ways to use it. Yeah,

Ami Brannon 52:09
we we hear so often sleep is like the number one benefit that we hear that people are falling asleep faster or staying asleep longer getting into deep sleep. And, you know, I’ve talked to people who it makes me wonder if sleep medication becomes a habit in and of itself. But I’ve talked to people who were on sleep medication for years, and they were able to wean themselves either off or to where they they barely need those types of medications. So and as a nurse, I’m sort of biased against sleep medicine, because I’ve seen so many injuries, like weird, horrible injuries, based on people who have been taking sleep medicine, and we’re sleepwalking or really groggy are kind of hungover in the morning. And, you know, just some really catastrophic things. So

Amanda Montalvo 53:06
I’m a little biased, especially working in the ICU. Sure.

Ami Brannon 53:11
Yeah. Right. If you know that those are bad injuries, if you know that they’re coming into the ICU.

Amanda Montalvo 53:16
Do you have time for one more question? Okay, so I wanted to talk there’s you guys have a post and I’ll put this in the show notes. Nirvana has opposed to their Instagram about pelvic floor dysfunction and vagal tone and the you know, this is a topic that I’ve had a pelvic floor PT on here, it comes up a lot outside of pregnancy during pregnancy, you know, after menopause, that then you have another whole shift in your hormones in your pelvic floor. Can you talk about that connection between our pelvic floor and that vagus nerve?

Ami Brannon 53:49
So I’ll I’ll preface by saying that it’s really easy for me to be an expert in some things. And some things have been a little bit surprising along the way. And pelvic floor is one of those that was I had never considered. So if you look at my background, as an ICU nurse, I’m focused on everything that is really on the verge of life and death. So pelvic floor is not one of those things. So when you know I, there was a physical therapist who reached out and said that she had these patients with really, really complex pelvic floor issues. And she thought that the vagus nerve, you know, that toning the vagus nerve would help. Well, I actually was curious. Of course, it made sense to me when I thought about it, Mike. Oh my gosh, I never, never really thought about that. So I’ll I’ll give you the anecdote of one of a couple of her experiences that were related to constipation. Okay, so these are people who Again, with Type A personality, maybe whatever is unresolved and a lot of stress, and they were never able to let go of their bowels. So vagus nerve stimulation, it took several weeks. But really being able to stimulate the vagus nerve, and release all those relaxing hormones and neurotransmitters that are intended, like, these are the way that our bodies are intended to work, we’re actually able to help some people get through this horrible constipation. And, you know, constipation is one of those topics is really uncomfortable to talk about in public, but it’s so real and everyone knows how miserable it is. So I can’t imagine being really with such a chronic situation that is really so treatable. And in this case, the way that our bodies work back to the two sides of the nervous system, when you’re so sympathetically over, overloaded, or, like you said, over time, are it with age, you mentioned menopause. And with with age, our vagal tone actually decreases. So it just naturally decreases. So you need to do something to stimulate it. I, you know, I’m actually sort of in that pre menopause area, and I used to get hot flashes, I’d sweat I knew something was going on. I’m like, Okay, I know what this is. But I have to say, I don’t really get them very often at all, I mean, it’s rare. And then I have to think about it. If I get them, then I think about it. I’m like, Okay, what’s going on in my life? What changed? Because I wasn’t getting them for so long. And I’ve gotten some feedback from other women who have used who have used the device. And am I saying that? Vagus Nerve Stimulation fixes hot flashes? No, but I do think that balancing things out, may help. Well,

Amanda Montalvo 57:11
your hormones, and that’s that shift in hormones is what causes the hot flash. So I think that makes sense. Yeah,

Ami Brannon 57:17
so I think you know, related to pelvic floor, if you look at the way the body is designed, and even as we age, if things are going to get less resilient than whatever we can do to support the resilience, or whatever we can do to contradict what we’re doing to our bodies with that added sympathetic tone, then that’s gonna make a difference.

Amanda Montalvo 57:43
And if anyone’s like, what is your pelvic floor have to do with constipation, it’s because our pelvic floor muscles, they hold things in, but they also let things out. And we did a whole podcast episode on this with my friend, Dr. Ryan Bailey. And yeah, if you have a really tight pelvic floor that you can also that can not only is it gonna lead to, you know, maybe some leaking issues and continence issues, but also it can lead to constipation, because it has a very close tie, and all those muscles are connected. But yeah, that’s I just was like, Oh, that’s really interesting. And I love that they looked into that, because that in that makes sense that like, it’s another component of how that can change over time as you age, like there’s hormonal shifts that impact your pelvic floor muscles. But then if you also take into consideration like, I mean, we’ve, you’ve been under stress longer, right? You’ve lived longer, so you’ve been through more. And then of course, it’s your nervous system state can also impact that pelvic floor, but then your hormones, and it’s that they’re all going to be connected. So that’s really, I’m going to link that post just because I was like, Oh, this is really neat. And I have so many people that listen that deal with pelvic floor issues. And it’s like, we know that stress is a component, but I think to see it is really cool. Definitely. So thank you so much for being here, and answering all our questions and teaching us about the vagus nerve and this really cool tool, then I’m gonna link to VANOS website, and their Instagram, they have a lot of great information there. Really great posts, it’ll get you kind of thinking and hopefully educate you a bit more. And then I do have a coupon code, where you guys can get a discount, it’s just Amanda 10. And I’ll put that in the show notes as well. Anything you want to leave people with,

Ami Brannon 59:30
I would say at I hope that people are looking at whatever you can do to make your life better today, tomorrow the next day, it just do little things and celebrate your little wins. And tomorrow’s a new day. So whether today goes great or whether today it goes awful. tomorrow’s a new day and it’s okay to forgive Give yourself for whatever you didn’t do today. And just get get going tomorrow but do something.

Amanda Montalvo 1:00:05
I love that and it doesn’t have to be anything big can be something small. And the more you keep doing that little thing little easier. It’s going to be Yeah, for sure. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for being here.

Ami Brannon 1:00:17
Thank you, Amanda. This was fun. I knew it was going to be a good talk. So thank you for your time.

Amanda Montalvo 1:00:25
Thank you for listening to the RU menstrual podcast. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please consider leaving us a review and sharing the podcast with someone you think it will help. If you are new here, we can’t recommend enough to start with our mineral imbalance quiz. This is going to give you an idea if you are at low, moderate or high risk for mineral imbalances. And then of course, make sure you follow us on Instagram at hormone healing rd. And consider signing up for our newsletter if you like nerding out and you’re just loving these podcasts but maybe you’re a little bit more visual and you want to see things too. We go into a ton of detail in our weekly newsletter. So we would love to have you join us there. All right, thank you and we will see you in the next episode.

Amanda Montalvo

Amanda Montalvo is a women's health dietitian who helps women find the root cause of hormone imbalances and regain healthy menstrual cycles.

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