What’s the Big Deal About the Vagus Nerve?
Recently, the vagus nerve has become very popular in the health space. This is because this tenth cranial nerve profoundly influences various critical organs in the body, such as the heart, gut, brain, and lungs.
The vagus nerve is known one of the key regulators of the “rest and digest” part of your autonomic nervous system (ANS), the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). This section of the nervous system allows your body to effortlessly perform its subconscious functions and supports restoration. In contrast, a heightened sympathetic nervous system (SNS), the “fight and flee” aspect of the ANS, keeps your body on guard and ready to defend against threats.
The polyvagal theory is an innovative approach which is based on the vagus nerve’s functions. It is the study of the neurological, psychological, and physiological responses of the nervous system when there are threats present. It also evaluates how healing occurs when one feels a sense of security. Briefly, when one is feeling safe, they are PNS dominant. This allows their mind and body to retain balance and supports growth, health, and nourishing social connections
Why is this important to know?
When someone is faced with a chronic disease, or when they have a mysterious or notoriously hard to treat diagnosis, they can end up feeling defeated, unsafe, and isolated. This is especially true for those with tick-born illnesses, autoimmunity, and/or mold exposure. Oftentimes, they are labeled as “hard to treat”.
This is a form of medical trauma. In this circumstance, one’s nervous system will often react as if it’s under threat. For these individuals, it is hard to find a doctor that is not only compassionate, but competent and effective, in alleviating their suffering and helping them to heal and feel safe.
On this episode of the Essential Oil Revolution, we have such a physician. He has not only been proficient in personally mastering his own journey with Lyme disease and Babesiosis, but he is also currently supporting thousands of others to live their life optimally. Dr. Thomas Moorcroft is not just relieving suffering, he is helping others thrive.
Dr. Moorcroft’s extensive training in treating mysterious illnesses has made him a sought-after global leader and presenter on the topics of tick-born infections, mold illness, mast cell activation syndrome, and children with infection-induced autoimmune encephalitis (PANS/PANDAS). He has a unique way of blending natural approaches with conventional ones while holding with reverence the healing journey of his patients and honoring their innate capacity to heal.
This is why when I heard Dr. Moorcroft speak, I was determined to have him on the Essential Oil Revolution podcast to share his inspiring message of hope and transformation.
During the show, Dr. Moorcroft and I discuss why he feels it is so important to have a mindset of hope in order to heal, why feeling safe is necessary for a positive shift to occur, and important ways one can nurture their vagus nerve to revitalize their health. Dr. Moorcroft also provides us with some important tips to consider when one has tick-born infections and other chronic diagnoses.
Importantly, we also weave in how essential oils are vagal nerve modulators that support the vagus nerve’s influence on our physiology, psychology, and biochemistry. Through various mechanisms, these plant secondary metabolites can enhance our brain health, mood, and calm our reactive nervous system down.
The feeling of safety that emerges from aromatherapy allows for more rational response patterns to life and in relationships. It complements the polyvagal theory in that essential oil applications also modulate one’s ability to heal, grow, and release trauma.
Dr. Moorcroft, AKA “Dr. Tom”, was very generous in his time, and it was such an honor to have him on the Essential Oil Revolution.
Below is a summary of our talk and additional resources discussed.
Still, you will want to gift yourself the pleasure of listening to the full episode, so you don’t miss anything!
How Dr. Tom’s Journey Fueled His Passion to Heal Himself and Others
Although he never expected to be in medicine, Dr. Tom’s journey to find the answers to his own conditions made him the compassionate and gifted physician he is today. He started his education studying natural resources due to his love of nature. Wanting to create change vs. analyze conditions in research, he joined the Cary Institute and began teaching children applications of the science of ecology. Unfortunately, during his explorations in the wilderness, he contracted Lyme Disease and Babesiosis from a tick bite.
Initially, Dr. Tom was treated with doxycycline. He felt horrible the first three days, but better after ten days. However, the improvement did not last. Dr. Tom went on to suffer for years from debilitating fatigue, brain fog, mood issues, hypersensitivity to touch, and joint pain. He went to many doctors, got several diagnoses, and was put on various treatments. Nothing worked. With no roadmap to heal and no answers from conventional physicians, he embarked on a path to find answers.
Dr. Tom was drawn to an osteopathic school which focused on one’s innate healing capacity to heal. Around this time, someone also introduced him to yoga. At that point, he realized that he had to choose a different path and keep a determined mindset to get better.
While in medical school, Dr. Tom committed to 90 minutes of daily yoga. This taught him to tune-in and connect to his body’s needs. As a result, he naturally started taking better care of himself and eating more nourishing foods. Through yogi practices, he was 70% healed.
To complete his transformation, Dr. Moorcroft partnered with naturopathic and integrative medicine physicians who finally diagnosed him correctly with chronic Lyme and Babesia and treated him holistically. Within four years he was completely healed. To this day, twelve years later, Dr. Tom hasn’t had symptoms.
Dr. Tom believes his healing was a gift. It fueled his desire to help others who may not have had the resources and opportunities that he had. His own experience taught him about the powerful healing potential that lies within us.
Dr. Tom is someone who leads by example, in fact our interview for the Essential Oil Revolution podcast was scheduled just after he returned fresh and refueled from a retreat. This exemplifies the self-care he advocates for.
Merging the Physical Healing with the Science of Mindset and Spirituality
In traditional medicine, the mind and body are truly merged. In modern healthcare they are often still viewed and treated separately. This schism prevents healers from determining what someone’s passions and beliefs are. Without this knowledge, physicians cannot truly mediate sustainable change. After all, it is these factors that influence what a patient will do for their health and what fuels someone to get well.
For this reason, Dr. Tom does not solely treat on the physical level with herbs and medicines. He feels it is imperative to integrate the mind and spirit so that healing results last. This is where the Polyvagal Theory comes into his practice. To understand this concept, it is important to be aware of the three nervous system states. These include:
- ventral vagal– the state of safety. We can show up, communicate, and connect with others in this aspect of the parasympathetic system.
- sympathetic – the fight or flight energy state. This is mobilized for survival in dangerous situations.
- dorsal vagal – a collapsed, shut-down, numb state. This is initiated for protection and is another part of the parasympathetic system.
In the dorsal vagal state, one feels hopeless to heal and becomes disconnected from others. This often occurs with Lyme Disease and other “mysterious” chronic illnesses. In this condition it is harder to heal because the immune system is suppressed, and the brain neural pathways become altered. These sufferers also lose the ability to pick up on social cues which can interfere with feeling connected to others. These imbalances intensify emotional pain and further perpetuate the disease cycle.
For these reasons, Dr. Tom feels the most important thing for healing is to have hope that one can feel better, followed by consistent action. However, one needs to feel worthy of healing to feel hopeful and take that action.
For example, one needs to sleep to optimize detoxification of the brain and allow their body and mind to restore and recover. Yet, they also need to be calm enough and desire self-care to allow themselves to slip into this restful slumber. One can accomplish both self-appreciation and soothing by entering the ventral state through application of the polyvagal theory.
Getting Into the Ventral Vagal State
Dr. Tom uses several methods to get his patients into the ventral state. This results in more resilience, improved immune responses, enhanced connection, calmness, and a better ability to handle stress. Below are three of his techniques.
- A heart coherence practice: This is based on the research of the HeartMath Institute. In this process, the first place of focus is on breathing. Next, one is instructed to breathe “through their heart” as they think of something they love or are grateful for. This method puts one into a state of heart coherence and enhances HRV (heart rate variability).
- Intermittent hypoxia breathwork –This process will lead to decreasing oxygen and increasing carbon dioxide. It increases HRV and can enhance circulation, nutrient delivery, toxin removal, and open up nasal passages by evoking the release of nitric oxide. The nose is a major drainage root for toxin removal from brain, so this method is an important component of brain health. To achieve intermittent hypoxia, one can breathe in and out for five-and-a-half seconds per cycle.
- Gratitude – This practice can create new neural pathways for change and can restore hope. It is accomplished by writing down three wins from the day and the three wins one intends for the next day. This is done in a state of gratitude and can be enhanced with essential oils and doing the process before bedtime.
Essential Oils for the Vagus Nerve
Dr. Tom and I also review three essential oils that could be used with these practices to support the vagus nerve. They include lavender, bergamot, and ylang ylang. This is based on studies that assessed these oils’ ability to impact the PNS and heart rate variability (HRV).
I also discuss the essential oil blend I use for enhancing gratitude, which can be found here.
Hormesis and the Just Right Dosage
One must go slow and steady with these changes and pace themselves, so they are just uncomfortable enough to still feel safe. It may take time, but it’s important to have small successes and drip dopamine a little at a time every day.
If one goes too quickly with too many changes, the nervous system will panic (from too much neural reorganization and stimulation). This will overwhelm and overload the mind-body versus enhance calmness and security.
Dr. Tom introduced this as the concept of hormesis. Hormesis is the idea that intermittent bursts of certain stressors (“hormetic stressors”) can trigger a cascade of cellular processes that enhance overall health and resiliency.
What if You Can’t Get into a Vagal State?
If one cannot get into a vagal state, there may be something that is blocking them on a physiological or a psychological level. For example, there could be a trauma, real or perceived, that is being processed by the nervous system and preventing the shift.
Dr. Tom discusses his use of ketamine and oxytocin, which he uses at times to assist others out of the reactionary state of their nervous system. There is research that both may help rewire neural pathways and ketamine may have anti-Lyme properties. Dr. Tom also discusses the current psychedelic research. When used appropriately, it could also be helpful in removing blocks such as traumas and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder.) Sometime wearables, light therapy, or other options can also help with this process.
Healing Through Joy
Dr. Tom states that healing occurs when one is living life fully. This includes prioritizing self-care, being on one’s purpose, and finding what brings one joy. He believes that essential oils enhance our brain’s ability to trigger neurochemicals that support our own health.
Dr. Tom also gives us a beautiful definition of what he believes meditation really is and the importance of being addicted to positive thoughts vs. negative thoughts.
Essential Oils and Lyme
I have used essential oils internally for Lyme disease with my clients. I like to use essential oils over other antimicrobial modalities when possible because they don’t negatively impact the microbiome. I have had success with oregano, clove, and citrus oils in those who have been bitten by a tick. Dr. Tom also mentions garlic, myrrh, and clove oils as having good in vitro evidence against the spirochetes leading to Lyme disease. (R,R)
I also urged Dr. Tom to reiterate why you don’t want to rub an essential oil on an attached tick. (It literally “ticks” them off and can make them release their toxins.) When one has a tick, it’s best to effectively remove it and prevent it from spewing out its spirochetes and other infectious critters.
In closing, Dr. Tom shares what his favorite DIYs are with essential oils to prevent Lyme and assist with calming. He also answers the closing questions.
If you’ve ever felt hopeless to heal, unheard, or like something is wrong and you can’t figure it out what it is, you need to listen to this episode.
Click here to hear the interview and access the show notes.
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Links to Learn More About Dr. Tom and His Offerings:
- Dr. Tom’s Practice Website
- Dr. Tom’s Coaching
- Dr. Tom’s Thriving with Lyme Blueprint Masterclass
- Dr. Tom’s Lyme Disease Certification and Practitioner Training
- Dr. Tom’s Presentation: Part 2 of the IGeneX Bootcamp for Practitioners Treating Tick-Born Diseases
- Dr. Tom’s Blog
- Dr. Tom’s Peer-Reviewed Article: DNA sequencing diagnosis of off-season spirochetemia with low bacterial density in Borrelia burgdorferi and Borrelia miyamotoi infections
Bio of Dr. Thomas Moorcroft
Dr. Thomas Moorcroft (Dr. Tom) completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Vermont and attended the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine (UNECOM). He has a vast background in healing. Dr. Tom started out teaching wilderness medicine to children. He then began working as an EMT and in the emergency room.
Dr. Moorcroft was ultimately led to become an Osteopathic Physician. Today, he is internationally recognized for treating some of the sickest, most sensitive patients. Through his own personal journey of healing himself, he has developed a specific system of how to treat those suffering from various hard to treat disorders including chronic Lyme disease, tick-borne co-infections, mold illness, mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), and children with infection-induced autoimmune encephalitis (PANS/PANDAS).
Dr. Moorcroft has served as the director and chair of membership in both the Osteopathic Cranial Academy and ILADs, is the youngest mentor for ILADEF, and is on the Connecticut PANDA/PANs Advisory Council. He is the creator of the Thrive With Lyme Blueprint which assists those suffering with Lyme and related illnesses. He also teaches practitioners how to excel at treating patients with complex, chronic illnesses in his Lyme Disease Practitioner Certification and Mentorship program.
Dr. Moorcroft is the founder and Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of the Origins of Health, a multidisciplinary practice in Berlin, CT. There, he has treated thousands of patients with complex, chronic medical mysteries over the past 12 years.
Dr. Moorcroft’s goal is to empower each of his patients to get in touch with their inner source of radiant health so they can experience optimal wellness and live life to the fullest. Dr. Tom’s message of one of hope, passion, compassion, and he is a master of synergizing science and spirituality. Find him and his offerings at http://www.originsofhealth.com/.
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Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.