The immune system was once considered an independent, self-regulated system. But research over the past ten years has found that like most of the rest of the human body, it too is under the control of our nervous system.
Some of the early research in this regard was designed to understand why we seem more prone to get sick if we are under stress or depressed. As it turns out the brain does have significant control over certain aspects of the immune system. The brain uses the autonomic (also called automatic) nervous system to exert this influence. One of the main autonomic nerves is the vagus. Japanese scientists at Osaka University have discovered that using mild electrostimulation of the vagus nerve reduces immune mediated inflammation. Preliminary studies in rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease have shown improvement in both diseases with this therapy. Studies are also underway to determine benefit in reducing the inflammation that causes asthma.
One reason this research is so exciting is that unlike most anti-inflammatory drugs in current use, electrostimulation does not cause immune suppression and therefore avoids the increased risk of infection due to drug therapy.