The Melanie Avalon Podcast Episode #58 - Ami Brannon (Xen By Neuvanna)
Ami Brannon is founder of Neuvana, LLC, and was formerly chief executive officer of the company in its early startup phase. She is a Registered Nurse with over 20 years of experience in hospital-based healthcare, all in ICU and invasive cardiac procedural areas. Ami holds a BS in Nursing and a BS in Psychology from the University of Central Florida. Ami is now devoted to optimizing wellness and mental health through neuroscience to fight the devastating health effects of stress induced illness . She enjoys family time with her husband and 3 teens.
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@neuvanalife (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)
3:20: Get Xen By Neuvana: At Melanieavalon.com/Xen With The Code Melanie20 For 20% Off!
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8:25 - Ami's Story : Trauma Ward Experience And Coming To The Vagus Nerve
11:45 - What Is The Vagus Nerve?
14:15 - The Other Cranial Nerves
14:50 - The Mind/Body Connection - Gut Feeling And The Vagus Nerve
15:35 - Stimulating The Organs Vs Brain: The Role Of Breathing : The Two Way Highway
17:15 - Stimulating, Activating, Toning The Vagus
18:45 - Sympathetic Vs Parasympathetic Nervous System
20:30 - Apollo Neuro: Is the Vagus Nerve On And Off?
APOLLO NEURO: Use The Power Of Soundwave Therapy To Instantly Address Stress By Instigating Your Brain's "Safety" State With The Touch Of A Button! Check Out Melanie's Interview With Dr. Dave Rubin For All The Science, And Get 15% Off Apollo Neuro At Apolloneuro.Com/Melanieavalon
22:00 - The Vagus Nerve And Digestion, IBS, Diarrhea, Etc.
23:45 - The Role Of Stress In Body's Function
24:15 - The Evolution Of The Vagus Nerve
25:15 - Dorsal Vs. Ventral Vagus Nerve
26:45 - The Mental Vs. Physical Approach Of Vagus Nerve Treatment
28:35 - Polyvagal Theory And The Future of Vagus Nerve Treatment
31:30 - Is There Physical Damage To The Nervous System?
33:25 - Neuroplasticity: Changing Your Brain
34:30 - JOOVV: Red Light And NIR Therapy For Fat Burning, Muscle Recovery, Mood, Sleep, And More! Use The Link Joovv.Com/Melanieavalon With The Code MelanieAvalon For A Free Gift From Joovv, And Also Forward Your Proof Of Purchase To Contact@MelanieAvalon.Com, To Receive A Signed Copy Of What When Wine: Lose Weight And Feel Great With Paleo-Style Meals, Intermittent Fasting, And Wine!
36:35 - Physical Tools To Rewire The Brain: Comparisons To Meditation And Other Techniques
39:10 - How Xen Works
41:15 - Meditation And The Vagus Nerve, Recognizing The Relaxation State
42:35 - Comparison To Massage
43:00 - Feeling Focused Vs Sleepy
45:00 - The Anxiety And Sleep Connection
46:20 - How People Respond To Xen, And Effectiveness With Continued Use
50:30 - How People Who Meditate Respond to Vagus Nerve Treatment
51:35 - Is Meditation For Everyone? Multitasking With Xen
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Orgasms – John Gray with Dave Asprey – #716 (The episode which discusses female meditation appropriateness)
55:00 - Other Ways To Tone The Vagus Nerve
56:30 - How To Use The App: modes, waveforms, music, etc.
1:01:45 - The Importance Of App Evolution
1:02:10 - Using The App With Your Music
1:03:10 - Stimulating Vs Relaxing Music
1:05:10 - How And When To Use Xen: Is More Better?
1:07:30 - BiOptimizers: Get 10% Off Magnesium Breakthrough - The Most Complete Magnesium Available, At Bioptimizers.com/melanie With The Coupon Code Melanie10 For 10% Off
1:10:00 - MTOR Comparison
1:11:30 - Xen While Driving
1:12:00 - Can You Overstimulate the Vagus nerve?
1:13:00 - Is Vagus Nerve Treatment Addictive?
1:14:45 - Choosing The Intensity
1:16:40 - Published Studies
University of Maryland Study: Neurostimulation and Pupillometry:
New Directions for Learning and Research in Applied Linguistics
1:19:00 - Vagus Nerve, Social Development, And Communication
1:21:00 - Vagus Nerve, The Thyroid, And Adrenals
1:22:55 - How To Use Xen For Digestion
1:25:00 - Updates To The App
1:25:40 - FOOD SENSE GUIDE: Get Melanie's App To Tackle Your Food Sensitivities! Food Sense Includes A Searchable Catalogue Of 300+ Foods, Revealing Their Gluten, FODMAP, Lectin, Histamine, Amine, Glutamate, Oxalate, Salicylate, Sulfite, And Thiol Status. Food Sense Also Includes Compound Overviews, Reactions To Look For, Lists Of Foods High And Low In Them, The Ability To Create Your Own Personal Lists, And More!
1:27:30 - How To Start Using The App
1:28:30 - Oura Rings And REM Sleep
1:30:55 - The Electrical Current And EMFs
1:32:00 - People Who Shouldn't Use Xen
1:32:30 - Side Effects From Xen
1:33:30 - The Vaso Vagal Response And Fainting
1:36:00 - The Future Of Vagus Nerve Treatment: helping Healthcare workers
1:39:30 - Get Xen By Neuvana: At Melanieavalon.com/Xen With The Code Melanie20 For 20% Off!
Melanie Avalon: Hi friends, welcome back to the show. I am so thrilled about the conversation that I'm about to have. It's about a topic that I've been dying to do an episode on probably since when I first actually started this show. I made a list of topics I really wanted to tackle and dive deep into. The topic of the vagus nerve was at the top of the list and I was just waiting for the right resource, the right way to go about bringing that science and education to both myself and my audience. And then, it just showed up in my lap. I am thrilled to be here today with Ami Brannon. She is the founder of a company called Neuvana. They make a product called Xen, which actually is for what we're going to talk about it on the show today about the implications of the vagus nerve and how to-- See, I don't even know the terminology to use yet. How to, I guess, modify or tone it in your life. We'll talk all about that.
A little bit about Ami. Like I said, she is the cofounder of Neuvana. She holds a BS in nursing and a BS in psychology from the University of Central Florida. She does have over 20 years of experience in hospital-based healthcare, and an extensive background in developing relationships and marketing in the biostimulation market. We were talking right before we started recording, and I'm really, really excited for this conversation because she was telling me about the importance of the science and the actual education and learning about the vagus nerve and then how we can make that most applicable in our life. She was talking about how her product is just one of the ways to do that, so I'm just really, really thrilled about the conversation that we're about to have. Ami, thank you so much for being here.
Ami Brannon: Melanie, thank you so much and thank you for the kind introduction. I'm super excited about the conversation too.
Melanie Avalon: To start things off, would you like to tell listeners a little bit about your own personal history. What made you so interested in this particular science and what ultimately brought you to founding then?
Ami Brannon: As you mentioned, I have all my background is really in hospital-based nursing. When I first became a nurse, I always wanted to be where the most intense environment was, which was in-- in the hospital I worked in was trauma. I worked trauma ICU, I worked my way through leadership positions, and I eventually wound up in cardiac surgery, managing and running ICUs, and even the cath lab, the electrophysiology lab. I had years and years of experience seeing the detrimental effects of either poor life choices, poor health decisions. Sometimes it's just genetic, that you just get dealt the hand, we're dealt the hand we're dealt. We have to manage those things.
During my experience as an ICU director, I met a cardiac surgeon who had years of experience inventing products, inventing medical devices, just a really, really super smart guy. And he was wanting to develop a consumer product. As time went on, and we started looking at things, this particular science for vagus nerve stimulation was brought about, ironically by his brother, who's also a physician, that you could target the ear. He was using it specifically for pain relief. The more we looked at that we said, “You know what, there's actually something to this more for general wellness and to help people feel better.” Dr. Cartledge is the name of the cardiac surgeon. He remembered that there was a paper that he read back in the day when was training for medical school that talked about these surgically implanted vagus nerve stimulators.
One of the side effects of these implanted stimulators for seizure disorders was that the people actually felt so good that they were maybe less anxious, they had a better quality of life that they didn't want to have these experimental devices X planted, they didn't want them taken out because they were feeling so good. We came to find out that there is a branch of the vagus nerve in the ear that you can access so that's really how the story developed and what we started working on.
Melanie Avalon: That is so incredibly fascinating. I love that because I feel so often with health conditions and things like that, oftentimes, it's the opposite story. It's pharmaceuticals and medications which may address that issue temporarily, but in the long term make things worse have side effects. To hear the opposite story, that's really, really incredible and telling. I feel like speaks to the fact that it's addressing something holistic in the body, not just that acute issue. So, to start things off, can we get a general sense of the vagus nerve because I feel it's one of those words when gluten first became popular where everybody knew, “Oh, gluten,” but like nobody really knew what it was. I feel like vagus nervous still sort of in that sphere where I feel with the vagus nerve, it's a similar situation in that, you can say the word and people have heard of it, I find. They know that maybe it can be off or that there's something you need to be doing with it. But beyond that, it's just very confusing.
For example, I have a Facebook group and I often post question in preparation for these interviews asking people, what do they want to hear about specifically. For this one, everybody was just like, “Please just explain, what is it? What do I need to be doing?” The vagus nerve, what is the nerve? Is it one nerve? Is it multiple nerves? I mean, it seems to be all over the body. What is it?
Ami Brannon: I love the way you teed that up because it's funny, you can be as simple or as complex in describing the vagus nerve as anyone is interested in hearing. So, you can get super, super granular, but I'll go a high level at first because I know we'll get into further questions later that will allow me to expand a little bit more, but anatomically, just the anatomy of the vagus nerve is that there are two branches that come off the base of the brain or the brainstem. It's called a cranial nerve. It's cranial nerves 10. You have 12 cranial nerves. And these nerves all communicate differently with parts of the body and with the brain. It's a direct highway, essentially to communicate.
The two branches of the nerves then come down the neck, they each have a little branch that scoots into the ear on each side, and then it coalesces into essentially a cable in the chest. And so this is one giant nerve that then reaches down into the chest and the gut and hits every major organ system. And it communicates two waves ways. It communicates from the brain to the organs and from the organs to the brain. It's a two-way highway.
Melanie Avalon: So, quick question. You said it's one of multiple other cranial nerves. Do the other cranial nerves as well function that way, back and forth from the brain to various systems, or is it just the vagus nerve, just like that?
Ami Brannon: The vagus nerve is the one that communicates to the organs. It's the one that that really extends past the neck and really goes down into the other areas of the body.
Melanie Avalon: Oh, so the other cranial nerves, are they just in the brain?
Ami Brannon: Right. Just in the brain or around the head.
Melanie Avalon: Okay, that's so interesting. We often hear the word, the mind-body connection. Is the vagus nerve a literal manifestation of that in a way?
Ami Brannon: Yeah, I think that's a great way to put it. The mind-body connection, the way I think of that is your mind being present and aware of what's going on in your body. And then your body senses that. We all talk about the gut feeling. Well, the gut feeling is quite literally related to the vagus nerve, and your ability to sense. You get that gut feeling because maybe you feel fear or excitement and it manifests itself in your gut in the stomach.
Melanie Avalon: I am loving this conversation so much. You're talking about the communication going between the brain and the organs and then vice versa, is one of those more powerful that can one override the other, is one more susceptible to stimuli or is that all like an open playing field with both?
Ami Brannon: It really is about how many of the fibers move in one direction or the other. It's easiest to get to the nerve fibers that actually send messages to the brain. So, that the brain can then use the highway to reach the organs. I'll give you an example. We'll just go very simple and say breathing exercises. They stimulate the vagus nerve. If you just focus on your breathing, you slow down your breathing and you do very focused breathing patterns. Essentially, you're sending a message to the brain through the vagus nerve that says, “Okay, it's time to calm everything down. So, it's time to send a message to the heart, to the lungs, to the digestive system, to say, “Alright, everybody settle down now.”
Whether you use breathing mechanisms, whether you use electrical stem, then that's really how you can target but the two-way highway is, I like to say primarily, it talks to the brain, and then the brain is responsible to respond back.
Melanie Avalon: Okay. So that is tapping into one of my big questions, stimulating it, activating it. Is it stimulating and activating a parasympathetic calming state? Is it in a way stimulating less activity, is that where the confusion comes in, like using the word stimulating, but it seems like it's not a stimulating state of being?
Ami Brannon: That's a really good point. I think you're right that that's where some of the confusion comes in. If we were to use different words and say I think you mentioned toning earlier. If we were to say toning, when you think of toning your body or toning your muscles, you're having to work out to do that. Well, the thing is, you also know that in order to have a healthy physiology, you have to put some work in. So, this is no different. The vagus nerve, if you ignore it, if you abuse it, and I'll get into how you can do that. Then it's going to be out of shape, and it'll be less responsive. So, you're going to have to do something to stimulate it or tone it, so that your body actually is in a mode where it can recover better.
You mentioned parasympathetic nervous system. For everyone listening, you've got two sides of your nervous system of the autonomic nervous system or you could say automatic, but the formal name is autonomic. The sympathetic system is that fight or flight. Originally, we've all read that this is about, a tiger is chasing me, something is there's impending danger that I need to get away from. Your body activates, increases the heart rate, your pupils dilate, so you can get more light in, your muscles tense, and you stop digestion, you hold your food. So, that is a state of stress. We can all agree that that's necessary at some point, but not chronically. What's happened is we've all gotten into a state of more chronic stress and we don't have that time to recover from that intense fight or flight.
The parasympathetic system is designed to recover after these, “I'm done running from the tiger. I got into my cave. I'm safe, and everything is going to be okay. So, now my body can calm down.” But what happens is, the email comes through, the phone call, the text that we all have numerous ways that people can get ahold of us. The dog chews something up, you have small children, that there's some catastrophe. If all of those things just continue, continue, continue, and it's harder to recover. So, then your vagus nerve no longer is toned enough to help you through that quickly. Does that make sense?
Melanie Avalon: It does. I recently interviewed Dr. Dave Rabin on the podcast. He makes a product called Apollo Neuro. Have you heard of that?
Ami Brannon: Yes.
Melanie Avalon: It's soundwave therapy. A question I had posed to him was, with the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, was it a situation of being on or off? Are you either parasympathetic or sympathetic? Or is it more layers of both? With the vagus nerve-- if it's this communication highway between the brain and the organs, is that communication always going on? Or is it not going on? And then it is going on?
Ami Brannon: You have to have some level of each because these parts of the nervous system control breathing and your heart rate. Those brainstem functions that are automatic. The external stressors or lack of stressors that we put on ourselves are that we're exposed to, that is what affects how often they're engaged or to what level. Meaning, extra engaged. You need your heart rate, and you need to breathe. But how high does the heart rate need to be? How high is your blood pressure? How fast are you breathing?
Melanie Avalon: So, you mentioned digestion, for example. What would it look like? Because I know there are a lot of different conditions that can be related to, and I guess we should say a not properly functioning vagus nerve. With digestion, what would it look like in a person who has a healthy, functioning vagus nerve, and then they eat a meal and digest it compared to a situation where It's not functioning properly and they're having digestive issues?
Ami Brannon: I'll put maybe a little disclaimer at the beginning of this because there are a couple of expertise points that I'm not going to be the best person to give that answer. But I'll tell you in general, if your vagus nerve is toned, if we're just talking wellness. Okay, so I want to be careful to say, we're talking general wellness versus a potential medical issue. Your digestion should run everything through your digestive tract within a couple of hours. What happens is, if you're in a sympathetic state, super stressed, or maybe your vagus nerve isn't functioning properly so you can't access that parasympathetic side for digestion, then the food stays in your gut for a long time. When it lets go, it either comes up or goes down very quickly. There are people who have, I'd say irritable bowel syndrome, even though it's a medical diagnosis is typically stress-related. And that's one of the points that I'm going to come back to probably in just about everything we've talk about.
Stress and the management of your stress level or the effects of your stress are going to make a huge difference in your body's overall function and the way you feel health, your mental health, your sleep, your focus, all of those things, all can tie back to stress reduction, however you do it.
Melanie Avalon: So also to that point, as humans did this whole vagus nerve network system. have we had it since day one, or did we have it as like primates, or did it develop later? And then at what point did it start becoming dysfunctional? Was that when we started having conscious perceptions of chronic stress that it started getting affected?
Ami Brannon: I don't know, as far as I suppose it depends on your opinion and thoughts about how the human body has evolved over time. I think that might be a little bit of a philosophical question, but the way that we each evolve within ourselves, there are different parts of the vagus nerve that psychologists refer to frequently. And some parts are, if you want to branch into the dorsal and ventral vagus nerve. So, the dorsal vagus nerve is that shutdown mode, the freeze or faint. This is when the vagus nerve is really not in good health. I don't really think that this is the part that was designed. I don't think that's the way it was designed, if that's the right way to put it.
The ventral side is the one that serves social engagement and allows us to make quicker adjustments between being really, really excited about something and calming down. Whether that's fear or anxiety or just complete excitement. The dorsal side, I feel is the part that has not evolved properly. And it's usually if we were involved in some sort of traumatic event, or maybe didn't get loving kindness showed to us in early childhood, then those are the parts of the nervous system that can actually be indirectly damaged, they can be corrected. But those are through psychological counseling combined with some psychologists use vagus neurostimulation in various modes or in various forms to help do that.
Melanie Avalon: I'm so glad you brought up that. I was going to ask you about the dorsal versus ventral. I have a clarifying question because I'm still trying to get a grasp on this that I'm a little bit unclear about. You mentioned the dorsal side, being the part below in the digestion and more the physical. If it's the dorsal nerve, or the pathway of that, trying to figure out how to articulate this. Is the dorsal nerve always functioning because you were saying how that it is more likely to get damaged? I already asked this, but is it on or off? What is it doing when it's doing its work correctly, the dorsal?
Ami Brannon: Melanie, I'm not familiar enough with that part to even--
Melanie Avalon: Comment? No, sorry.
Ami Brannon: I don’t want to steer people in the wrong direction because dorsal and ventral is so often covered by a psychologist. Even in the medical community, I'll tell you, I went through I've done so much in medical healthcare, and had probably only heard of dorsal versus ventral vagus nerve, a handful of times over that, over my experience, which is really, really interesting. And that's why I said earlier that I think the science is just absolutely exploding, and that people are actually able to connect now and try to say, “Well, this is what I know, and this is what you know.” The mental side of treating the vagus nerve versus the physical side, I think those two worlds are coming together.
Melanie Avalon: I love hearing you say that so much. And sorry, I feel I'm putting you on the spot because when I had researched it for this, I was looking into the concept of Polyvagal theory and because somebody had asked about that when I post the questions to my Facebook group, and it was very much what you just said. It seemed to be this, the word theory is there, this emerging science that really tapped into both the physical, I say it again, the mind-body connection and all of these different parts and it was saying that originally we thought the nervous system was just two parts but maybe there was this third part that related to our social aspect and all relate to the vagus nerve, and everything you just said, I was like, “Oh my goodness, this is so crazy.”
I feel in a way, it really shows that for the longest time we've been so focused on the granular. With medicine and science just looking at cause and effect and very specific things and not taking in this broader approach, or this broader view and realizing just how complicated it is. It sounds we're just at the beginning of a massive frontier of potential exploration and discovery in this whole world. It's very exciting.
Ami Brannon: Yeah, I think so too. Dr. Stephen Porges, his work on the Polyvagal theory, he's been working on this for years. It's finally coming to the forefront. They are called theories just because that's how he's developed this theory that there is a social nervous system. And it only makes sense that the vagus nerve is really at the center of that. It'll take the general medical community a while to catch on and say, “Oh my gosh, is it even possible that we've had anatomy or physiology not quite accurate for all these years?” But I think that the more that I read and the more I communicate with psychologists and psychotherapists who happen to use our product, they're engaged in Polyvagal theory and they actually have to work very, very hard with some patients who have mental health struggles after some sort of trauma. It just takes a while to even be able to talk through some of that. You’ll almost have to change your physiology a little bit before you can even break through some of those old painful wounds and stories just to try to start working on them.
Melanie Avalon: This is so fascinating. This is one more esoteric question, but just with everything that you're seeing right now. Do you feel with these traumas and these experiences that people experience and feel are lingering in their system? Do you get the sense that there's some physical-- you mentioned the word damage to the vagus nerve. Do you get the sense that there is some sort of physical damage change in the nervous system? Like beyond just thoughts in the mind? And I know I'm being very-- This is a lot of philosophical questions, but I'm just wondering if you get a sense that there is a physical damage that is done.
Ami Brannon: I think that's the word damage, we'll go back to semantics a little bit. Damage can mean so many different things. Damage can mean permanent and damage can mean, we can repair it, it won't take long or it may take a long time. One of the things I've read is that there's a theory that part of the vagus nerve becomes demyelinated, which they're saying the dorsal side becomes demyelinated, or unmyelinated, which means it doesn't have a fatty sheath on it, it makes things a lot slower. It creates a situation where your nervous system responds slower to insults and it's more difficult to recover. The theory is that with your counseling and your social connections, and with vagus nerve stimulation, you can actually remyelinate this side of the nervous system.
In that physical sense, I think that I don't have that experience. I'm not in that arm of research. But I think if that is true, then there could be physical damage that is repairable. Otherwise, I think our brain does most of the work. What I see is, it's neuroplasticity, which is your brain's ability to learn and adapt. It takes work. It typically takes real work. If you're working on learning something new, you really have to commit to it, you have to focus, you have to have repetition. Our mental health is no different. If you're used to being irritable, and maybe overreacting and lashing out at people, you have to retrain not only the behaviors, but your initial reaction. These things I think of the vagus nerve, and stimulating the vagus nerve as part of a routine, maybe part of a system that you need to use in order to make certain areas of your life better.
Melanie Avalon: I just want to say, how grateful I am for this conversation and how much I'm loving this conversation because this really resonates with me. What it sounds is I'm always learning about the neuroplasticity of the brain and the incredibly powerful effects that mindset perspective, tools like meditation, breathwork, things like that can have on our well being and the ability to rewire these patterns and these pathways that have been wired in our brain from experience. Those are all incredible tools. And they seem very, very effective when practice but in a way, it's the approach of-- I mean, you have to keep doing it and you have to rewire the brain through the brain. When maybe there's this additional avenue that we could bring in with these literal tools that are providing a physical stimulus to also encouraged that because I already mentioned the Apollo Neuro, which I loved the idea of because it was using Soundwave therapy to-- in a way automatically start or encourage like a parasympathetic state, I want to say like with the touch of a button, but I feel like it's so valuable to have these tools where- and this is a question to have, because we'll dive deep into your product that is in.
It seems a tool that a person can bring into their life, and in a way, I'm using that button word again, having the ability to force these messages or force these changes into the body. And maybe I don't want to say, it's more effective than meditation or something like that, but it's just very freeing to have this idea that, “Oh, I can bring in something that will--” I don't say do the work for me because that sounds lazy, but it seems it can be really, really effective for people especially if they found that they can't seem to commit to or to find benefit from an ongoing meditation practice or something like that.
Yeah, so that's a question, does this have similar effects to something like a meditation practice to other mental techniques or mindset changing perspectives thing people might have? How does it compare to that having an actual tool? For listeners, we haven't really talked about what the device is that you create this, and by Neuvana, since the device does use headphones and connects to the ear, I'm guessing is it working with the ventral side of the vagus system? Sorry, there's a lot. I just threw a lot at you.
Ami Brannon: That's all right. I'll start the product itself is and we've touched on, it's electrical stem. It's essentially low voltage, electrical stem. It's something that vary on your skin, on the skin inside your ear, you can feel a light tingling. This is its pair of your earbud headphones that you just put right in your ears. They look just anything else you'd essentially buy over the counter. And they're connected to a small handheld generator, which is the Xen unit. This has a little circuit board and it generates the electrical signal. And all of that connects to your phone via bluetooth.
The app that would be on your phone controls all the settings, so intensity, and you can make the signal as strong as you want. Meaning, if you really want to crank it up to where you feel more of a pinprick, then you can do that, but we suggest just keeping it very light to where it's more of a pleasant little tickle in your ears. That targets the auricular branch of the vagus nerve, and auricular just means ear. That is a branch of the vagus nerve that actually goes to the brain. Instead of breathing or meditation or anything thing that really you almost have to prepare for, or you may need a quiet space for.
Let's say I use it for my bedtime routine. I've really tried to have a good sleep prep cycle and I'm not great at going to bed at night, I like to stay up late, I have a lot that I'm doing, I always want to get one more thing in. I tend to multitask some of these things. I'll do this while I'm brushing my teeth, while I'm washing my face, even as long as I don't get tons of soap and water in my ear. That's something that you can do simultaneous. Now, as far as you mentioned, meditation or patterned breathing, you can do them together, or it actually makes meditation easier. I say use it before meditation because true meditation, any sort of stimulus is a distraction. So, purists will tell you that you shouldn't be doing anything while you're meditating. But it has very similar and reproducible results once your brain recognizes what relaxation is, and I can't say that strongly enough. I think so many people have never truly felt what relaxation feels like. So, their brain can't recognize it.
And that's why it's so difficult to do things like meditate. It's like, I don't even know what I'm going for. It can be a premeditation where you stimulate the vagus nerve, you're not having to focus too much. And sometimes, you actually find yourself pushing away from whatever you're doing. If I do it, while I'm emailing or working on a report, then I just push back in my chair and close my eyes for a minute just because it feels nice to relax.
Melanie Avalon: It sounds sort of more similar than-- I mean, no, it's not the same thing at all, but relaxation and the feelings that you get after attempting meditation versus a massage, where you don't have to try to feel anything with a massage, and it just happens.
Ami Brannon: Yes. The flip side of this is, I was speaking with someone yesterday who had used the product for the first time and he said, “I really felt so focused.” If you talk to people who meditate, also, they'll tell you that sometimes they feel so focused after meditation and some people fall asleep. I think the thing there is, “How well did you sleep last night?” “How much are you actually sleeping?” So once you relax, you're typically able to focus more, unless you're just not getting good sleep and then you need to sleep.
Melanie Avalon: That's so true. I've had that epiphany as well, especially after, if I do have an effective meditation session. It's really honestly if I had like seeing a therapist and we do some sort of exercise or meditation, something like that, where it's really, really effective for me, and then afterwards I just feel exhausted. And my interpretation of that is that I was just running on empty basically. And once that got rid of the overstimulated stress state, it put me to where my body actually is, which was we need to sleep. So, maybe if I wasn't at that state before and then did meditation, I feel maybe instead I would feel focused and energetic. It reveals my true energetic state that I'm currently at. It's just my perception of it.
Ami Brannon: Right. I think that's so true. We talk about it internally all the time. My customer experience team is phenomenal. They're just kind, very patient people, and they talk with our customers all the time, or people who are just inquiring and have questions. And that is a common question is, how can this vagus nerve stimulation or how can your product, help with focus and sleep and relaxation and help decrease anxiety?
Well, if you think about it, if you're super anxious, because you're stressed out, then you're probably not sleeping well, which creates a situation where you can't focus and we perceive memory issues. In my household, we talk all the time, “Ah. I'm losing my memory.” I don't really think that's it. I think that for a lot of people, average everyday folks, I think it's that we've lost focus and we're not present in our daily tasks, because we're just running and running and running, and it's not that we have a memory issue, it's that we have a pay attention issue. If you're able to line all these things up, and you can decrease your stress enough to recover, get some sleep, get some really good sleep. So, fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and wake up refreshed, take some little resilience breaks during the day, they don't have to be very long, 10 minutes. And focus on taking care of this mind-body connection. We wrap back to the first thing you mentioned, and it really makes a difference.
Melanie Avalon: So, question because you're talking about how the brain needs to be able to recognize that rested state or whatever state you're moving towards the brain has to first recognize it before it can-- I guess embrace it in a way. Does that mean when a person does start working on their vagus nerve, like with Xen for example, so would it become more effective, the more you use it?
Ami Brannon: It depends. And here's why. So, when you first start using Xen, vagus nerve stimulation, the electrical stem, some people, we know that within minutes, they feel it, they recognize it. They say, “Ah, this feels good.” Feels like a good meditation session. It just feels very relaxing. Now, it can be fairly, fairly subtle, especially if you're already in pretty good balance. Now, there's another group of people who maybe they've experienced relaxation in the past, but it's been a while. And now they do a Vagus nerve stimulation session and, okay, I feel that. I definitely feel it. And it's not as subtle. It's actually profound. I've tested it on people who have literally fallen asleep in a chair. And these are high type A personalities, super controlling folks that are go, go go. So, really what we see in the literature is the more “out of balance,” you are. Meaning, the more high your sympathetic tone is, the more likely you will experience a more profound difference.
Now, moving into that polyvagal theory and talking with different people in the mental health community. There are a lot of folks, it actually takes weeks to be able to train the brain to recognize that, “Okay, it's okay to relax. It's okay to let go. And yes, this is what relaxation feels like.”
Some of our customers have called and said, “This is just not working for me,” which we have a money back guarantee that's no problem at all because, honestly, vagus nerve stimulation, different types work for different people. We want people to be able to give it a shot, give it their best try. But we've had people say, “This isn't working for me,” after a week or something. We'll say, “Just give it a try. Give it another couple weeks.” And then they will stop using it and start using it again and say, “Oh my gosh, I didn't realize that I was slowly getting better. I was slowly getting to the point where I felt better.” And it wasn't until they looked back. And that's what I mean when I say we're not present, and we don't pay attention to ourselves. It's your mind paying attention to how you react, how your body is responding. And your body being sensitive to what's going on around you.
Melanie Avalon: This is so incredible. I think that's really there's no reason not to try it with what you just said. it sounds like there's a spectrum. There could be some people whose vagus nerve is so untoned or so-- I know we talked about the use of semantics and the word damage but so out of balance and not functioning correctly that they might not realize right away if Xen is being effective because it does like you say take those slow steps of slowly retraining. Then it sounds like on the flip side, you might have a person who, man, wish I was this person with properly functioning vagus nerve is just like on top of everything and doing everything the way it should. If they use them, for example, would they register it, would they still feel it?
Ami Brannon: We'll talk about somebody who's really a meditation expert. Someone who does TM. They've trained with the best, they practice daily. They may not feel an appreciable difference. But this may be something that could, let's say, if you're traveling or maybe a job change, I've heard this a lot with people who say, “I used to meditate, but then I got promoted. And I have to work too many hours,” or, “I'm on a project right now and I can't meditate like I used to and I miss it.” This may be a replacement, or a gap filler for folks who meditate a lot because their nervous systems should be very, very well toned. It's just you may not always have the time to do it. And this you can pop in your pocket, connect while you're working or if you're traveling or anything like that is just very portable.
Melanie Avalon: That's very exciting. This is speaking to my crazy multitasker heart. Actually, I'd love your opinion on this. This is a random rabbit hole tangent. Huge fan of meditation, obviously, I tried to do it, but I get the issue that you just spoke of is, feeling like you don't have the time. And I know I should have the time. I interviewed Emily Fletcher and she has a fantastic meditation practice. And I love it. I've done a program and I advocated but I still feel the whole, “Oh, who has time,” thing. This concept of using something like Xen while multitasking is a very, very exciting idea.
The rabbit hole question I have is, I had never heard this until last few weeks ago, but I was listening to-- are you familiar with John Gray who wrote Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus?
Ami Brannon: Oh, yeah.
Melanie Avalon: He's a big meditation person and into all that stuff. He said on Dave Asprey show that women are not meant to meditate. He said, because women's brains are meant to multitask. Doing meditation is like, our brains are just naturally meant to multitask.
Ami Brannon: Counterintuitive.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah. I was like, “Wow,” I know that's crazy idea.
Ami Brannon: Can I get a T-shirt with that? [laughs]
Melanie Avalon: I know, right?
Ami Brannon: Because it's so funny. I'm glad you brought that up because so many of the things that we're talking about we all just want to be-- I feel in talking to your audience, we all just want to be a better human. Whatever version of that, that it is for each of us, and we spend so much time comparing ourselves and trying to figure out how am I supposed to fit in what works for them or for them. And sometimes it may be just in passing, sometimes it's when you can. And otherwise, we can't beat ourselves up. We need a toolbox with a bunch of stuff in it, and maybe no one thing is the answer. Maybe it's a couple of things or maybe it's your toolbox looks different than mine. I think that's so important that meditation, I'm so impressed with people who do meditate and take the time, make the time to do it. I have not fallen into that category yet. I swear, I'm going to make a T-shirt with John Gray's line on it. [laughs] That way I can feel better about it.
Melanie Avalon: He said that and it just blew my mind because I hadn't ever really heard anybody big in that sphere say that before. And I was like, “Oh.” I mean, what even is true, but whether or not that's true, I really like what you just said, this idea that because I think we can be like so hard on ourselves trying to be the perfect version and trying to do the perfect form of all of these things that can lead us towards more health and wellness and wholeness. And like you said, we're all so different and we respond differently to different things. It's really exciting to know that there are different tools and maybe there are okay ways to go about this that aren't necessarily like a meditation practice.
You talked about in the beginning that there are a lot of lifestyle type practices that also activate or stimulate the vagus nerve or tone vagus nerve. What are some of those?
Ami Brannon: Some of the things that can be done to stimulate the vagus nerve without any additional tools or anything like that. So, you can take a cold shower, you can jump into an ice bath, gargling, but it has to be really, really deep gargling, chanting and the om, anything like humming. It's the vibration of the vocal cords against the vagus nerve in the neck that helps stimulate the vagus nerve. And that's why the om is a popular part of either yoga or meditation.
Melanie Avalon: Listeners, if you've personally felt from some of those practices that you felt something happening from that, it's possible it was vagus nerve. It's possible that having this end product in your life might have similar benefits. Some questions about Xen. You guys sent it to me, so grateful. Thank you so much. My original plan was I was going to be using it and talk about my experience on the show. I set it up. I did all the things and I got-- because I'm the type of person that wants to do everything correct. I was like, “I'm just going to wait till I interview her and get a better idea of the different programs,” and how I should be using it so then I can just go full speed ahead because there's a lot going on there in the app. Would you like to talk a little bit about that?
You can choose different modes. There's Sync, and Sensation, and Ambient, and there's different waveforms. There's different intensities. When a person gets Xen, how should they approach it? What are the different modes they can use and what should they do?
Ami Brannon: You look at Xen in the app, the Neuvana app as a smorgasbord. It's a potpourri of things that you can pick and choose from. It's never easy to start something like that and try to figure out what to do first. In the app, we do have a little pop up that says, “Okay, try this first.” That's kind of how I'll talk you through it. The modes, what we have is Sensation mode. What that means is, sensation is just the sensation of the auricular stem in your ear. We pre-program a pattern of stimulation that eases its way up and down in a different pattern. You can listen to music in the background in sensation mode, if you want to listen to music while you're doing a session, you can do that, or you don't have to, either way. But the two won't be in sync.
So, that brings me to Sync mode, S-Y-N-C. In Sync mode actually takes the electrical stimulation signal, and it combines it with whatever music you're listening to. Typically, you can't really listen to forest breezes because it won't pick up the stimulation. But if you're listening to classic rock or jazz or symphonic music, whatever is your preference, then the stimulation will actually, I call it bouncing, it attaches itself to the beat of the music. That's Sync mode.
Melanie Avalon: The actual music. Is this music through your device?
Ami Brannon: It's yours. Whatever you like listening to. Someone could even-- when your podcast airs when I'm listening to your podcast, I could combine vagus nerve stimulation to your podcast.
Melanie Avalon: Oh, my goodness. Wait, I could start talking. Oh, my goodness. I'm so excited. Oh, wow, you just made me so excited. While learning for the topic, it could also be a vagus nerve stimulation session. I am so excited at this moment. Okay, sorry.
Ami Brannon: Happy to help. Ambient, not that many people use Ambient mode, but it's something we have available. It picks up sounds from the phone's microphone. Let's say you're in a concert or what we see more is people who are in busy environments that really make them stressed, like an airport or a train station, which a lot of us are not going to those places these days, but it actually triggers high anxiety for a lot of people. They prefer, let me convert those sounds into vagus nerve stimulation, so they'll do something like that. But in order to start out, you basically start with, we have different waveforms, which waveforms are the microsecond pulses, that's all they are, is the one little up and down on the little readout on an oscilloscope. It's the electrical waveform.
These things they just feel different on your skin. And some people prefer something that feels a little stronger or it may feel sharp to some people so they would rather have waveform A is sort of the minimal, not as strong. And waveform D is stronger. If you look at that as a scale, so we have a premium version of the app, which is important to mention that it's not required. With the app, you get a couple of waveforms and a couple of sensations. You are set with that forever. But if you want to try numerous other types of waveforms then that's an option with the premium app. And we do give it free for a couple of months when you purchase.
The reason that we have all of this that we converted it onto an app-based product is that the science is expanding so quickly. And researchers, universities are doing so many studies on vagus nerve stimulation, that what we can do is once we know that there's a waveform that's-- maybe there's one that's better than what we've already found. So, we can upload that into the app and send it out to users right away.
Melanie Avalon: I mean, that's honestly what I'm seeing with all of the “biohacking type products” is that the app part of it is so, so important. I guess, rarely do you require huge changes in the actual hardware or device. But having the app provides the ability to stay up with the science, up with the latest updates, user feedback, it's really seems to be the way to go. Some follow up questions all of that. Some follow up questions about the music. Is there any benefit or difference you can have it playing but not synced to the music or it can be synced to the music from just an actual stimulation of the vagus nerve perspective? Is there any difference or is it more just like, “Oh, it feels nice when it's in sync with the music?”
Ami Brannon: We don't have results that say it's better with music or better without music. I think it's purely preference. I will say that you probably get more current delivered with music because there are more beats per minute, then with maybe some of the Sensation modes that we have. The patterns have just a slower up and down, so you get fewer peaks with that than you would with maybe a fast-paced song.
Melanie Avalon: So, the actual song. This seems like a complicated concept because on the one hand, toning of the vagus nerve seems like it. I know we were talking about it's not really binary of like calming or stimulating but pairing Xen to a really upbeat stimulating energetic song compared to pairing it to slow, relaxing song, does that have an effect on how it interacts with our vagus nerve?
Ami Brannon: It all depends on who's using it. So, for me, I don't prefer slow relaxing music. It makes me anxious. [laughs] I want to get up and go do something. I'm going out, okay, fast forward. I don't want to deal with this. For me, I prefer rock music, something that's a little more upbeat. And my husband uses it before bed and he always uses rock music and he still goes right to sleep. I think it all is super individual. In our office, we have various people like just various types of music and we don't see any difference across the board, and with our customers, everyone likes something just a little different.
Melanie Avalon: Could you use it while watching TV, for example?
Ami Brannon: Yes, if you want to use it as part of your routine, I think that going back to what we said earlier, whatever you're doing, you have to figure out when you're going to fit it in. If you take time to watch TV, then why not put this in your ear while you're watching TV, and then your 30 minutes show or whatever, you do this for 15 minutes of that, or 20 minutes of that, and then you're done.
Melanie Avalon: Speaking to that 10 or 15 minutes, how long should/can a person use it? Could you run it all day?
Ami Brannon: Good question. In the app, you can choose between 5 and 25 minutes, you can go up by five-minute increments and choose any of those. We suggest 15 minutes, twice a day. Something during the early part of your day, and especially if you struggle to sleep within an hour of bedtime. Now, using it all day, there's just no benefit. There's no additional benefit, more is not necessarily better in this case. One of the things we see is that usually once people feel like they've gotten themselves balanced out, then they may not use it every day anymore. It may become what I'll call a PRN or an as needed. It's like, “Wow, I really feel I've got myself together. Now, I feel when I do a quick breathing exercise while I'm driving,” because we don't recommend using this while you're driving. If I'm trying to ward off road rage, and I'm doing a breathing exercise, I actually can connect quicker to that parasympathetic side, because now my brain knows what it feels like. And I'm calm. But if I get home and I'm really ramped up, then I might pull it back out and say, “Okay, I need to recenter a little bit.”
I think that the neuroplasticity piece can't be underplayed because your brain learns, adapts, and grows, and makes new connections. So, then this becomes the new part of you. This meaning, your ability to calm down, your ability to recover, becomes something that your body will automatically do. If you start getting out of balance again, then you just hop back into a routine. So, I don't want to say that you have to do it every day, forever and ever. But you need to do something for your vagus nerve every day until you get yourself balanced.
Melanie Avalon: I'm going to make the most random comparison, but I feel like my audience quite understand it. Sounds like for example-- Are you familiar with mTOR, which is released when you eat protein to stimulate muscle growth?
Ami Brannon: No.
Melanie Avalon: I have a lot of episodes on mTOR stimulation, which is stimulated when we eat protein. It stimulates a state of growth. And the flip side is when we don't have mTOR stimulated when we're fasting, for example, that we are in a state of more catabolism and breakdown, and it's often posited that you can only get so much mTOR stimulation in one meal before it plateaus. If you eat like 500 grams of protein, you're not going to get more mTOR simulation. Plateaus at a certain point. If you want to build muscle, the most effective way would be to stimulate mTOR at different times. Maybe twice during the day. My listeners do intermittent fasting, maybe stimulated twice during the day instead of one meal. I know, it was a crazy comparison, but it seems like Xen, the benefit would come in using it, like having two sessions that are shorter compared to just one really epically long session, because then you're getting that retraining stimulus twice and that neuroplasticity.
You mentioned that you don't recommend it while driving. Is that because it's distracting in a way or is there a reason?
Ami Brannon: Mainly because it can induce a state of deeper relaxation. I mentioned earlier, there are some people that especially if you're super stressed out and sleep-deprived, and then we give you a fast track to relax, then you can become drowsy.
Melanie Avalon: That makes complete sense. Can the nerve be overstimulated? Is there the potential for that?
Ami Brannon: Not that we've seen and not that is in any of the literature, even outside of our product. There have been implanted vagus nerve stimulators for decades. These stimulators, there's a coil wrapped around the vagus nerve in the neck and connected to essentially like a little pacemaker that's implanted in the chest. And those are delivering signals for 30 seconds at a time every five minutes in perpetuity as long as they have a battery running in that generator. As far as overstimulating, it seems that the vagus nerve has its own governor. It's that you can stimulate it to a certain point, but it's really not going to go overboard and overstimulate.
Melanie Avalon: That's incredible. Actually a follow-up question sort of related. Is it addictive in anyway?
Ami Brannon: I've gotten that question before. And my answer is, is meditation addictive? Is yoga addictive? I think that you could argue in a loose sense that if you get addicted to feeling good, yes, but is it a physiologic addiction? No. It's that you want to feel good. You know that this makes you feel good, so you're going to do something that helps you feel that mental clarity, feel rested, and be the best human that you can be.
Melanie Avalon: It's fantastic. I ponder that concept a lot like, what is addiction and what are we addicted to. Something I often think is, maybe addiction is problematic when we're addicted to something that seemingly makes us feel good, but in the end is ultimately draining us. It's not replenishing us. It's not sustainable compared to being addicted to something that also makes us feel good. That has the opposite effect and that it restores us. I often think, if you're addicted to love, like, can you just keep being in that state forever? Maybe that's not ever draining. I'm really fascinated by that whole paradigm and the implications there. One more question about the app. The intensity levels, because what is the intensity range from in the app?
Ami Brannon: The intensity ranges from 5 to 25?
Melanie Avalon: Is more intense more effective, or is it really just a matter of what intensity best suits the person?
Ami Brannon: So, more is not necessarily better. There are some studies out there that have tried to determine exactly that and haven't really seen a correlation between higher intensity and better results. What we are seeing is that some of the literature in the last couple of years indicates that higher intensities, which may even be higher than what we deliver, may light up different areas of the brain on fMRI. The difficulty there is, this is something you can actually feel that intensity. If you increase it to a point that it's uncomfortable, you're really negating the point of doing it. It should always be something that's comfortable. You increase the intensity until you feel it. And then you say, okay, I can feel it. It feels like a vibration or a tickle. You can go up the steps are small. So, if you go up by one, you go up by two and you say, “Oh, I don't really think I like that.” Then back it down and keep it in that really low range.
Some people really like an intense, what I'll call an intense session, but you can't even compare like, if you have colleagues or friends who are all using the device, we all use a different intensity. We may be in a similar range, but I have, I have customers who have said, “I stay at five. Five is where I am.” And some are at 25. And they can't feel it very much but that doesn't really matter. We know also that some of the studies show that in order to double-blind and make a really good randomized controlled trial, that they take the sensation or the intensity down below perceptible threshold. The person using the device has no idea that they're getting stimulation.
Melanie Avalon: Are these published? Could I put in the show notes links to some of these studies?
Ami Brannon: Sure. Our first study just got published a few weeks ago.
Melanie Avalon: Congratulations. Thank you.
Ami Brannon: Yeah, we're super grateful for that. University of Maryland used our product in their study. It's not sponsored by us. They used our headphones in their study and it's actually related to language learning, which is super exciting. Something a little different than everything we've just talked about. We have clinical trials that are coming up shortly. So, nothing that I can share just yet but hopefully in the next couple of weeks, we'll be able to post that on our website.
Melanie Avalon: In that study, what was the control or how is it set up?
Ami Brannon: In the University of Maryland study, what they did was, they used vagus nerve stimulation or no vagus nerve stimulation. And they paired in sequencing. They paired the stimulation with Mandarin tones to learn the Mandarin language. The control was really someone wearing the headphones, but not getting stimulation and having to learn in the same way, presented the same information in the same style as someone who did get the vagus nerve stimulation. They had a really nice increase in the uptake of the language, all in recognition. And so what that tells you is, it's really about being focused and being present. It's not really learning or remembering. It's seeing it and recognizing it and saying, “Ah, yes, I know what that is,” kind of does rounding back to our focus comment earlier in the conversation.
Melanie Avalon: That is so fascinating. Do you think it also ties in at all to theories about how it tied into our social development and that was why it affected things like our ears so that we could-- I don't know if any of this is true, but it was saying it affected our ears so we could filter out ambient noise to hear human voices that affected our eyes. All these different things on our face that has to do with communication with other humans. Do you think that's also an aspect of play there?
Ami Brannon: I don't know if the two correlate. I've read similar to what you have in that, there's the theory in the-- What do they call it the social nervous system, I think it's plays back to that it's this theory that the heart actually connects to the facial nerves, the eyes and helps you with expression, and your other senses. In this case, as far as learning and language, I don't know what to say about the correlation there.
Melanie Avalon: Because it can also be in the frontier of things we might learn in the future.
Ami Brannon: I think there's so much. There's just so much out there. And what's so fascinating, like you said earlier, everyone is so different. But even in science, the focuses are across the map. Everything from cognition and memory to mental well being, to general wellness, to actual medical diagnoses. This nerve, it's not lost on anyone. It's a superhighway, and some any way we can harness it to help in a natural way. I don't think there's a silver bullet to anything, quite honestly. But if we can move away from pharmacologic interventions, for the vast majority of things that are stress-related, that would really be progress.
Melanie Avalon: 100%. Actually reminds me of a really random question I want to ask you and if you have no thoughts on this, feel free to say that. But I had read that it that the vagus nerve connects to all organs with the exception of the thyroid and the adrenals. I was wondering if you had any thoughts about that, or the implications of that? That mean, we can't fix our thyroid with our vagus nerve?
Ami Brannon: That's true. The vagus nerve literally hits every major organ in the body. Aside from a few little things here and there. The future of using specifically electricity, and possibly ultrasound and vibrations, anything like that, and the vagus nerve, I think all of those things are going to be something that we can utilize for just a myriad of issues with the organs in the body. I think probably the gut is the one that's the most interesting. I think it's caused so many people, such health issues, the gut-brain health is so important. We're really just at the beginning of learning how to deal with some of those things, and what access we have to make things better.
Melanie Avalon: I'm so glad you said that. And the reason I was so intrigued by having read that was because we associate the adrenals with our stress response. And I was just wondering, what are the implications of that the vagus nerve doesn't connect to those? I feel like there's a lot of groundwork there for exploration.
Ami Brannon: I think you're right.
Melanie Avalon: I'm glad you mentioned that digestion because so many people, myself included, struggle with digestive issues, and it is such a foundational part of our whole being. If a person wants to try to use Xen to help with their digestive issues, do you have a suggestion for--? Would it vary by person? Or would it be more appropriate to do it a session and then would you want to do it while you're eating? Are there any suggestions there? And do you have any, I don't know, how app is going to evolve, would you consider putting in some eating program for digestive issues?
Ami Brannon: Yeah, I think those are all really good questions. Right now, because we haven't done even anecdotal testing with digestion and vagus nerve stimulation ourselves. We've focused so much on the stress and sleep side of things so far. I'm not really in a position to give a recommendation. I think that people can always-- it doesn't hurt to just try it before, try it during, try it. But whatever you do, I think no matter what you do, you have to try things for a while. So, you have to commit to something and see how it goes like, “Okay, if I do this before I eat, does that really help?” Which is what I would imagine if I was going to pair it in some way.
I do think that sequencing of vagus nerve stimulation, and whatever it is you're trying to change is important. And we're learning that through these language learning studies. We're seeing this in even in there are some respiratory-gated vagus nerve stimulation studies. Meaning they pair with a certain cycle of respiration. I think there is a sequencing effect that is or a pattern that's going to be important. It's just that we haven't figured that out yet.
And as far as the app goes, oh, my goodness. I'll tell you, we really just being transparent, had no appreciation for how difficult it is to create an interactive app. For those of you out there who are biohackers, and appreciate a good stab at good science, I feel like we've really done a good job with the delivery mechanism. The app, we definitely have some work to do. And we're excited about the things that we can do in the future, as far as maybe putting recommendations or sequencing options, those different kinds of things.
Melanie Avalon: I developed an app and it's called Food Sense Guide, and it's like a searchable catalog for different compounds and foods. But that really made me appreciate app development because I mean, that app is mostly just like I said, searchable catalog and making your list and I'm going to be adding in more nuanced updates by having an app like yours though where you just said, taking in this whole user data experience. And I mean, it's just insane. But it's really exciting because, like you said, you can always be developing and learning. And that's exciting. How long has the app been out?
Ami Brannon: We launched the app in November of 2019. And I'll tell you, the most important thing to us is listening to the people that use the product. And the people who are interested. Even if you don't use the product, and you're just interested, that's really the foundation of our company is the people that we serve. What do you need? What are you interested in? And some things are more difficult to fix or to align than others but those types of things are super important to us to hear about people's experiences and to hear what's important to them.
Melanie Avalon: This is really exciting. This really feels something-- I really foresee this with my audience responding really well. And now I really want us all to get them and all create a group and we can talk about our experiences. Especially I love the sleep aspect and all that but I also love the food and digestion, so now I'm really excited to try some experiments on myself and listeners as well can try. It sounds like with that, if I wanted to try to start using it, like you said for digestion or food that I should probably decide before during or after, probably start with before and commit to that for because you said make sure you do it long enough to see if you're seeing benefits. Would you suggest maybe doing that for two weeks and then keep doing it and if it's working or switching to during eating, or what would be as a little experimenter?
Ami Brannon: Yeah, I think that makes sense. I think minimum a week. It all just depends on how responsive your digestive system is in historically. But two weeks is certainly plenty of time. I would stick with the same waveform. Pick a waveform, pick the sensation, don't vary.
Melanie Avalon: That's my problem, because I'd be like, “Maybe I should do a better waveform.” Just pick one?
Ami Brannon: Yeah, just pick one. None of them are going to be wrong. But if you really want to commit to the little self-experiment, then just pick one and go with it. Do you have a wearable tracker or a digital health, like Oura Ring or a Fitbit, Apple Watch anything like that?
Melanie Avalon: So, this is funny, probably everybody thinks I do. I actually don't because I have a tendency to get a little bit neurotic. I feel if I bring that into my life, I'll start over stressing about things. Even though, ultimately, it is on my to-do list to get like an Oura Ring and probably bring them on the show and learn about it. It's probably a situation where I probably want to interview them first and learn about it.
Ami Brannon: No, I totally empathize with that because I've had different versions that I completely obsessed over because they had so many features. If it allows me to track food and fitness and sleep, and I'm going to do it all. My whole team, we just got Oura rings. And what we're doing is just our own internal-- we know the science, we follow the science, we do all kinds of things. But I have a very diverse team. I've someone with a young baby who sleeps right next to her right now. I have someone who has significant sleep issues, and I have someone who wakes up without an alarm clock at 5:00 AM regardless of what time she went to sleep, and then I just fall somewhere in the middle. But we all got our Oura Rings, we stopped doing vagus nerve stimulation for a week so that we could make sure that we had some clean data.
And now we're starting, we're just doing waveform A with ocean waves sensation, no music or anything like that before bed. I'll have to email you before your program airs to let you know the results. But right now, we're a couple days in and we love it. It's really great. We've all seen an increase in REM sleep and less awake time.
Melanie Avalon: That's really exciting. Maybe I will get an Oura Ring.
Ami Brannon: I like the Oura Ring and I had done a bit of research on it. If you have them on your show, I will definitely be eager to hear that.
Melanie Avalon: Okay, I'm inspired now. The electrical current and everything like that, is it at all dangerous? Is there any concern about that? I did get a question about that, about the potential dangers of an electrical current. I don't know if EMF is an issue, anything like that.
Ami Brannon: There's a couple of questions buried in there. Electrical current, in and of itself is, this is not dangerous. We abide by the safety guidelines for that are stringent for a medical device. Even though we're not a medical device. We built the product according to those guidelines. Also in all of our UL testing, so we don't have our UL label yet. And we're just around the corner from it, but we've passed everything as far as EMF and all of those parameters. Those things as far as being dangerous, definitely not dangerous. This is a safe product.
Now, the second part of that is, there are people who shouldn't use it. If you have an implanted pacemaker, any sort of implanted electrical device. Some people have an implanted electrical spine stem brain stimulators, we don't want anybody's electrical signals to get crossed for something that's vital to their medical health. We say, “Don't do that.” If you're pregnant, or if you are a child, then we don't recommend because we haven't tested on those age groups or on pregnant women and we certainly it's not something that we're going to dive into.
Melanie Avalon: And then also follow up to that. Do people ever experience negative side effects from using it? I don't know if there's a detox potential or something like that.
Ami Brannon: No, nothing along those lines. The major thing we hear is a little bit of skin irritation in the ear. And even though all of our materials, all of those things have been tested and are really-- I don't know what the right word is, but all of our materials are safe, it's that the skin on the inside of the ear, people aren't used to maybe having this-- it's their silicone. Maybe they're just not used to having that. They may get a little bit of skin irritation. And then some people if they turn the intensity up too high, and it starts engaging, maybe a little bit of the muscle in front of the ear, they may get a headache, but if both of those things will stop if you take the earbud out.
Melanie Avalon: I know this isn't something that would be caused by Xen, but this is-- sorry, this is little bit of a rabbit hole question. I'm fascinated by the vagus nerves role in fainting. Do you know anything about that?
Ami Brannon: Well, it's funny. The only thing I ever knew about the vagus nerve as a nurse was the vasovagal response and that people would pass out. I think that's where a lot of the fear factor comes in when you talk about stimulating the vagus nerve. And quite honestly, I don't know how to best explain this, but it's completely different. Vasovagal syncope is something that's caused by-- it's a rapid drop in blood pressure. And it's usually from you overreacting to something. It's caused by your sympathetic system, going into extreme overdrive, and then everything flips, and you have this neurocardiogenic reaction that drops your blood pressure. We haven't had any experience with anyone.
Remember, we had our first-generation product was sold back in 2016. And we've had, gosh, we probably have about 7000 or so of those units out there that have been used for the last three or four years, and have never had anyone talk about any sort of fainting or anything like that.
Now, vagus nerve stimulation in and of itself will help you bring your blood pressure down, but not a drop, not a precipitous drop, like a fainting. This is more like, “Hey, you have high blood pressure, you need to chill out and bring it back to normal.”
Melanie Avalon: Okay, I'm really glad I asked that now, because that makes sense. Like you said that, maybe that's where some of the fear and confusion has come in because it seems like we started at the beginning of this interview. It's such a over encompassing broad thing with so many aspects and so many factors. I feel like it all gets shuttled into this one-word vagus nerve. So no wonder people are confused. [laughs] Well, thank you. This has been absolutely-- I'm just so happy right now. I think I'm most excited, well, A, to start using it. B, to start telling the audience each episode that they should get it and they can make listening to the episode a vagus nerve session. What are you most excited about with the future of all of this?
Ami Brannon: Well, I'm super excited about the-- just in the short term, the clinical trials we have coming up. Just in a nutshell, we're seeking to help frontline health care workers who have been treating COVID patients. The stress and anxiety that has come with that, we know that there's sort of a second wave pandemic out there for mental health. That's one of the things that I'm super excited about being able to help folks in that regard. And then in the future, we have some really, really cool stuff that we're looking at in trying to be able to integrate more options in the app and make it a more robust experience.
Right now, I'd say we're in the early stages. We're learning a lot about how people are used to operating their apps, and what they really want in this sort of experience. So, maybe some partnerships in the future. So, excited about all of those things.
Melanie Avalon: That's so incredible. And I'm so glad you brought up the COVID situation, the pandemic, because that was actually something I'd meant to touch on at the very, very beginning, when you were telling your story was, how wonderful in a way it was that you have this background, and the trauma unit and the hospital system. And then moving towards where you are now with this product and your work on the vagus nerve. It just seems like it was just meant to be like what this can bring to our world, especially right now with everything that we're experiencing. That's really profound. Thank you.
Ami Brannon: Yeah, thank you.
Melanie Avalon: So, that brings me to my very last question that I ask every single guest on this podcast. And that's just because I'm realizing more and more every single day, especially after this conversation, just how important our mindset and perspective of everything is in our daily life. What is something that you're grateful for?
Ami Brannon: Oh, I am so grateful for my family. And I can't say that enough. I think family is not just the people who are genetically related to you. They're the people who are, now we call it in your bubble. But I'm just grateful for the people in my life that have been patient and kind and giving and vulnerable. I think it's a gift to have each other especially at a time like this. I know that over the last six months, I could have been alone, but I have a beautiful family that I've been sharing a house with and we endure every day in a different way.
Melanie Avalon: It's so beautiful. Where do you live, by the way?
Ami Brannon: South Florida.
Melanie Avalon: Florida's been, I feel hit pretty hard, or I don't know. I feel like Florida has-- a lot of talk about Florida.
Ami Brannon: Yes, so much. So much talk. [laughs]
Melanie Avalon: Well, thank you so much, Ami. I as well, I'm so grateful for what you're doing. I'm just so grateful for this conversation. You have just a wonderful spirit and an intelligence. And what you're doing I just think is so, so profound. And also grateful you're extending a discount code to our listeners. That's super exciting. For listeners, if you'd like to get your own Xen device, everybody get it now. You can go to melanieavalon.com/xen and then that will take you to their website. The discount code will be MelanieAvalon15 and that will get you 15% off of the product. I will put all this information in the show notes. Again the show notes will be at melanieavalon.com/vagusnerve. Any other links, Ami, any other resources you'd like to put out there for how people can best follow your work?
Ami Brannon: Our website is the primary. You can always follow us on social. I think we have a really cool social feed. That should be appealing to your audience too. And all of those are Neuvana Life at neuvanalife.
Melanie Avalon: Awesome. Again, I will put all of that information in the show notes. Thank you, Ami. This has been so incredible. I can't wait to hear this episode. Maybe we can bring you back in the future and talk about. It seems like there's going to be so much more to come in this whole world. So, maybe down the line, we can come back and have a part two episode.
Ami Brannon: That sounds great. I'd love it. Thank you so much, Melanie. This was really fun.
Melanie Avalon: Thank you, Ami.