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Vagus nerve stimulation as an anti-inflammatory

Paul Ingraham ARCHIVEDMicroblog posts are archived and rarely updated. In contrast, most long-form articles on are updated regularly over the years (see updates page).

This sure sounds great (maybe a little too great): stimulate vagus nerve with an implant, et voila, less systemic inflammation. There’s broad biological plausibility here, but almost no evidence. So far this hinges only on the results of Koopman et al., who tested it on humans and reported that “these results establish that vagus nerve stimulation targeting the inflammatory reflex modulates TNF production and reduces inflammation in humans.”

Established, eh? Not without replication! Which is obviously badly needed here. All kinds of data hijinks could be hiding in a study that technical.

My main concern is the use of the word “significantly” in the abstract, without any details (effect size in particular). All too often that wording, without clarification, means there was a statistically significant but clinically trivial result. With many treatment trials I can go digging for the effect size to confirm, but not here, the reading is too difficult for me to form any meaningful impression without spending an hour, and even then it might not be clear. And even if the paper does indicate a clinically meaningful result it’s still got “too good to be true” written all over it and may well prove to be difficult to reproduce.

But it’s a genuinely interesting topic, I think (vagus nerve stimulation in particular, and systemic inflammation in general).

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