Survival times are four times greater in people with high vagus activity, and the cancer's progress is slowed, especially in the later stages of the disease.
The vagus nerve, which runs from the brain stem, through the neck and thorax and ends in the abdomen, lowers our heart rate and controls food digestion. And it's involved in the three biological processes the researchers say are linked to cancer: oxidative stress or free radicals, inflammation and stress.
Researchers at Vrije University in Brussels took another look at 12 studies, involving 1822 cancer patients, that had monitored heart rate variability (HRV), an indicator of vagus nerve activity. They discovered that the cancer's progress was slower in those whose vagus nerve activity was higher, and this was the case for all types of cancer.
The effect of vagus activity was more noticeable in those whose cancers were in the late stages and treatments were less effective.
Medical researcher Dr David Hamilton says there are four proven ways to stimulate vagus nerve activity: exercise, meditation, yoga and compassion. He says that studies by Stephen Porges at the University of Northern Carolina have shown that compassion activates the vagus nerve, and similar effects have been seen in those who practise the Buddhist 'Loving Kindness' meditation.