A tickle in your ear could help you age better

As you age, numerous issues pile up that compromise your health and lead to sleep problems, depression, and even chronic disease.

And, one of those issues is a shift in your autonomic nervous system.

You see, your autonomic nervous system controls many of those bodily functions that you don’t even have to think consciously about it. For example, it keeps your digestion humming along, ensures you’re breathing in and out and controls your heart rate and blood pressure.

The problem is that there are two branches of the system — which, as long as they remain in balance, allow all of this to happen smoothly so that you can stay healthy.

Unfortunately, as you age, that balance begins to tip to one branch, your sympathetic nervous system. This leaves your body in a constant “fight or flight” scenario and makes you more susceptible to all of those issues of aging.

But, what if there was a way to restore that balance and stimulate the other branch or parasympathetic portion of your autonomic nervous system?

Well, according to research from the University of Leeds, there is…

Tickling your Vagus nerve

Clinicians have long thought that it might be possible to use electrical currents to influence your nervous system to improve your health. And, a nerve of particular interest is the vagus nerve, the major nerve of your parasympathetic system.

In fact, past research has looked at the possibility of using vagus nerve stimulation to tackle issues like depression, epilepsy, obesity, stroke, tinnitus, and even heart conditions. The problem is that this kind of stimulation requires major surgery to implant electrodes in the neck region — not something many of us would be willing to put ourselves through.

Luckily, there is one small branch of your vagus nerve that can be stimulated without surgery, a branch that’s found in the skin of your outer ear.

The Leeds researchers had originally found that applying a small electrical stimulus to this branch improved the balance of the autonomic nervous system in healthy 30-year-olds. But they weren’t sure if this stimulation, which feels like your ear is being tickled, could help people over 55 — those most likely to have problems with their autonomic systems and the health issues associated with aging.

So, they recruited healthy volunteers, aged 55 and up, and gave each of them the tVNS (transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation) therapy for 15 minutes a day for two weeks.

And, it worked!

Participants not only showed an increase in parasympathetic activity and a decrease in sympathetic activity, which demonstrated a rebalancing of their autonomic nervous systems, but also reported improvements in their mental health and sleeping patterns.

Related: ‘Mind-body’ nerve reveals why a simple breathing technique could manage depression

According to the researchers, this is big, big news…

They say that being able to correct the balance of activity of your autonomic nervous system could help you age more healthily. And, it could help with a variety of disorders such as heart disease, high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation as well as with problems like depression.

They even say that improving the balance of your autonomic nervous system lowers your risk of death, as well as your need for medication and the chances you’ll end up in the hospital.

Lead author Dr. Beatrice Bretherton, from the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Leeds, went so far as to say, “The ear is like a gateway through which we can tinker with the body’s metabolic balance, without the need for medication or invasive procedures. We believe these results are just the tip of the iceberg.”

Vagus nerve stimulation at home

If you want to grab the benefits of rebalancing your autonomic nervous system to ward off aging and chronic disease, you might want to try transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation for yourself. Luckily, you can buy a portable tVNS or tens unit for home use online for between $70 and $250.

There are also ways to stimulate your vagus nerve without using an electrical current or gadgets. Options to try include slow, rhythmic diaphragmatic breathing, humming, and even balancing your gut microbiome by taking probiotics which stimulates vagal tone through a feedback loop.

Sources:

  1. ‘Tickle’ therapy could help slow aging, research suggests — University of Leeds
  2. 6 Ways To Instantly Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve To Relieve Inflammation, Depression, Migraines And More — International Alliance of Healthcare Educators

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Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

By Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst is a board-certified Doctor of Chiropractic, with more than 20 years of experience. She has dedicated herself to helping others enjoy life at every age through the use of alternative medicine and natural wellness options. Dr. Schmedthorst enjoys sharing her knowledge with the alternative healthcare community, providing solutions for men and women who are ready to take control of their health the natural way.