“Ticking” the ear might help slow the aging process in people over 55.
When people age, they often begin to develop chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, heart disease and atrial fibrillation. Researchers at the University of Leeds believe that transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation could help people age more healthily by recalibrating their internal control systems, specifically their autonomic nervous systems (ANS).
The ANS controls bodily functions that do not require conscious thought, including digestion, breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. The sympathetic branch is involved in the “fight or flight” response, while the parasympathetic branch is involved in low-intensity “rest and digest” activity. As people age, the sympathetic branch begins to dominate, leading to increased susceptibility to diseases.
The vagus nerve is the major nerve of the parasympathetic system. Stimulation of the vagus nerve may, therefore, help in the treatment of depression, epilepsy, obesity, stroke, tinnitus and heart conditions. Typically, however, vagus nerve stimulation has been achieved using implanted electrodes in the neck, which is expensive and can lead to side effects.
The new ear stimulation therapy, also known as “tickle therapy,” involves the delivery of a small, painless electrical current to the ear, resulting in signals being sent to the body's nervous system through the vagus nerve. People over 55 that received the therapy for a short time daily over two weeks experienced both physiological and well-being improvements, including a better quality of life, mood and sleep.
The scientists are currently investigating the potential long-term benefits of daily ear stimulation.