Is tickling your ear good for your heart?
Researchers at the University of Leeds found that stimulating the tragus–the small flap of skin in front of the ear canal–may reduce the nervous signals in the body that can damage hearts.
The researchers applied electrodes to the ears of 34 healthy people and switched on a TENS (Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machines for 15-minute sessions. They monitored the variability of subjects’ heartbeats and the activity of the part of the nervous system that drives the heart. Monitoring continued for 15 minutes after the TENS machine was switched off.
The researchers found two positive effects from the stimulation. The first was a 20 percent increase in heart rate variability, which is a trait of a healthy heart. The second positive effect was how the extra stimulation suppressed the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for driving heart activity by using adrenaline. This reduction is important because extra sympathetic activity drives your heart to work double time, constricting arteries and causing damage to the muscle. Both positive effects were sustained even 15 minutes after the stimulation ended.
The next step is to see how long the residual effects on the heart last and whether this treatment might be coupled with traditional medications for people with heart problems.