According to new research, electrically "tickling" the ear for over-55s using a TENS machine with tVNS clips appears to rebalance the autonomic nervous system, potentially slowing down the impacts of ageing.
Researchers discovered that a brief daily therapy given for two weeks improved physiological and psychological well-being, including life quality, mood, and sleep.
The procedure, known as transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS), involves administering a small, painless electrical current to the outer ear, which then uses the vagus nerve to transmit signals to the body's nervous system.
According to recent research from the University of Leeds Faculty of Biological Sciences, the therapy may mitigate significant age-related effects.
They include high blood pressure, heart disease, and atrial fibrillation, which are chronic conditions to which we are increasingly susceptible as we age. In today's issue of the journal Aging, the researchers believe that the "tickle" Therapy has the ability to rebalance the body's internal control system, allowing people to age more healthily.
The University of Leeds' School of Biomedical Sciences' Dr. Beatrice Bretherton, the study's lead author, said:
"Without using drugs or intrusive procedures, the ear is like a gateway through which we may play with the body's metabolic equilibrium. We think that these findings are just the beginning. We are eager to look into the impacts and possible long-term advantages of daily ear stimulation because so far, the treatment has produced excellent results"
Researchers from the University of Leeds carried out the study, which was supported by the Dunhill Medical Trust.
How is the autonomic nervous connected to the vagus nerve?
Many bodily processes, including digestion, breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure, that don't require conscious thought are controlled by the autonomic nervous system. It has two branches, the sympathetic and parasympathetic, which compete with one another to keep the body's activity levels in check. The parasympathetic branch is essential to low intensity "rest and digest" activity, whereas the sympathetic branch aids in the body's preparation for high intensity "fight or flight" activity.
The body's balance shifts as we become older and as we're battling illnesses, making the sympathetic branch more dominant. As we age, this imbalance causes the loss of basic bodily function and increases our susceptibility to developing new diseases.
Previous studies have investigated the idea of employing vagus nerve stimulation to treat illnesses like depression, epilepsy, obesity, stroke, tinnitus, and cardiac problems.
The only drawback of this type of stimulation is that electrodes must be surgically implanted in the neck region, which comes at a cost and with a minor risk of adverse consequences.
Thankfully, there is a small branch of the vagus nerve in the skin of select areas of the outer ear that can be stimulated without surgery using TENS ear clips via a TENS Machine.
Previous studies conducted in Leeds have demonstrated that in healthy 30-year-olds, the balance of the autonomic nervous system can be improved by giving a little electrical stimulus to the vagus nerve near the ear, which some people describe as a tickling feeling.
Now, researchers from all over the world are examining whether transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS) may be used as a treatment for ailments ranging from cardiac issues to mental health.
Diane Crossley, a 70-year-old participant from Leeds who underwent the tVNS therapy for two weeks, participated in the trial. I was glad to take part in this incredibly intriguing study, since it raised my awareness of my own health, the woman stated.
"I was honoured to be a part of such an interesting endeavour."
Researchers at the University of Leeds conducted a new study to determine whether tVNS could help people over 55, who are more prone to have unbalanced autonomic systems that may be a factor in age-related health problems.
They selected 29 healthy volunteers who were 55 years of age or older, and over the course of two weeks, each received daily treatments of 15 minutes of tVNS therapy. Participants learned how to administer tVNS treatment at home during the study period.
The therapy helped to balance the autonomic function back towards what is thought to be related with healthy function by increasing parasympathetic activity and decreasing sympathetic activity. Some participants also reported improvements in their sleep patterns and mental health metrics.
Correcting this activity balance may help us age more healthily and may also benefit those who suffer from a number of diseases, including heart disease and various mental health conditions.
Enhancing the autonomic nervous system's equilibrium also reduces a person's risk of dying, as well as their requirement for medicine or hospitalisation.
Those who had the most imbalance at the beginning of the study showed the most profound changes after receiving the therapy, the researchers discovered.
They believe that in the future, it might be able to determine who is most likely to gain from the therapy so that it can be provided in a targeted manner.
This study demonstrates that tVNS therapy may have important physiological advantages in addition to its previously demonstrated beneficial psychological effects for patients with depression.
One of the study's principal authors, Dr. Susan Deuchars, stated: "We believe this stimulation can significantly improve people's lives, and we now hope to do additional trials to determine whether tVNS can treat multiple illnesses."