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Researchers prove regular ear tickling improves heart health

Mechanical ear tickling and the stimulation of the nerves in the ear by tickling have been shown to improve heart health in healthy people and promises to have the same effects for people that have heart disease. Professor Jim Deuchars, Professor of Systems Neuroscience at the University of Leeds in Britain, and colleagues are the first to demonstrate the phenomenon. The research was announced on Aug. 19, 2014, at the University of Leeds website.

TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator).
Yeza - Own work CC BY-SA 3.0

The small raised flap of tissue just in front of the ear canal (the targus) is connected to the heart through the vagus nerve. Stimulation of the targus that was discerned by the 34 healthy participants in the study as a tickling sensation with a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) machine had dramatic effects on the heart. TENS machines have been used safely and successfully for 40 years to reduce labor pains.

The effects on the heart include an increased variability in heart rhythm. Hearts are not designed to beat at the same rate all the time. A 15 minute TENS session produced an average 20 percent increased variability in heart rhythm in all participants in the study.

More importantly, the TENS treatment reduced sympathetic nerve activity in the heart by 50 percent. Sympathetic nerve activity produces adrenaline. Increased sympathetic nerve activity can produce more damage in a damaged heart and cause arterial damage. The TENS treatment reduces sympathetic nerve activity directly unlike most heart drugs that act to block the action of adrenaline.

The TENS effect lasted at least 15 minutes after the machine was turned off. The potential for this discovery is huge. A TENS device costs between $90 and $250 according to a Google search for “transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation”. This cost is affordable by most people that have heart conditions. The device is also within the range of the budget of most first responders. A potential slogan for the public service ad for the procedure might be “Tickle my ear and keep me alive.”

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