Could ear 'tickle' therapy help slow the ageing process?

New research has revealed ear 'tickle' therapy could help slow down the ageing process [Photo: Getty]
New research has revealed ear 'tickle' therapy could help slow down the ageing process [Photo: Getty]

While some are happy to grow old gracefully, others are willing to try anything to slow down the ageing process.

Science has suggested cycling, certain foods and a protein called carbonic anhydrase could all help to put the brakes on ageing, but new research has revealed ear ‘tickling’ therapy could also help.

A study, by a team at the University of Leeds, found that tickling the ear with a small electric current could rebalance the nervous system in over-55s and help them age more healthily.

The findings, published in the journal Aging, suggest that a short daily therapy delivered for two weeks led to both physiological and wellbeing improvements, including a better quality of life, mood and sleep.

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Sounds great, but how can tickling your ears help halt ageing?

The therapy, called transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS), delivers a small, painless electrical current to the ear, which sends signals to the body’s nervous system through the vagus nerve.

The body’s automatic nervous system controls many of the body’s functions such as digestion, breathing, heart rate and blood pressure.

But as we age the body’s balance within the central nervous system changes making us more susceptible to new diseases and the breakdown of healthy bodily function.

So researchers wanted to see if the balance could be restored by stimulating the vagus nerve in the ear.

For the study 29 healthy participants aged 55 and over were given transcutaneous vagal nerve stimulation for 15 minutes a day for two weeks.

Scientists found that stimulating this part of the ear improved autonomic function and led to improvements in body, sleep and mood.

People who showed the greatest imbalance at the start of the study improved most after receiving the therapy.

Study authors concluded that being able to correct the balance in the nervous system could help us age more healthily, as well as potentially helping people with a variety of disorders such as heart disease and some mental health issues.

The study found the therapy could help to improve mood [Photo: Getty]
The study found the therapy could help to improve mood [Photo: Getty]

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Commenting on the findings lead author Dr Beatrice Bretherton, from the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Leeds, said: “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.

“We are excited to investigate further into the effects and potential long-term benefits of daily ear stimulation, as we have seen a great response to the treatment so far.”

Further studies are now needed to understand what the long-term health effects of the treatment might be, as the study involved a small number of participants over a short time period.

It isn’t the first time science has looked to find the key to slowing down the ageing process.

Earlier this year a study found that eating two or more portions of mushrooms per week could halve your risk of abnormal brain decline in old age.

The news comes as it was revealed earlier this year that half of UK adults are not able to spot any key risk factors for dementia.

According to the study, entitled Dementia Attitudes Monitor, despite more than half of UK adults now knowing someone with dementia, only 1% of the 2,361 people surveyed were able to name the seven known risk or protective factors for dementia.

The six risk factors are heavy drinking, genetics, smoking, high blood pressure, depression and diabetes, while physical exercise is a protective factor against the disease.

The Alzheimer’s Society say risk factors can increase a person’s risk of developing dementia over a period of time. But there are also protective factors that can help to lower a person’s risk of the developing the condition.