Ears to your heart

I hope you don’t mind me asking, but how big is your glabella? What do you mean, “You don’t know”? Oh, so you don’t know what your glabella is! I suppose it is one of those words that are rarely used but actually describes an everyday thing. Your glabella is actually the space between your eyebrows and glabella certainly fits into a group of words that exist for common things but that are rarely used. Other words that might fit within this list include; “zarf” (the cardboard sleeve on a take-away coffee cup), “purlicue” (the space between your thumb and forefinger), “griffonage” (unreadable handwriting), and “barm” (the foam on a beer). You could also include in that list “tragus”, the raised flap at the front of the ear that is immediately in front of the ear canal. It might just be that you find yourself using tragus in conversation more often because new research has found that it could be a link to a healthy heart.

For the new study the researchers attached electrodes from a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machine to the tragi (yes, that’s the plural of tragus) of a group of healthy people for 15-minute sessions. They monitored heart activity while the machine was working and then for another 15 minutes afterwards.

The first they found was that heart rate variability improved. An unhealthy heart cannot vary its rate as circumstances demand whereas a healthy heart varies its rate as needed. These results showed that heart rate variability increased by about 20 per cent after tragus stimulation.

The second effect that they found was on sympathetic nervous system activity which drives heart function via release of adrenaline. Increased sympathetic activity constricts arteries, raises blood pressure, and makes the heart work harder. The researchers found that when the ear was stimulated sympathetic nerve activity dropped by about 50 per cent. This is a similar sort of effect to beta-blocker drugs as beta-blockers block the signals that arise from sympathetic nervous system activity.

It is all happening because there is a sensory branch of the vagus nerve in your ear which is stimulated by the action on the tragus. Sending electrical current down the nerve influences brain output that in turn regulates the heart.

There’s something to contemplate as you wrap your purlicue around a zarf.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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