New research is suggesting that a short daily therapy over a period of two weeks can slow down aging through stimulation of the body’s nervous system. This therapy has the capacity to help people age healthily by rebalancing the autonomic nervous system. A new study is finding encouraging results from this electrical stimulation.
The autonomic nervous system is that part of the peripheral nervous system that controls internal body processes such as blood pressure, heart rate, breath rate, body temperature, digestion, and metabolism. The system regulates these processes without conscious effort. The autonomic nervous system functions by receiving information from the environment as well as other parts of the body. The two branches that comprise the autonomic nervous system are sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic branch is responsible for getting the body ready for fight or flight activity, and the parasympathetic is vital to low-intensity movement. The two branches work together to keep the balance of activity regulated.
When fighting diseases as we age, the body’s balance shifts to sympathetic domination. Because of this imbalance, we are more susceptible to new conditions. This process ultimately leads to the breakdown of the body as we age. The use of electrical currents to stimulate the vagus nerve is nothing new as depression, epilepsy, stroke, tinnitus, and heart conditions are treatable with the technique. However, medical professionals must surgically implant the electrodes in an area of the neck. There are risks, side effects, and expenses associated with implanting electrodes in the manner. However, there is a branch of the vagus nerve that resides on the skin of the outer ear. Non-surgical stimulation of this area is the focus of the new study.
The new therapy, called transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS) or tickle therapy is the process of running a painless electrical current to the ear which then signals the body’s nervous system via the vagus nerve. There is vagus nerve distribution on the surface of the ear. The 29 study participants were healthy adults aged 55 or above. The participants self-administered the tVNS therapy over two weeks for 15 minutes per day.
The nerve stimulation therapy increases parasympathetic activity while reducing sympathetic activity. The research team states that a rebalancing of the autonomic nervous system occurs leading to healthy body function. There were reports from participants of improvement in mental health and sleeping patterns. The correction of this balance of activity can help us to age in a healthy manner, not to mention help other disorders such as heart disease and mental health issues.
The researchers observed that the participants who began the study with the most significant imbalance also enjoyed the most substantial improvements at the end of therapy. In the future, there may be a chance to identify who will benefit the most from the treatment and target the treatment accordingly. Further studies will seek to understand the long-term health effects of tVNS.