Tickling yourself to better well-being and slow down aging

They say laughter makes the blues go away and some health professionals say laughter brings healing to the mind and body.

A new study conducted by researchers at the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Leeds in West Yorkshire, England has discovered that a small ‘tickle’ electrically to the ear affects the body’s nervous system and could promote over-all well being and also slow down aging.

The study used transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation(tVNS) or the ‘tickle’ treatment. The tVNS uses custom made clips which contain electrodes and places them on the tragus which is the small pointed tip of the ear just above the ear lobe.

After clipping the electrodes to the tragus a small electric current is sent to trigger the vagus nerve which is part of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS operates unconsciously is responsible for bodily functions such as the heart rate, breathing, digestion, blood pressure, body temperature, pupillary response, and even urination for examples.

Researchers of the study are suggesting that the tVNS or tickle treatment could assist in balancing the ANS and promote over-all feelings of well being.

The ANS has two major branches:physical the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The SNS deals with the physical expressions of stress and provides a quick response system that initiates the body’s fight-or-flight response. The PNS does just the opposite with its main goal of calming and conserving energy making it responsible for lowering our heart rate and blood pressure, returning our body to steadiness.

The study involved three different small study groups of participants. The first study had 14 volunteers who did a single session of tVNS for 15 minutes. The second study involved 51 participants who also had just one session of the tickle treatment. But he third group with 29 volunteers received the tVNS tickle treatment for two weeks with daily treatments for 15 minutes each day.

Susan Deuchars, who is one of the study’s authors and director of research at University of Leeds in its School of Biomedical Sciences, says that in the two-week study the research team saw that tVNS helped to re-balance both the SNS and PNS branches of the autonomous nervous system.  

She says that both branches usually work in a harmonious balance to promote healthy wellness in the human body but as we age this balance changes so that the SNS becomes stronger and this leads to detrimental health.

Deucharsand her team believe that the tickle treatment can provide a solution for mental well being, healthy sleep patterns as well as the possibility of treatment of heart disease, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s and even type 2 diabetes.