While everyone seems to have their own take on what the perfect heart health regimen includes, researchers at the University of Leeds have recently made a proclamation we doubt anyone has heard before.
According to the New York Daily News, scientists at Leeds are claiming that stimulating certain nerves in the ear could be beneficial to heart health.
The researchers based their experiment around the vargus, a major nerve that aids in controlling several major organs including the heart. In order to stimulate the vargus, a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) device was affixed to patients' ears. The experience is described as producing a "tickling sensation" in the ear. These individuals’ heart rates were then monitored for 15 minutes with the device attached and for 15 minutes after its removal. Dr. Jennifer Clancy, the lead researcher on the project, told the Daily News that one of the most promising results was that there was a 20 percent increase in variability in the subjects' heart rates.
"A healthy heart does not beat like a metronome. It is continually interacting with its environment—getting a little bit faster or a bit slower depending on the demands on it," said Clancy. "An unhealthy heart is more like a machine constantly banging out the same beat."
Researchers indicated that use of the TENS device in this way also dramatically reduced adrenaline production in the sympathetic nervous system. Patients who suffer from heart failure often have an overly active sympathetic nervous system, leading to unnecessary stress on the heart.
While the results are promising, professor Jim Deuchars, another leader in the study, made clear that there would need to be a great deal more testing before the practice could be recommended for a general care setting.
"We now need to understand how big and how lasting the residual effect on the heart is and whether this can help patients with heart problems, probably alongside their regular treatments," Deuchars said.