Ear seeding, which is sometimes called auricular acupressure, is a noninvasive technique that stimulates pressure points on the ear. The goal is to target specific pressure points to help alleviate symptoms and improve your overall health.
While ear seeding is similar to auricular acupuncture, it does not involve the use of needles. Instead, tiny seeds are placed on acupressure points on your ear to stimulate nerve pathways to your brain and prompt your body’s natural healing mechanisms to kick in.
Although ear seeding may seem like a new technique to address anything from insomnia to obesity, it has actually been around for many years. Some of the earliest mentions of ear seeding date back to 221 B.C. in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
Here's what you need to know about ear seeding, including how it works, its potential benefits, and whether it is right for you.
What Is Ear Seeding?
Ear seeding is a form of acupressure where the external surface of your ear—or auricle—is stimulated to alleviate pain or promote healing in different parts of your body. Traditionally, seeds from the Vaccaria plant are taped onto specific acupuncture points on the ear.
Sometimes, people use "seeds" in a variety of different materials, such as stainless steel, gold, silver, or even magnets in some cases, Tom Ingegno, DACM, MSOM, LAC, a doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, and owner of Charm City Integrative Health, told Health.
Ear seeding is based on the belief that your entire body and its systems (nervous, reproductive, digestive, etc.) is represented in your ear. In fact, experts note that the ear looks like an upside-down fetus, with the head represented by the earlobe and the body and internal organs falling along the ridges of your ear. This approach is called a "microsystem," in which your entire body can be mapped onto a smaller body part, said Ingegno. Other microsystems include the scalp, hands, feet, and abdomen.
How Ear Seeding Works
According to the National Standards of China on Nomenclature and Location of Auricular Points, there are 93 specific acupoints on your ear, with each point corresponding to a different benefit. When a seed is placed on an acupressure point, it stimulates the nerve pathways to your brain and promotes changes within your body, which could include anything from stress reduction to pain relief.
Nicole Glathe, DAOM, LAc, DiplOM, an acupuncturist, doctor of Chinese medicine, and head of product innovation at WTHN, likes to refer to ear seeding as acupuncture on the go, because it provides gentle, yet constant, stimulation of acupressure points on the ears.
"Usually, people use about two to five seeds at a time that can be placed on both ears for maximum results. The pressure points selected can be mixed and matched depending on your needs, allowing you to target multiple health goals at once," Glathe told Health.
Possible Benefits of Ear Seeds
While there is limited research on the health benefits of ear seeds, proponents speculate that ear seeding (auricular acupressure) may be able to address a variety of health concerns such as anxiety reduction, pain management, insomnia, and weight loss. Here is a closer look at some of the potential health benefits of ear seeding.
Promotes Pain Relief and Management
A recent review found that ear seeding may be an effective treatment for acute pain conditions. Acute pain is pain that results from an injury, illness, or trauma. In the reviewed studies, ear seeding was used to help reduce pain symptoms in anything from low back pain to abdominal discomfort. The researchers also noted that people tended to need less pain management with ear seeding.
Meanwhile, another study that compared kinesio taping and ear seeding found that both were beneficial in reducing pain in people with menstrual cramps. They also noted that while both groups showed similar reductions in pain, the results for those who used ear seeding lasted longer.
Additionally, both groups used fewer medications when using one of these methods. In the end, the researchers concluded that these two approaches could be beneficial complementary therapies when used alongside pharmacological treatment.
Helps With Weight Management
While studies are limited on the use of ear seeding to manage weight, one review of seven different studies found that when ear seeding was used for 12 weeks (alone or in combination with diet and exercise changes), people were able to lose weight, reduce their waist circumference, and decrease their body fat percentage.
The researchers concluded that ear seeding may be an alternative approach to assist people with weight management. That said, they also noted that further studies are needed. They recommended the use of a double-blind randomized controlled design to verify the findings.
Although most of the research on treating insomnia with auriculotherapy involves acupuncture rather than acupressure, a recent study demonstrated that auricular acupressure like ear seeding can significantly improve sleep quality, particularly in people with cancer and sleep disturbances.
Plus, they noted that there are no additional side effects associated with ear seeding, like you may experience with sleeping pills or other medical interventions. However, the researchers did acknowledge that these results are only preliminary. They suggest more rigorously-designed clinical trials in order to support ear seeding as a potential clinical application.
Manages Anxiety Symptoms
While there is limited research on the use of ear seeds to manage symptoms of anxiety, many people report feeling more at ease when using this complementary therapy. In fact, one study found that people who wore mustard seeds for anxiety and jaw pain, saw a significant reduction in symptoms in both conditions.
Meanwhile, a 2018 study examining the use of auriculotherapy on anxiety during labor and delivery also showed promising results. During a triple-blind study, the researchers discovered that the use of ear acupressure significantly reduced anxiety during labor—so much so that they recommend it as a treatment option for pregnant people nearing delivery.
Related: Natural Remedies for Anxiety
Risks of Ear Seeding
While ear seeding is a relatively safe practice, just like with any alternative therapy or treatment, there are a few minor risks. For instance, if you have sensitive skin or allergies, you could react to the seeds, the tape, or the metals used in ear seeding. Be sure to check the materials used if you have any known allergies.
There's also the risk of skin irritation if you leave the seeds on for longer than recommended, or if you touch them or manipulate them a lot. There have even been reports of mild dizziness, pain, and nausea. However, some acupuncturists may actually instruct you to press on the seeds to press on the pressure points more.
There is even a slight risk that a seed could come loose and become lodged in your ear canal. In fact, one case report indicates that an ear seed fell into a person's ear and passed through an existing hole in their eardrum. During a routine MRI, the metallic bead was discovered and had to be surgically removed.
Ear seeding is relatively inexpensive, whether done as an extension of an acupuncture session or purchased as part of a do-it-yourself (DIY) set at home. In fact, most acupuncture clinics can do this service for a small fee, or it may be included in the acupuncture treatment cost, said Ingegno. It's important to note that finding the right point locations on your own can be difficult, as everyone's ear is different. Having a professional do this for you may be more effective.
At-home kits ear seeding kits can run anywhere from $20 to $50, depending on how many seeds are contained in the kit, Ingegno added. Some more high-end ear seeds may even include Swarovski crystals, which will increase the price.
Who It's For
Almost anyone can use ear seeds. However, ear seeds may be particularly useful for people who want an alternative to traditional medications and treatments, or for those who have a fear of needles. Ear seeds also may be beneficial for older people who may need alternative methods for treating pain.
That said, it's still important to talk to your healthcare provider about this treatment option before you start. If you decide it is right for you.
How to Get Started
If you are unfamiliar with ear seeding, it's best if you see a licensed acupuncturist or doctor of acupuncture to help you get started. There also are a number of DIY kits that come with everything you need to apply the ear seeds yourself. But beware that the seeds can be difficult to apply in the mirror on your own, Ingegno said.
The placement of your ear seeds will depend on the condition you want to treat. Some kits are condition-specific while others will list multiple conditions in a small booklet. After you have selected your kit, the application is pretty straightforward, but may need the help of a professional to help locate the points, since people's ear can vary a lot in size and shape.
Using tweezers, you peel the tape off the card that the seed is attached to and place it along with the seed on the desired acupressure point. Then, press gently with your finger to ensure it stays put. Usually, the seeds can stay on for around five days, Ingegno said. After that, they should be peeled off.
A Quick Review
Ear seeding—also called auricular acupressure—is a noninvasive treatment that stimulates pressure points on your ear with tiny seeds or beads. The goal of ear seeding is to alleviate specific symptoms or to improve your overall health. Usually, two to five seeds are applied at one time, each designed to target a particular part of the body.
Ear seeding is mainly used to treat pain, calm the mind, reduce anxiety, prevent insomnia, or aid with weight management.
Ear seeding, which is relatively safe, can be done by a licensed acupuncturist or with a DIY kit at home. If you are considering ear seeding, talk to a healthcare provider first to determine if it is right for you.
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Read the original article on Health.