Auricular Acupuncture and the interaction between emotion, cognition and digestion.
Auricular (ear) acupuncture is a diagnostic and treatment system based on normalizing the body’s dysfunction through a mico-system. This approach utilizes specific areas of the ear as a mico-map mirroring and representing the entire body. An increasing number of studies have demonstrated that auricular acupuncture has a significant effect on inducing parasympathetic tone in the body.
What is the function of the PNS?
The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) serves as the “rest and digest”, conserves the body’s energy, stimulates the digestive system for nutrient absorption, maintains blood pressure and allows the necessary responses to maintain homeostasis. Without the PNS, our bodily processes would be dysfunctional and we may experience a constant state of elevated stress, dysregulated digestion, emotional depression and pain.
What is parasympathetic tone?
Parasympathetic tone is a function that opposes the sympathetic nervous system. It is strengthened and maintained by the body’s ability to regulate, repair and regenerate nerve fibers. Heart rate and blood pressure are two examples of measuring vagal tone.
The vagus nerve is the primary pathway of the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) and the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), forming the gut-brain axis. Vagal fibers arise from the gastrointestinal tract and relay information through the hypothalamus, thalamus and amygdala and signal to the higher cortical regions of the brain.
The external ear is innervated by several nerves including the vagus nerve, glossopharyngeal nerve, trigeminal nerve, facial nerve and branches of the cervical spinal nerves.
Acupuncture points on the ear are related to internal organs, carrying a parasympathetic innervation while acting as a bridge between the external ear and the internal organs.
One of the most recognized auricular treatment protocols is the NADA protocol, designed to target behavioral heath including addictions, trauma, depression, and co-occurring disorders.
The NADA protocol can increase calmness, promote better sleep, and decrease agitation and stress. The auricular acupuncture points include the Autonomic, Shenmen, Kidney, Liver and Lung which are located within the Concha, the primary area of peripheral vagal nerve activity.
These points provide relief from stress and emotional trauma, minimize withdraw symptoms, reduce cravings for alcohol and drugs, promote better sleep and induce calm and relaxation.
Auricular Acupuncture has the function of a bi-direction regulatory effect, providing modulatory effects on the parasympathetic and sympathetic system.
Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system has also shown therapeutic benefits in brain diseases such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, addictions, and behavioral disorders.
Restoring parasympathetic tone is a crucial therapeutic for homeostasis and auricular acupuncture is a non-invasive, safe and economically viable alternative to surgical vagal nerve stimulation and pharmaceutical intervention.
Critchley HD, Eccles J, Garfinkel SN. Interaction between cognition, emotion, and the autonomic nervous system. Handb Clin Neurol. 2013;117:59-77. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-53491-0.00006-7. PMID: 24095116.
He W, Rong PJ, Li L, Ben H, Zhu B, Litscher G. Auricular Acupuncture May Suppress Epileptic Seizures via Activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System: A Hypothesis Based on Innovative Methods. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:615476. doi: 10.1155/2012/615476. Epub 2012 Feb 1. PMID: 22461842; PMCID: PMC3292226.
Kling, C. (1933). The role of the parasympathetics in emotions. Psychological Review, 40(4), 368–380. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0074922
Ruffle, J.K., Coen, S.J., Giampietro, V. et al. Preliminary report: parasympathetic tone links to functional brain networks during the anticipation and experience of visceral pain. Sci Rep 8, 13410 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-31522-2
Tindle J, Tadi P. Neuroanatomy, Parasympathetic Nervous System. [Updated 2021 Nov 5]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553141/