Whether it’s a cure-all wellness drink or sex-charged yoga classes, there’s always a new way celebs are battling the ailments of the modern age. Of course, us mortals experience a similar slew of wellness woes–stress caused by crazy schedules, hormonal imbalance thanks to who knows what, vaguely unpleasant digestive issues…sound familiar? While there’s unlikely a panacea for all that ails us (sorry, charcoal-laced lemonade), there may be a low maintenance alternative treatment that can help take the edge off.
Developed in the 1950s by French doctor and vibrational frequency therapy proponent Paul Nogier, auricular therapy (or ear acupuncture) combines methods of western and eastern acupuncture to address a range of mental and physical maladies. Auricular therapy treats the ear as a microcosm of the human body—like reflexology, this form of acupuncture, in theory, can use one part of the body (in this case, a point on the ear) to treat another part of the body.
Auricular therapy is used to treat chronic pain, isolated injury, general stress, addiction, and infertility. A version of auricular therapy known as “Battlefield Acupuncture” is used by the American and British militaries to treat the pain and stress associated with PTSD.
Penélope Cruz, Madonna, Bar Rafaeli, Demi Moore, Kate Moss, and David Grohl of the Foo Fighters are some of the stars reported to have used auricular therapy to treat stress and rebalance the body.
How Does It Work?
“The outer ear acts like a switchboard to the brain and each point triggers electrical impulses, from the ear, via the brain, to the area of the body being treated,” explains Nick Dalton-Brewer, an acupuncturist at London’s Hale Clinic. There are at least 200 acupressure points on the ear, which connect to various parts of the body—from the liver to the spleen to the mouth.
Sessions begin with a consultation that helps the acupuncturist learn about the patient’s lifestyle, health, and any problems they’re looking to treat. Afterward, patients are treated with up to 10 needles in each ear, which are left in for 10 to 45 minutes.
After the needles are removed, patients may also receive a little “take home” treatment: ”They can then be left with ‘ear seeds,’” Dalton-Brewer says. These “stimulate the acupressure points and allow [patients] to enjoy the effects of acupuncture after they leave the clinic. The seeds can be anything hard, from mustard seeds to gold-plated press studs or coiled pins, held against the ear with surgical tape. In more severe cases, needles can be left in place … but this is invasive and there can be problems with infection if they’re not kept clean. The patient can rub these studs or seeds when they feel a re-emergence of their symptoms.”
Does It Work?
While many practitioners of Western medicine recognize that auricular therapy may serve as a beneficial complementary therapy, it’s efficacy is difficult to scientifically test. “It’s hard to study because people have pain and stress for different reasons,” says Dr. Tony Chon, a medical acupuncturist with the Mayo Clinic’s Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program. Consequently, it’s not often recommended as the sole line of treatment for any given condition.
When used to treat infertility, auricular therapy is seen by some docs as a plus if it helps reduce stress, a known barrier to speedy conception:
“The stress of not getting pregnant makes it less likely to get pregnant, so we encourage everyone to try anything they find helpful for stress as we help them with the medical side of it,” said Dr. William Hurd, division chief of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.
“Some studies have shown that acupuncture increases IVF rates,” he said. ”Based on the limited data, we don’t recommend it, but we do offer it.”
Unlike some beauty and wellness treatments beloved by celebrities (24-karat gold facial, anyone?), auricular therapy has a pretty modest price tag (around $30).
Bottom line: We don’t know enough about auricular therapy to say with certainty that it can cure x, y, and z. But given that it’s rather affordable, and it does seem to help people feel less stressed (and stress can exacerbate other maladies), it wouldn’t hurt to ask your doctor about supplementing your wellness regime with ear acupuncture.
Have you tried auricular therapy?
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Photo: Bar Refaeli via Instagram