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Dr. Aimée Derbes, LAC

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13 W 28th St, Suite 5R
New York, NY, 10001
United States

The deal with ear seeds

Not a totally boring blog about acupuncture, breathwork, energy medicine, and self-healing

At my office in Manhattan (Flatiron / Union Square / Chelsea), I see patients who are dealing with chronic pain (back pain, neck and shoulder pain, knee pain, hip pain, and ankle pain), headaches + migraines, digestive issues (IBS, colitis), infertility, stress, insomnia, PMS, women's health, and autoimmune conditions (Lyme, Hashimoto's, thyroid conditions, and many more).

The deal with ear seeds

Aimée Derbes

If you’ve checked in with my Instagram lately, you’ve probably heard me mention ear seeds more than a few times. Ear seeds win as my all time favorite noninvasive, low tech treatment modality to support people with a wide variety of health issues in between acupuncture sessions and as a standalone modality. I offer them to my acupuncture patients, and once a month, I offer customized, donation-based ear seed treatments at healing arts centers, shops, and events in NYC — I’d love to meet and share ear seeds with you at an upcoming event if you’re in town .

I receive a lot of questions about ear seeds (if you’re not even sure what they are yet, read on) and have been working all year on a comprehensive resource for you all — I wrote a whole book, actually, but I’ll tell you a little more about that another time. Today, I’d like to get into what ear seeds are, where they come from, and how they work.

From China, by way of Europe

Auriculotherapy is the stimulation of the auricle, or external ear, using needles or pressure (in the form of tiny, stick on “seeds”) to treat symptoms and conditions located throughout the whole body. Based on the principles of acupuncture and East Asian medicine, auriculotherapy uses the ear as a tiny map for the whole body. There are hundreds of acupuncture points in the ear corresponding to just about every organ, hormone, and system.

You might be surprised to learn that auriculotherapy is a newcomer to East Asian medicine. Ear acupuncture was mentioned in some of the classic Chinese medical texts over the years, with specific references to its use for treating jaundice, epidemics, headaches, cataracts, and pain; however, no complete system or anatomical correspondences developed. In other parts of the world, cauterization (burning) of the ear to treat sciatic pain was performed in ancient Greek medicine, and was also part of the Islamic medical canon.

The modern systems of auriculotherapy originated in the late 1950s in Europe, which has a much longer tradition of acupuncture than we do in the U.S., and from there spread back to China. The story goes that a French doctor, Paul Nogier, noticed cauterization scars on the ears of patients whose sciatic pain had been cured; he traced the scars to a lay practitioner in Marseille, Mrs. Barrin, who had learned to treat sciatic pain using the technique from her father, who had himself learned it from a Chinese practitioner. She applied a hot needle to a specific area of the external ear (later determined by Nogier to correspond to the lumbar/sacral junction), and people reported that their sciatic pain disappeared quickly.

©Align Acupuncture PLLC

©Align Acupuncture PLLC

Nogier and other practitioners in France and Europe developed a complete system of anatomical correspondences between the ear and the rest of the body; like the homunculus represented in the brain (image search that one for fun if you don’t already know it), the functional activities of the body were mapped to the ear. Using practical experience and research, Nogier and his colleagues discovered that the ear showed correspondences in an inverted somatotopic (or body topography) representation, more colloquially known as the shape of an inverted fetus as it would be resting in the womb.

Chinese acupuncturists, tasked by Mao Zedong with reviving the use of acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, learned of Nogier’s work in 1958, and from there quickly studied, developed, and applied auriculotherapy far beyond what had been in practice before. Accordingly, two complete effective systems developed — the Chinese and French systems — which have both overlap and differences, and which have both been further developed in different parts of the world. There have been attempts over the decades to standardize ear maps and point locations; at present, there are variations, though many practitioners draw from both systems.

Today, many types of healthcare practitioners use auriculotherapy — acupuncturists, naturopaths and osteopaths, physicians, dentists, chiropractors, and therapists.

What do ear seeds help with?

Since the whole person is represented on the ear, pretty much any health issue can be supported with ear seeds — things like anxiety, depression, detoxification, digestive issues, fatigue, headaches, immunity, insomnia, libido, moon cycles, pain, quitting, stress, seasonal symptoms, and trauma, to start.

And, guess what — you don’t need an acupuncture license or specialized training to safely apply a few tiny, stick-on ear seeds to some of the many recognized therapeutic points on the ears — you can apply this self-healing modality at home, yourself.

How do they work?

In auriculotherapy, the ear is treated as a microsystem, or a self-contained system within the larger system of the whole body. You might have heard the saying “as above, so below” which refers to the concept that all the information of the whole is present in the part, and that the same patterns repeat and are visible at every level of the system. This is one of the theoretical bases for why microsystems work — they contain all the information of the whole and can thereby both reflect and affect it.

The specific anatomy of the ear makes it unique among microsystems and helps explain why ear seeds work. To start, the ear is enervated by 4 nerves, a lot for such a small structure. The working theory is that applying pressure to the external ear stimulates these nerves, which relay to the central nervous system, stimulating neurotransmitters that relax and reduce pain. There’s more and more research detailing these effects.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging studies have shown brain activity in the parts of the brain corresponding to the auricular acupuncture points selected — the point on the ear corresponding to the stomach point produces activity in the hypothalamus satiety center, same as if you were eating. The thumb area on the ear activates the precentral gyrus, which is same area activated by direct stimulation of an actual thumb. This means that our brains interpret stimulation of these corresponding ear points as stimulation of the actual body part, opening up a way to easily work with so many internal body structures using just the external ear. This is how intricate, smart, and magical our bodies are!

Beyond the nervous system connections and effects, though, other self-healing physiological processes are taking place: pressing on ear seeds has been shown to improve peripheral blood circulation, delivering more oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Research has also found that systemic endorphins and enkephalins, our natural analgesics/painkillers, are elevated after auricular treatment, as in full body acupuncture treatments. This is all happening with acupressure too, by the way.

These are pretty significant physiological effects for “just” some stick on seeds on your ears. This is why people tell me they feel calm, relaxed, more in their bodies, and less pain when using ear seeds, regardless of the health condition they’re targeting. It’s all real.

3 foundational points

There are hundreds of acupuncture points in the ears, and I use about 80 of them regularly. But there are 3 points that I use as the foundation of most treatments: Shen Men, Point Zero, and Heart. I’m including a little snapshot from my book that includes how to find these points and why I use them often.

©Align Acupuncture PLLC

©Align Acupuncture PLLC

Thanks for your curiosity about ear seeds! This was just a super quick intro — there is so much more info about why ear seeds work, why self-healing matters, and how to help your self heal using ear seeds in my new book, Seed Heal Now (order your copy here). You can quickly learn everything you need to know to use ear seeds to activate your body’s innate self-healing abilities, and support yourself with many common symptoms, right now. XO