The Truth About Ear Seeds
It’s the latest trend making waves in the wellness world, but does this acupuncture-based healing method really work? Here’s everything you need to know.
If your eyes are the windows into your soul, then your ears are the gateway to your health and wellbeing. At least that’s what those who subscribe to the latest healing hack, ear seeds, would have you believe.
The practice, which involves placing multiple poppy-seed-size granules on your ear to activate pressure points, is reaching peak popularity among celebrities and Instagram enthusiasts. It is by no means a new concept. In fact, it is rooted in traditional Chinese medicine and borrows from an addiction recovery acupuncture treatment developed in the ’70s at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx.
“Ear seeds are a catchall term for any object used to activate an acupuncture point on the pinna, or outside section of the ear,” explains Lynette Daudt, a licensed acupuncturist and Chinese herbal medicine practitioner in Boise, ID. Their resurgence reflects a growing interest in natural ways to ease stress and improve health. Daudt says among her clients, ear seeds are one of this year’s must-try wellness trends.
But whether stimulating a small section of your earlobe really can really make as large an impact on your health as lacing up and going for a run is up for debate. Here’s what the experts have to say.
Ear Seeds 101
Traditionally harvested from the flowering vaccaria plant, these tiny seeds are used as a standalone treatment or as a complement to acupuncture. Some of the most common health concerns addressed by ear seeds include pain, stress, anxiety, digestive disorders and headaches, according to Aimée Derbes, owner of Align Acupuncture in New York City and author of Seed Heal Now. Practitioners say ear seeds can also help those who experience issues with weight and sleeping.
You’re probably wondering how all this works. In Eastern medicine, the ear is believed to contain dozens of acupuncture points, each representing specific areas and functions in the body. “The ear, like the hand and foot, is a microcosm of the whole body,” believes Daudt. “You can treat the entire body just by using ear seeds.” For this reason, the seeds are strategically placed around the ear using an invisible adhesive, resulting in light pressure against the skin without any puncturing.
The idea is that the wearer can massage the seeds in a gentle, circular motion for a minute or two, a few times throughout the day. This stimulation provides continued relief for whatever your specific ailment may be. “You can apply more pressure to the seed for more stimulation and relief,” explains Corinne Kohrherr, an acupuncturist, nurse practitioner and owner of Akoya Acupuncture in New York City.
In addition to treating specific health issues, ear seeding is meant to help bring balance to the body, restoring its flow of vital energy or Qi. “The acupuncture points are particularly electroconductive and stimulating them creates a pulse of energy that is carried deep into the body,” says Energy Medicine author Jill Blakeway, an acupuncturist, energy healer and founder of New York City’s YinOva Center.
“The working theory is that applying pressure to the external ear stimulates the four nerves that innervate the ear, which then relay signals to the central nervous system, stimulating neurotransmitters that relax your body and reduce pain,” says Derbes. Like acupuncture and acupressure, ear seeds improve blood circulation, delivering more oxygen and nutrients throughout the body and raising an anti-inflammatory immune response.
Still, like other forms of alternative medicine, research surrounding ear seeds is thin. Some studies suggest they work to alleviate pain, but much of these findings are small and self-reported. So for now, the benefits of ear seeds are mainly anecdotal (which doesn’t mean they don’t work, it just means more research needs to be done).
Giving Ear Seeds a Try
While the application of ear seeds may seem like the perfect DIY project thanks to their adhesive backs (and the fact that you can score a pack of 600 for a mere $23 on Amazon), you may want to leave it up to the pros. Here’s why: There are more than 200 acupressure/acupuncture points in the ear and the placement of each seed needs to be spot on to yield the results you’re looking for. That’s hard to do without practice and true knowledge of the ear. Plus “everyone’s ear has a unique shape or presentation, and the point locations vary slightly from ear to ear,” says Kohrherr.
Still, almost anyone with knowledge of acupuncture can apply them for you, and their non-invasive nature makes them a great option if you’re curious about Eastern medicine but sickened by the prospect of needles.
Kohrherr credits their surge in popularity with plain old visibility. Along with appearing on the Instagram feeds of various pro athletes and celebs, ear seeds have found their way onto the fashion scene. Beyond the traditional botanical seeds, ear seeds are now offered in crystal, ceramic, gold, silver, titanium and stainless steel beads—to name a few. They are seen, not just as a means to a healthy end, but much like your favorite pair of sneakers, a way of expressing personal style.
Whatever your reason for trying them, ear seeds are low commitment. If you decide you don’t like them, they typically fall off on their own after about four to seven days. Or, simply remove them yourself. But if word of mouth is any way to judge, you might find yourself getting hooked on these little nuggets of wellness. More energy, less stress and fewer aches and pains? That’s music to any athlete’s ears.