Ear seeds are exactly what the name implies — tiny seeds that are placed on specific points of the ear. But the seeds aren’t meant to grow auricular plants. They are placed on known meridians on the outer ear to trigger the flow of energy and stimulate certain organs of the body.
Ancient Chinese healers practicing Traditional Chinese Medicine knew that the ear could be mapped and connected to major body organs and systems. This led to the popularity of ear acupuncture and acupressure benefits.
By stimulating very particular areas of the external ears with seeds, healers could resolve blockages that made patients sick.
What Are Ear Seeds?
Ear seeds are very small stick-on seeds or beads that are used to stimulate the external ear, which is also called the auricle. Using ear seeds or needles to apply pressure to the outer ear is called auriculotherapy.
Just like your feet, the ear has hundreds of acupuncture points that correspond with specific organs or body systems. Triggering these points is meant to allow for the proper flow of energy, called qi, in the body, which can resolve blockages that lead to health issues and prevent qi deficiency.
This idea of specific parts of the ear being linked to internal organs was first discovered in ancient China and noted in the medical classic “Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Medicine.” Today, auricular acupuncture is used for the diagnosis and treatment of several health conditions.
The ear seeds, or pellets, serve as stimuli to the ears, but they do not pierce the skin. Trained professionals commonly used plant seeds (usually from the vaccaria plant) or magnetic pearls to trigger a very specific area.
What Are They Used For?
There are hundreds of acupoints in the ear that, when stimulated, improve the flow of qi in the body. Ear seeds are sometimes applied after an acupuncture session in order to keep the energy pathways open and prolong the beneficial effects.
Most people use ear seeds in addition to a whole-body acupuncture session, but unlike the needles, seeds can be worn continuously for days at a time.
Ear seeds are used for a range of issues, from weight loss to addiction. Although research investigating the efficacy of ear seeds is limited, anecdotal reports suggest that they may help relieve issues such as:
- acute pain
- sleep issues
- anxiety and panic attacks
- weight issues
- stress eating
- low libido
How They Work
According to research published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the mechanisms of ear acupuncture have a close relationship with the autonomic nervous system and neuroendocrine system.
Its efficacy is based on the stimulation of neural reflexes, which makes it possible to relieve pain, anxiety and sleep issues by triggering ear acupoints.
Seed or pellet pressing is meant to open the energy pathways and stimulate nerves that relay messages to the central nervous system. The brain receives these stimulations, or messages, and activates the specific body part that’s been triggered.
Do They Work? Proven Benefits
Scientific studies supporting the efficacy of ear seeds is lacking, but there are some preliminary trials that show promising results. Some proven ear acupuncture benefits include its ability to:
1. Relieve Anxiety
A randomized clinical trial conducted in Brazil evaluated the effectiveness of auricular therapy in reducing pain and anxiety of hospital nursing staff members.
The participating nurses received 10 sessions of auricular therapy using ear seeds. Researchers found that there was a statistical difference for anxiety after the final assessment, although the best results were from ear acupuncture with needles.
There was also a 24 percent reduction of pain after using ear seed therapy.
2. Improve Sleep
A systematic review and meta-analysis published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that auricular acupuncture has a positive effect when used for insomnia.
Researchers concluded that ear acupuncture may serve as a cost-effective and safe therapy, but more studies are needed to fully understand its efficacy.
3. Relieve Pain
A 2012 study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine examined the benefits of using ear seeds for back pain in a seven-day treatment period.
When auricular point acupressure was used to reduce chronic low back pain, participants reported a 46 percent reduction in their worst pain and a 50 percent reduction in average pain; 62 percent of participants also reported using less pain medication.
4. Ease Addiction
A 3- to 5-point ear acupuncture protocol is the most widely implemented acupuncture-assisted protocol for substance abuse and broad behavioral health issues, according to research published in Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation.
Ear acupuncture and acupressure are commonly used for smoking cessation. Although several randomized, placebo-controlled trials on acupuncture have been performed, they’ve had conflicting results.
However, there’s evidence that ear acupuncture and acupressure have been beneficial for patients suffering from drug dependence.
5. Boost Weight Loss
A study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine found that ear acupressure with Japanese magnetic pearls or vaccaria seeds decreased body mass index in an eight-week, randomized controlled trial. The vaccaria seed method showed the greatest reduction in BMI.
Auricular acupressure did not, however, reduce total cholesterol, total triglycerides or LDL levels.
Are They Safe? Risks and Side Effects
Ear seeds are available as stick-ons, so they’re easy to use and don’t require a licensed acupuncturist. That said, for ear acupuncture to be effective, it’s important to work with a trained professional who knows how to find the appropriate acupoints on the outer ear.
Ear seeds are generally considered safe, as they are noninvasive and simply rest on the outer ear. There are a few types of ear seeds, including actual seeds from the vaccaria plant, crystal ear seeds, metal beads and ceramic beads.
If you notice signs of irritation after applying the seeds or pellets, then remove them right away. Researchers in China found that the most commonly reported adverse effects of auricular therapy were:
- local skin discomfort
Applying pressure to the seeds may cause minor irritation, so don’t do it too often. It’s also helpful to give your ears a rest after removing the seeds before you reapply.
In addition to general signs of skin irritation, some people experience ear acupuncture side effects like feeling lightheaded, drowsy or nauseous.
Women who are pregnant or immunocompromised patients should speak to their health care providers before trying ear acupuncture or acupressure.
- Ear seeds are tiny seeds, pellets, beads or crystals that are placed on ear pressure points to stimulate the flow of energy to other areas of the body.
- Auriculotherapy is used for range of health issues, including anxiety, pain, weight loss and addiction. Although the research on its efficacy is minimal and mixed, there are many reports of its benefits.
- You can apply ear seeds yourself or have them applied by a trained professional. They can stay on the ears for about five days at a time and they are generally considered safe.