by Caroline von Fluegge-Chen
Auriculotherapy was developed by Dr. Paul Nogier, a neurologist, in the 1950’s. He became interested in the study when several of his sciatic patients related how they had been helped by a middle eastern woman. They reported that their suffering ended after she put a hot needle into their ears. Nogier began his quest to understand more of this system.
Since then, researchers such as Terry Oleson, PhD from UCLA, and Dr. Jay Holder in Miami, FL have expanded Nogier’s work. Oleson, using radioisotope techniques, showed how these ear points could be located and identified their relationship to areas of the body. The acupuncture meridians do not innervate the ear. Originally, Chinese medicine evolved to include a form of auriculotherapy that used needles placed in the ear to treat opiate addictions as well as other problems, Nogier became aware, however, that auricular points differ from acupuncture points: Auricular points can move; acupuncture points are stationary. To detect the movable points, Nogier used elaborate cameras with filters but it was time-consuming. Today, a noninvasive microstimulation device is used to not only detect the points but to deliver a microcurrent that effectively treats the points faster and more accurately than would be possible with a needle. The microcurrent feels like a slight prick with a needle which patients find just barely noticeable.
Uses of Auriculotherapy
The five addictions: drugs, food, gambling, sex, and work
Jay Holder, DC, MD, PhD, Medical Director of the Exodus Treatment Center in Miami Beach, FL, conducted research in 1990 using auriculotherapy in combination with the standard 12-step program for addiction recovery. The results were dramatic. Using 66 participants, Dr. Holder demonstrated that patients receiving auriculotherapy treatments without medications were ten times more likely to complete a thirty-day residential treatment than patients who did not receive auriculotherapy. More recently, Dr. Holder has done research to see if using chiropractic and amino acid supplements will increase the overall success rate of treatment with first-time drug offenders. The success rate of his program was so impressive that it helped give Miami national recognition for a decreased crime rate. Dr. Holder has met with Attorney General Janet Reno and drug czar McCaffrey to discuss the success of his programs. It is hoped that the government will recommend that 12-step programs include auriculotherapy, chiropractic and nutritional supplementation as the standard treatment for drug offenders.
The Brain Reward Deficiency Syndrome
All vertebrates produce neurotransmitters, chemical messengers in the brain such as serotonin, that make us feel good and give us a sense of well-being. In all addictive behavior, there is a deficiency of these neurotransmitters and, thus, a deficiency of feel-good chemicals. The drug or compulsive behavior is sought to bring up the feelings of well-being that nonaddictive people have naturally. Other neurotransmitters, such as endorphins, when not present in sufficient amounts will lead to chronic pain syndromes. The addictive behavior will then produce an increase in these chemicals and lessen the chronic pain.
Addiction is a multifactorial disease having psychosocial, spiritual, genetic and metabolic components. It is important to realize that once an addict, always an addict. In dealing with addictions, the goal is to remove the behavior through a natural process of encouraging patient compliance with the 12-step program and to restore the balance of neurotransmitters that will allow the person to feel good about him/herself.
The Neurology of Auriculotherapy
Dr. Paul Nogier noted that the ear is one of the few anatomical structures that is composed of tissue from each of the three tissue types in the developing embryo. He believed the ectodermal tissue(superficial), mesodermal tissue(middle) and endodermal tissue (deep) of the ear could be stimulated to affect the organs and systems that also formed from these same tissues. With over 120 points in the ear, this corresponds to just about everything one could imagine.
Acupuncture research sheds light on the underlying effects of stimulating auricular points. The ear is innervated by four cranial nerves and by the second, third and fourth cervical ganglion nerves. Direct evidence that stimulation of acupuncture points produces endorphins has been verified by Sjolund and Eriksson (1976) and by Abbate et al (1980). Assaying plasma B-endorphin concentrations in subjects undergoing surgery, they observed a significant increase in B-endorphins after acupuncture stimulation when combined with nitrous oxide inhalation, whereas control subjects given nitrous oxide without acupuncture showed no such elevation of endorphins.
Classical Chinese medicine describes five ear points that produce beneficial results. However working with new information about the energetics and neurology of the ear, Dr. Holder has identified three new treatment points for all addictions. These derive from the fact that there are four cranial nerves that have nerve endings throughout the ear.
Dr. Holder practices a form of ear acupuncture that uses a microcurrent rather than needles with about 20% of his patients. Auriculotherapy helps relax patients, which opens addicted persons to the therapy program and encourages compliance. It also enables them to feel less apathetic and more highly motivated to stay off drugs. It reduces drug cravings and their sense of physical and emotional withdrawal.
Dr Holder also uses a device of his own invention–the Stim-Plus Pro, which is a small hand-held probe that delivers between five and 20 Hz in microcurrent to specific ear points for 15 to 30 seconds per point. This compares to needle-delivered ear acupuncture which requires anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes of stimulation. This microcurrent probe is painless, efficient and specific, and helps release the pleasure-producing brain chemicals called endorphins more quickly and thoroughly than needle treatment.
Like falling dominoes, brain chemicals must be released in the right sequence for you to feel a sense of pleasure. If that release, or neurotransmitter “cascade,” is interrupted, you don’t experience enjoyment.
The use of auriculotherapy is blossoming in Asia, and now that the World Health Organization declared it to be a viable medical therapy in 1989, it is likely to gain in popularity here in North America, as well.
The use of auriculotherapy for nicotine addiction can be used effectively if done with a motivated patient. Many successful cases have been reported after only one or two treatments.
Auriculotherapy is not meant to be, nor claims to be, a treatment for all diseases. A proper evaluation and diagnosis is needed to determine if auriculotherapy would be the most appropriate treatment.