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Healing Hands Wellness & Chiropractic Center


Acupuncture stimulates the release of natural painkillers in the body, new research suggests, providing a possible physiological explanation for how the treatment works.

The findings add credibility to the view that the alternative therapy has a medicinal effect beyond the placebo.

The ancient Chinese technique, in which fine needles are inserted into the skin at certain points on the body, is most commonly used to treat pain conditions such as headache, lower back pain and toothache, but some practitioners also claim to treat non-pain conditions including infertility, anxiety and asthma.

However, the lack of a plausible mechanism and inconclusive clinical trials have led many to conclude that it only works because people expect it to make them feel better.

In the study, carried out in mice, performing acupuncture appeared to increase levels of a natural compound called adenosine, known to have anti-inflammatory properties and to help regulate sleep and ease pain.

Maiken Nedergaard, a neuroscientist at the University of Rochester in New York, who led the study, said: “Acupuncture has been a mainstay of medical treatment in certain parts of the world for 4,000 years, but because it has not been understood completely, many people have remained sceptical.”

However, others maintained that random-controlled clinical trials in people remain the ultimate test of efficacy. Edzard Ernst, a professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter, said that so far clinical trials have provided little convincing proof that real acupuncture works better than sham acupuncture in which needles are pressed onto the skin without puncturing it. “We need both a mechanism and the clinical evidence. Unless the two are there, sceptics won’t be convinced. As clinical trials become more rigorous, if it becomes clear that it doesn’t work then any potential mechanism is completely irrelevant,” he said.

In the study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the team performed acupuncture treatments on mice that had discomfort in one paw. The mice each received a 30-minute acupuncture treatment at a well-known acupuncture point near the knee. Very fine needles were rotated gently every five minutes, similar to standard acupuncture treatments in people.

In mice with normal levels of adenosine, acupuncture reduced discomfort by two-thirds. During and immediately after an acupuncture treatment, the level of adenosine in the tissues near the needles was 24 times greater than before the treatment.

However, in special “adenosine receptor knock-out mice” that had been genetically engineered to lack the adenosine receptor, acupuncture had no effect.


Acupuncture Stimulates Release of Natural Painkillers


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