Recent Insights into the Science Behind Acupuncture

February 8, 2012 at 12:45 pm Leave a comment

By James McVeigh, clinic assistant

The Ancient Chinese discipline of acupuncture has an array of potential health benefits, which throughout its long history have been explained as a result of the regulation of qi flow. Needle insertion at acupoints corrects imbalances in this flow, often providing pain relief and a decrease in stress levels.

Although little regarding qi has been discovered by researchers, recent work has revealed some of the biological processes that result from usage of the technique.

A recent American study published in Experimental Biology and Medicine showed that acupuncture reduces the blood levels of the protein neuropeptide Y (NPY) in rats. It may sound strange to test the therapy using rat subjects, but they have proven to be useful indicators in other stress experiments. As well as having a similar biological response to humans, their stress levels can be easily manipulated using low temperatures. Stress is still not fully understood, but the same protein, NPY, is released by both humans and rats when stressed.

During stress, blood flow is constricted to the heart, lungs and brain as a response to danger and the body preparing to either fight or run. However, this response to danger occurs all too often in the fast-paced, modern world of work that our bodies were never designed for. Too much of this blood flow constriction causes cardiac disease and elevated blood pressure. Acupuncture could therefore be an invaluable tool against not only these health problems but also the negative mental effects of stress.

Interestingly, a second experiment carried out by the researchers four days after the original treatment showed that the NPY levels remained low despite the rats being exposed to continuous stress since the acupuncture. What this means is that as well as acupuncture treating stress it can also be used as protection against it.

“It has long been thought that acupuncture can reduce stress, but this is the first study to show molecular proof of this benefit,” says the study’s lead author, Ladan Eshkevari, Ph.D. The researchers are now testing for acupuncture’s effects on other stress symptoms, and so far the results are looking promising.


Entry filed under: Acupuncture.

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