Proof: The Science of Acupuncture

Evidence based acupuncture
November 25, 2017
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August 6, 2018

Proof: The Science of Acupuncture

Melbourne Acupuncture Clinic, scientific acupuncture therapy

Is there scientific proof for Acupuncture?  Many sceptics maintain that acupuncture is merely a placebo and has no scientific foundation.

Acupuncture – the scientific proof

Contrary to the beliefs held by sceptics, there is currently a huge amount of scientific evidence supporting not only the efficacy of acupuncture as a treatment for a host of ailments, but also the mechanisms of this ancient therapy in the body. So how does acupuncture work?

When an acupuncture needle is inserted into a point the needle stimulates sensory nerves. We know this because the acupuncture effect goes away if we block those nerves. If we cut the effect of the motor nerves the therapy still works.

Sensory (Afferent) nerves carry a stimulus message to the brain

Motor nerves carry a movement message from the brain

Scientific proof for Acupuncture

Researchers have mapped the pathways of the nervous system that acupuncture works on including different levels of the brain, spinal cord and nerves including reflexes which travel from the legs to the organs.

According to Doctor John Longhurst who conducted a large number of studies – over 40 in total – showing that electro- and manual acupuncture applied at specific acupuncture points lowers short-term elevations (by about 50%) and long-term elevations in blood pressure through stimulation of sensory nerve fibres underlying the acupuncture points. Unlike pain, which is subjective, this is a measurable outcome.

Research indicates that Acupuncture channel pathways mirror nervous system pathways. A systematic review of functional MRI scans show changes to the brain in real-time during acupuncture treatment. Acupuncture consistently activates areas of the brain which stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and reduce the effects of sympathetic nervous system i.e. the fight or flight/stress response. Acupuncture stimulates peripheral nerves triggering a cascade that causes changes in the brain and internal organs

BIOMOLECULAR CHANGES CAUSED BY ACUPUNCTURE:

ENDORPHINS

  • Endogenous morphine (natural morphine produced by the body)
  • Acupuncture stimulates the release of painkilling neuropeptides
  • Naloxone prevents the effect of morphine; it also blocks the effect of acupuncture indicating a link between acupuncture and morphine.
  • High CCK-8 is a non-responder to acupuncture. It blocks both morphine and acupuncture indicating a further link.

Needle therapy has also been shown to help increase sensitivity to morphine resulting in the potential to reduce the amount of opioid medication required to treat pain.

ATP & ADENOSINE

  • ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate) is energy produced by cells in the body
  • When ATP is released from cells it degrades to Adenosine which is a neurotransmitter a signaling molecule and pain reliever

A study carried out by Goldman in 2010 used field mice and genetically modified mice to test the effects of acupuncture. The genetically modified mice were bred without adenosine receptors; therefore, the study compared mice with adenosine receptors and mice without adenosine receptors. The result found that Acupuncture was only effective in mice with adenosine Receptors indicating acupuncture was not just a placebo.

Taking the principles of this study further in 2012 Takahiro Takano carried out a similar study on humans and found the following:

The interstitial adenosine concentration increased significantly during acupuncture and remained elevated for 30 minutes after the acupuncture. Acupuncture mediated adenosine release was not observed if acupuncture was not delivered in the Zusanli point or if the acupuncture needle was inserted, but not rotated.

Adenosine levels increase in areas of inflammation and hypoxia, where it protects tissues by restoring the oxygen supply: demand ratio, as well as affecting preconditioning, exerting anti-inflammatory effects, and stimulating angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels).

Adenosine favours the resolution of pathologies such as epilepsy, pain, ischemia, inflammation, and cancer, in which it behaves like a guardian angel against cellular damage.

New adenosinergic drugs for pain, inflammatory diseases, and cancer are already in clinical development.

FASCIA AND EXTRACELLULAR MATRIX

When an acupuncture needle is inserted and stimulated it stretches fascial fibroblasts and they granulate causing a cascading effect. Fibroblasts are cells that maintain the structural integrity of the connective tissue and play a crucial role in wound healing. They are the most common connective tissue cells in animals.

Therefore, it can be said that:

Acupuncture stimulates the body to release its own natural pain killers. It also stimulates the release of molecules associated with tissue healing and disease resolution.”

Even though Acupuncture has its beginnings in a time before Western Medicine was researching and objectively looking at the scientific theory underpinning the practice, there is empiric proof that the therapy is effective.  Moreover, it is a way to re-engage the body in its own healing process, rather than just treating the symptoms of disease.  This becomes clearer, the more we learn to understand the science on which needle therapy rests.

There is more to the ancient science of Acupuncture than meets the eye.