It's been dismissed as mere quackery-but acupuncture targets the same biological pathways that painkillers recognise, suggesting that the Chinese therapy is every bit as effective for countering chronic stress and pain. It could also be a powerful antidepressant, say scientists.
The benefits of acupuncture have been 'anecdotal'-or reported by practitioners and their patients-but researchers at Georgetown University Medical Centre say they have now worked out its mechanism.
By testing the therapy on laboratory rats, they have discovered it targets the same biological pathways that painkilling drugs also recognise, and produces similar biological effects.
The researchers applied electro-acupuncture to a powerful acupuncture point-stomach meridian 36-which blunts activity in the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis, the pathway associated with chronic pain, the immune system, mood and emotions. It reduced the production of stress hormones which are typical in the chronic stress response.
The rats either had acupuncture, 'sham' acupuncture-where it was applied to the wrong area of the body-or no treatment.
(Source: Endocrinology, 2015; EN.2015-1018)