In western medicine, doctors are notoriously slow to embrace new techniques. Even more amazing is how slow they are to accept even minimally invasive treatments with a successful track record spanning hundreds or thousands of years.
Acupuncture, rooted in Traditional Chinese medicine, is one of these largely ignored yet proven pain treatments. It seems that treatments whose workings remain a mystery cannot be accepted as good medicine in some circles.
As Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, co-director of the University of Rochester’s Center for Translational Neuromedicine explains, “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 skeptical.”
New research conducted at the University of Rochester appears to have uncovered one of the physical mechanisms through which acupuncture relieves pain in the body-finally providing solid scientific evidence supporting what proponents of acupuncture have known for millennia: it works.
Specifically, the researchers discovered that the insertion and rotation of acupuncture needles in mice greatly stimulated their body’s
production of adenosine-finding an increase of 2400% in tissues near the site of insertion. Besides helping regulate sleep and acting as an anti-inflammatory, adenosine serves as a natural painkiller similar to the localanesthetic lidocaine.
The researchers were further able to prove that acupuncture had no effect on specially prepared mice without an adenosine receptor, but tripled its effectiveness on regular mice when a cancer drug known to make the elimination of adenosine from tissue more difficult was administered. And since the study was conducted on mice, researchers were also able to eliminate any concerns about a “placebo effect.”
Here’s the bottom line. Acupuncture works even if we do not completely understand every aspect of how it relieves pain. More importantly, it reduces pain without nearly the risk of pharmaceutical drugs and most other modern interventions. If you’re suffering from any kind of pain, acupuncture is worth considering.
Goldman N, et al. Adenosine A1 receptors mediate local anti-nociceptive effects of acupuncture. Nature Neuroscience. 2010 May 30; doi:10.1038/nn.2562.