Part 2 will outline the details of how specific acupuncture points have been proven to affect neural function, and we will discuss what the experience looks and feels like in a clinical setting. Until then, here are some academic papers to make all of you nerds happy.
Here is a note about acupuncture’s effect on neurotransmitters, addressed in a lecture given to the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture in 1999: “Acupuncture can speed up the wound healing process 92 and cause an exaggerated systemic wound healing and stress response. 93 , 94 The response can include excessive release of endorphin, which stimulates epithelial cell growth, 95 as well as analgesia. Other neurohumoral factors induced by acupuncture such as serotonin 96 and adrenocorticotropic (ACTH) hormone 97 also have growth-control effects. 98 (1)”
A 2010 article in Science Daily News goes into some detail regarding the most current research on acupuncture’s mechanism of action:
An August 2012 study of sciatic nerve damage in mice has come to the conclusion that acupuncture could be used as “a complementary approach to stimulate intrinsic motor fibres regrowth properties in patients…This study demonstrates that electro-acupuncture exerts a positive influence on motor recovery and is efficient in the treatment of pain symptoms that develop during target re-innervation.(3)” In attempting to understand the mechanism of this beneficial effect, the authors posit an association with the opioid-releasing effect of acupuncture as helping stimulate nerve repair, citing a 2007 study published in Brain Research that finds “that morphine may promote the regeneration and synaptic reconstruction of the terminals of injured primary unmyelinated afferent fibers in lamina II of spinal cord, by a process mediated by mu-opioid receptors.(4)”
A 2004 pilot study published in Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair examined 36 cases of post-stroke motor recovery using acupuncture, and found that specific sensorimotor functions were significantly improved compared to the control group, based on a number of possibly combined mechanisms of action:
And finally, to glorify the adenosine molecule to greater heights, I include the following 2008 study which examines the possible use of adenosine in inflammatory and immune pathways.
Acupuncture’s effect on the nervous system has been shown to elevate mood and relieve stress (an increasingly popular conception of acupuncture), but apparently this just scratches the surface. Acupuncture also helps regenerate nerve cells, helps perfuse injured brain tissue with beneficial blood for post-stroke recovery, initiates a strong anti-inflammatory effect and relieves symptoms of autoimmune diseases while strengthening the immune system against attack from outside forces.
Wait, wait… here is a picture of me, ACTUALLY NEURON-WHISPERING A HORSE!
Well, maybe we don't have the most soulful connection, YET. These things take time.
And for your gratuitous viewing pleasure, a riveting TED talk about the process of having a stroke, as experienced and recounted by a brain researcher!
1. Shang, Charles MD. MECHANISM OF ACUPUNCTURE – BEYOND NEUROHUMORAL THEORY; Lecture at the 1999 Annual Symposium of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture. Medical Acupuncture: A Journal For Physicians By Physicians. “Aurum Nostrum Non Est Aurum Vulgi” Fall 1999 / Wiinter 2000 Volume 11 / Number 2. http://www.medicalacupuncture.com/aama_marf/journal/vol11_2/conduct.html
2. Acupuncture’s Molecular Effects Pinned Down: New Insights Spur Effort to Boost Treatment’s Impact Significantly. ScienceDaily. 2010 May 31. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100530144021.htm (original article: http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v13/n7/full/nn.2562.html)
3. Ngoc S Hoang 1 , 4 , Chamroeun Sar 1 , Jean Valmier 1 , 3 , Victor Sieso 1 , 2 and Frédérique Scamps 1 . Electro-acupuncture on functional peripheral nerve regeneration in mice: a behavioural study. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012, 12:141 doi:10.1186/1472-6882-12-141 Published: 31 August 2012
4. Zeng YS , Nie JH , Zhang W , Chen SJ , Wu W . Morphine acts via mu-opioid receptors to enhance spinal regeneration and synaptic reconstruction of primary afferent fibers injured by sciatic nerve crush. Brain Res. 2007 Jan 26;1130(1):108-13. Epub 2006 Dec 13. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/portal/utils/pageresolver.fcgi?recordid=1354160406485082
5. David N. Alexander, Steven Cen, Katherine J. Sullivan, Gitu Bhavnani, Xiuling Ma, Stanley P. Azen and ASAP Study. Effects of Acupuncture Treatment on Poststroke Motor Recovery and Physical Function: A Pilot Study. Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair. 2004; 18; 259. DOI: 10.1177/1545968304271568 http://nnr.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/18/4/259
6. György Haskó ,* Joel Linden ,‡ Bruce Cronstein ,§ and Pál Pacher ? Adenosine receptors: therapeutic aspects for inflammatory and immune diseases. Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2008 September; 7(9): 759–770. doi: 10.1038/nrd2638 PMCID: PMC2568887 NIHMSID: NIHMS71616 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2568887/