There are many people who remain skeptical of therapies that lie outside the realm of scientifically sound western medicine. A study published Sunday in the journal Nature Neuroscience provides scientific backing that may just turn those skeptics into believers.
Researchers at the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center found that the molecule adenosine was released in the areas surrounding acupuncture needle insertion in mice. Adenosine is one of the body’s natural painkillers, also helps to regulate sleep and has anti-inflammatory properties. When activated after an injury, the chemical blocks nerve signals to reduce pain, but the scientists found that adenosine also caused a reaction in deeper tissues treated by acupuncture.
“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,” said Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, lead author of the study, said in a press release. “In this work, we provide information about one physical mechanism through which acupuncture reduces pain in the body.”
The reaction to acupuncture in the mice showed 24 times the amount of adenosine near the insertion points versus those without any acupuncture treatment. The team then brought eastern and western science together by testing whether the cancer-treating medication deoxycoformycin, which helps sustain the level of adenosine in the system, would increase the pain-relieving benefits. They found that the two treatments make a good combination, coming close to tripling the level of adenosine in tissue surrounding the needle and more than tripling the length of time without discomfort.
“It’s clear that acupuncture may activate a number of different mechanisms,” said Josephine P. Briggs, M.D., director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health in the press release. “This carefully performed study identifies adenosine as a new player in the process.”