New research suggests a mechanism for how acupuncture relieves stress.
New research published in the Journal of Endocrinology has shown how acupuncture relieves stress. Whilst it has long been believed that acupuncture relieves stress the mechanism of how it does this was unknown:
“Many practitioners of acupuncture have observed that this ancient practice can reduce stress in their patients, but there is a lack of biological proof of how or why this happens. We’re starting to understand what’s going on at the molecular level that helps explain acupuncture’s benefit,” says study researcher Dr. Ladan Eshkevari, associate professor of nursing at Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Studies, USA.
The interplay of stress hormones of the hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal axis (HPA) and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is critical in the stress response. The researchers chose to study whether electroacupuncture (EA) at point ST. 36 (zusanli) is effective in preventing stress-induced increased hormone level. They did this in a study of rats, who have the same acupuncture point in the same area of the leg.
The researchers split the rats into 4 groups. One group was a control with no added stress and no acupuncture. One group was stressed but didn’t receive acupuncture, one group was stressed but received ‘sham’ acupuncture and the fourth group was stress and received real acupuncture. The rats were stressed by exposure to cold. The EA St36 animals demonstrated a significant decrease in peripheral HPA hormones (ACTH and CORT) compared with stress animals. These effects were specific; rats receiving Sham-EA had elevation of these hormones, similar to the stress-only animals. They also investigated a peptide involved in the ‘fight or flight’ response, called neuropeptide Y (NPY). According to Dr. Eshkevari, “electronic acupuncture blocks the chronic, stress-induced elevations of the HPA axis hormones and the sympathetic NPY pathway”. This may be a mechanism for its specific stress-allaying effects.