Since ages, acupuncture has been used to cure all kinds of pain. Yet many consider it as unscientific and dismiss it as a mere placebo. But new research gives a scientific explanation for acupuncture effects and why it might work. This method is often used to treat different kinds of pain ranging from lower back pain to migraines and osteoarthritis.
Does it really work? Previous studies on acupuncture effects gave mixed results. Also there are conflicting views on the clinical guidelines for the usage of this method. A new study was published in the journal “Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine”. It checks on some of the reasons on why the previous studies have termed this method as controversial. A team of scientists from the biomedical research institute LA BioMed carried out the new study. Dr. Sheng-Xing Ma is the study’s corresponding author who is the lead researcher at LA BioMed.
Studying Acupuncture Effects
Dr. Ma and his team used a device that allowed them to collect samples of human molecules from the skin. This helped them to carefully study the effect of needling. The device is non-invasive bio-capture device which can collect samples of human bio-molecules at specific regions of the skin. With the help of this device, the team could get the first evidence that nitric oxide is let out from the human skin. It is usually in the higher level of proper acupuncture methodology and with heat.
A group of 25 male and female participants between the ages 18 and 60 participated in this study. The team of researchers conducted manual acupuncture of “low-force per rate” method. They inserted acupuncture needles gently into the skin for about 20 minutes.
Throughout this period, the needles were twisted after every 5 minutes. The needles were delicately twisted according to the standard reinforcement procedure for 2 minutes, or until the feeling of soreness, numbness or pain was achieved.
In order to see the effects of needling as nitric oxide is released on the skin, the team taped the device along with a collecting solution on to the skin of the participants. Making sure that the two pathways i.e. the pericardium and lungs along which the energy flows in the body are covered.
Nitric Oxide Levels During Acupuncture
Electrical heat of around 43 to 44°C for about 20 minutes was also applied by the team. A 20 minute bio-capture session was carried out two times during and after the treatment. High levels of nitric oxide was seen at the acupoints along the two pathways during the experiment.
The authors explain that the nitric oxide levels increase the blood flow. This in turn triggers the release of analgesic substances which makes the skin feel warm. This again enhances the therapeutic effect due to needling. However the reasons for the above mechanism are still unclear and a more sophisticated approach may give answers.
The researchers applied a reduction method to test the findings of the study. For this, they inserted the needles with high force as well as high frequency.
Dr. Ma explains that “As per the traditional acupuncture technique, the needles are slowly twisted with gentle force or by heat to attain reinforcement. Rapid twisting is done with great force to attain reduction. Reinforcement leads to local feeling of warmth whereas reduction leads to a local feeling of cold.”
Nitric oxide levels decrease under reduced conditions. So, the authors suggest that the difference between the above two methods account for the differing results found in various acupuncture trials. The team also mentions that they will continue to examine the differences between the above methods. This helps them to understand how effective each method is for pain relief. Also it helps them to grasp the bio-molecular mechanisms that aid in pain reduction.