OCT 31, 2016 6:00 PM PDT

Is Acupuncture Effective or Not?

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker
Needle pricks instead of popping pills? Maybe. A new study from the University of California, Irvine’s Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine has provided the first evidence of the molecular activity behind the hypertension-lowering potential of a “shocking” type of acupuncture.
 The study shows repetitive electroacupuncture evokes a long-lasting action in lowering blood pressure. Credit: Chris Nugent / UCI
An advanced form of acupuncture, called electroacupuncture for obvious reasons, involves the simultaneous insertion of two needles on specific point along the body. The needles are attached to a device that delivers continuous electrical pulses through small clips, and the electrical impulse frequency and intensity is adjustable. The electric pulses are usually given about thirty minutes at a time.
Electroacupuncture is believed by some to have first been used by European physicians in the 19th century. However, it is more likely that it began to be used in the 1940s by Japanese scientists interested in enhancing bone fractures recovery
Acupuncture is based on the principles of Chinese medicine:

“Illness is caused when qi does not flow properly throughout the body. Acupuncturists determine whether qi is weak, stagnant or otherwise out of balance, which indicates the points to be stimulated. Electroacupuncture is considered to be especially useful for conditions in which there is an accumulation of qi, such as in chronic pain syndromes, or in cases where the qi is difficult to stimulate.”

The new study, published in the journal Scientific Report, showed how regular electroacupuncture treatment in rats lowered hypertension by releasing the type of opioids that controls blood pressure from the brainstem: enkephalins.
Enkephalins are the smallest of molecules with pain-killing activity. They are found in the thalamus and some parts of the spinal cord. These opiates bind to opiate receptors and release controlled levels of pain, but they also impact many other bodily functions: digestive system motility, gastric secretion, pancreatic secretion, metabolism of carbohydrates, neuroendocrine system, gonadal function, regulation of memory and emotional conditions, food and liquid consumption, regulation of the immune system.
When the study rats were given electroacupuncture, researchers saw the increase in gene expression of enkephalins correlated with reduce blood pressure, which lasted for three days or more for all the rats studied. The study results provided strong evidence for the repetitive delivery electroacupuncture to obtain long-lasting lowering of blood pressure, according to the study scientists, “suggesting that this therapy may be suitable for treating clinical hypertension.”
Hypertension is known to impact the lives of nearly one-third of the world’s adult population, and it can lead to heart attack and stroke.

Sources: University of California, Irvine’s Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine, Acupuncture Today, AnaSpec
About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
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