Acupuncture: Why It Works
By Dr. Mercola
More than 3 million Americans receive acupuncture each year, and its use is increasing.1 While there are a variety of acupuncture techniques, those typically used in the U.S. incorporate traditions from China, Japan and Korea and involve penetrating your skin with a thin needle at certain points on your body.
The needle is then stimulated by hand or electrically.2 Acupuncture has been in use for thousands of years around the globe, and it has withstood the test of time because it works to safely relieve many common health complaints.
How it works has remained largely a mystery, but last year researchers revealed a biochemical reaction that may be responsible for some of acupuncture’s beneficial effects.
Scientists Reveal How Acupuncture Reduces Inflammation and Pain
An animal study looking into the effects of acupuncture on muscle inflammation revealed that manual acupuncture downregulates (or turns off) pro-inflammatory cells known as M1 macrophages. At the same time, it upregulates (or activates) anti-inflammatory M2 macrophages, thereby reducing pain and swelling.3
This is an effective strategy because M2 macrophages are a source of anti-inflammatory interleukin-10 (IL-10), a cytokine involved in immune response. It’s thought that upregulating M2 macrophages leads to an increase in IL-10, which subsequently helps relieve pain and inflammation. The Epoch Times reported:4
“Acupuncture literally flips a switch wherein initial inflammatory responses are reduced and the secondary healing responses are promoted.
M1 macrophage downregulation and M2 macrophage upregulation triggered by acupuncture was positively associated with reductions in muscle pain and inflammation.”
It’s likely that acupuncture works via a variety of mechanisms. In 2010, for instance, it was found that acupuncture activates pain-suppressing receptors and increased the concentration of the neurotransmitter adenosine in local tissues.5
Adenosine slows down your brain’s activity and induces sleepiness. According to a Nature Neuroscience press release:6
“ … [T]he authors propose a model whereby the minor tissue injury caused by rotated needles triggers adenosine release, which, if close enough to pain-transmitting nerves, can lead to the suppression of local pain.”
Acupuncture Influences Your Body on Multiple Levels
With documented use dating back more than 2,500 years, acupuncture is based on the premise that there are more than 2,000 acupuncture points in the human body, which are connected by bioenergetic pathways known as meridians.
According to traditional medicine, it is through these pathways that Qi, or energy, flows, and when the pathway is blocked the disruptions can lead to imbalances and chronic disease.
Acupuncture is proven to impact a number of chronic health conditions, and it may work, in part, by stimulating your central nervous system to release natural chemicals that alter bodily systems, pain and other biological processes. Evidence suggests that acupuncture may also work by:7
- Stimulating the conduction of electromagnetic signals, which may release immune system cells or pain-killing chemicals
- Activation of your body’s natural opioid system, which may help reduce pain or induce sleep
- Stimulation of your hypothalamus and pituitary gland, which impact numerous body systems
- Change in the secretion of neurotransmitters and neurohormones, which may positively influence brain chemistry
1, 2 National Health Statistics Report February 10, 2015
3 Molecular Neurobiology February 2015
4 Epoch Times May 27, 2016
5 Nature Neuroscience 13, 883–888 (2010)
6 Nature Neuroscience July 2010
7World Health Organization, Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials, 2003