The Guardian reports that a team of researchers led by Dr. Maiken Nedergaard of University of Rochester have discovered why acupuncture is able to alleviate pain, and it surprisingly isn’t all attributable to the placebo effect. In a study published online this weekend in Nature Neuroscience, mice with sore paws were given half hour acupuncture sessions. The researchers found that rotation of the acupuncture needles damaged tissue, which caused a release of adenosine, a known anti-inflammatory mediator. Mice which lacked adenosine receptors did not benefit from acupuncture treatment, which further supports the study’s findings.
From The Guardian‘s coverage:
Nedergaard said that twisting the needles seems to cause enough damage to make cells release the painkilling chemical. This is then picked up by adenosine receptors on nearby nerves, which react by damping down pain. Further tests on the mice revealed that levels of adenosine surged 24-fold in the tissues around the acupuncture needles during and immediately after each session.
One of the longstanding mysteries surrounding acupuncture is why the technique only seems to alleviate pain if needles are inserted at specific points. Nedergaard believes that most of these acupuncture points are along major nerve tracks, and as such are parts of the body that have plenty of adenosine receptors.
In a final experiment, Nedergaard’s team injected mice with a cancer drug that made it harder to remove adenosine from their tissues. The drug, called deoxycoformycin, boosted the effects of acupuncture dramatically, more than tripling how long the pain relief lasted.
More from the Guardian: Acupuncture may ease pain by triggering release of natural painkiller…
Full text of the study in Nature Neuroscience: Adenosine A1 receptors mediate local anti-nociceptive effects of acupuncture
Flashbacks: In-Depth Reporting on Acupuncture; The Trouble with Acupuncture; Acupuncture and Breast Cancerâ€¦ Ancient Gadgets!