News / Health

Acupuncture Triggers Natural Painkillers

Finding could lead to more effective, longer-lasting pain treatment

Researchers are closer to unlocking the mysteries of acupuncture, learning more about why the ancient Chinese needle treatment eases pain.
Researchers are closer to unlocking the mysteries of acupuncture, learning more about why the ancient Chinese needle treatment eases pain.

Multimedia

Audio
Faith Lapidus

Scientists have taken another important step toward understanding how acupuncture — the ancient Chinese form of needle therapy — actually eases pain. The technique has been used as a medical treatment for thousands of years, but Western medicine has been slow to adopt the practice, in part because no one could explain how it worked.

One theory was that sticking needles into certain points on the body stimulated the central nervous system to release natural pain-killing endorphins in the brain. But Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, a neuroscientist at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, saw a problem with that explanation.

"If you have pain in the leg or in the arm, you give acupuncture close to where you have the pain," she explains. "So, a central mechanism can't explain that, because [then it] wouldn't matter where you give the acupuncture. So we felt there had to be a local mechanism and that's why we looked into adenosine."

Prodding a natural anesthetic into action

Adenosine is a natural pain killer in our cells, which works like a local anesthetic. It's released after an injury, and inhibits nerve signals so the brain never receives the painful messages. Nedergaard explains that an acupuncture needle starts that process.

"In these cells — the muscle cell and the skin cell — they contain adenosine, but normally they don't release it.  But the needle...you can look at it as a small injury. It's not really painful, but still injures many cells," says Nedergaard. "As soon as adenosine is released it is very potent, so even if a few cells are damaged, it would give rise to a fairly substantial amount of adenosine release and reduction of pain."

Acupuncture's effectiveness as a painkiller has sometimes been attributed to the placebo effect; patients with chronic pain expect the procedure to work, and so they feel better after a treatment, even if their pain is not actually lessened.

Nedergaard and her team worked with mice, who, she points out, have no expectations, so their data has not been compromised by the placebo effect. The mice had discomfort in one paw. The researchers measured the level of pain before and after an acupuncture treatment by touching the paw with a filament and measuring the difference in reaction time.

Nedergaard says understanding the biological basis of acupuncture's effects can lead to improved results.

"Chronic pain is a big issue for patients. We don't have very good painkillers for a very large number of patients and they very often get acupuncture treatment," she says. "So, knowing that adenosine is at least one of the mediators of the painkilling effect of acupuncture, you can go in and simply slow the removal of adenosine and thereby the painkilling effect of acupuncture would last longer."

More than three times longer, Nedergaard found. She says participants at the Purines 2010 scientific meeting in Barcelona, where she presented her team's results, were excited about the findings.

"I think for the field itself, it is very easy to accept because the different steps in the [adenosine] pathway have all been described before. It's always been known that small injury gives rise (to) adenosine release, and it's also been known that adenosine is a painkiller. We just put it together that acupuncture is also injury and you get adenosine release."

Nedergaard is also excited because the drug they used to slow the removal of adenosine — a cancer medication called deoxycoformycin — is already approved by the U.S. government, so human trials may begin soon.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Urges Restraint in Hong Kong Protests

Protesters angered by Beijing's decision to only approve candidates that it sanctions for Hong Kong's leadership elections in 2017 More

Archive of Forgotten UCLA Speeches Offers Snapshot of History

Recordings of prominent voices in social change, politics, science and literature from 1960s, early 1970s now available on YouTube More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid