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Animal Research and Acupuncture: Stress Hormone Decrease

Jul 23, 2015 06:10 PM EDT
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Rats benefited from acupuncture. By which we mean, researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) recently published findings in the journal Endocrinology, giving strong evidence that when these animals were given acupuncture, the same biologic pathways affected by pain and stress were impacted by the procedure--in much the same way that drugs work on humans.

"This research, the culmination of a number of studies, demonstrates how acupuncture might work in the human body to reduce stress and pain, and, potentially, depression," said the lead author Ladan Eshkevari, an associate professor in nursing and pharmacology at GUMC, according to a release.

They learned that by applying electroacupuncture to a single but powerful acupuncture point, such as stomach meridian point 36 (St36), they were able to blunt activity in the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. This is the chronic stress pathway associated with chronic pain, the immune system, mood and emotions. Taking this action reduced production of stress hormones secreted by the pathway, the release said.

The scientists now need to run tests on humans as well, the release noted.

In the study, Eshkevari and other researchers used four different groups of rats: one that received acupuncture through electroacupuncture (a device that ensures equitable distribution of electro stimulation); those that received sham acupuncture (delivered in a non-acupuncture point on the body); and a placebo group that did not receive acupuncture. There was a fourth group of controls, with no exposure to stress or acupuncture, said the release.

There were two studies, one that mimicked the benefit of regular acupuncture, and a second that looked at acupuncture for a stressful event.

The second study used a drug to block acupuncture's manipulation of the HPA system, and they learned that the stress hormone production equalized in all treatment groups. "This confirmed that electroacupuncture does affect the HPA system," Eshkevari said in the release.

The researchers also analyzed behavior and protein to find that acupuncture appears to prevent stress induced release of hormones.

"This work provides a framework for future clinical studies on the benefit of acupuncture, both before or during chronic stressful events," she said in the release.

Follow Catherine on Twitter at @TreesWhales

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