A new laboratory experiment reveals that acupuncture regulates steroid hormones to reduce biochemical reactions to stress. Acupuncture upregulates hormones in some areas while downregulating in other areas to maintain balance within the body when it is exposed to stress. Western blot analysis confirmed behavioral testing that acupuncture biochemically reduces stress reactions.
The researchers discovered that acupuncture reduces stress by regulating glucocorticoid receptor (GR) protein expression. Acupuncture simultaneously upregulated GR protein expression in the hippocampus, hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN) and pituitary gland while decreasing expression in the adrenal cortex when laboratory rats were exposed to stress. This counters the opposite biochemical phenomenon caused by unpredictable chronic mild stress (UCMS). The researchers note that acupuncture balances bodily biochemistry in this dual-directional manner.
The researchers conducted a controlled experiment on different acupuncture points on laboratory rats and discovered that hormone reactions to acupuncture are point specific. Control groups did not receive acupuncture. Two groups received different sets of acupuncture points combined with exposure to unpredictable chronic mild stress. Group 1 received acupuncture at LR14 (Qimen) and UB23 (Shenshu). Group 2 received acupuncture at SP6 (Sanyinjiao) and KI9 (Zhubin).
The researchers note that the LR14, UB23 group showed a significantly greater reduction in stress related biochemical responses at adrenocorticotropic hormone receptors (ACTHR) than the SP6, KI9 group. “ACTHR protein expression was reduced remarkably in (the) pituitary gland and adrenal cortex….” in response to stress for both acupuncture groups although the LR14, UB23 combination was more effective.
The researchers note that “it is recognized generally that CRH (corticotrophin releasing hormone) is one of the important initiating factors in the stress process.” Acupuncture demonstrated a powerful ability to inhibit CRH protein expression in response to stress. Testing revealed that different acupuncture points caused unique CRH responses thereby confirming acupuncture point specificity. The same acupuncture point specificity was discovered with ACTHR protein expression and GR protein expression.
The researchers note that acupuncture demonstrated the ability to “decrease HPAA excitability” in reactions to stress. The HPAA (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis) controls reactions to stress along with regulating many bodily functions including digestion and immunity. The researchers documented that acupuncture initiates a cascade of biochemical responses via the HPAA to reduce stress.
Acupuncture Point Specificity
In other research, acupuncture point specificity has been confirmed. Researchers from the Department of Medicine at the University of California, Irvine, noted that “many well-controlled studies do support the principle of point specificity.” They cite multiple studies of cardiovascular disease and note that real acupuncture points “elicit(s) significantly greater responses than stimulation of both non-acupoints and inactive acupoints.” They also conclude that stimulation of different acupoints “produces differential input to regions of the brain that regulate sympathetic outflow and cardiovascular function.” The researchers note that a hemodynamic study of acupuncture point PC6 showed that this acupuncture point “decreased heart rate and increased the high-frequency HRV index of cardiac vagal modulation….”
The University of California researchers examined MRI brain studies and concluded that “stimulation of different sets of acupoints leads to disease-specific neuronal responses, even when acupoints are located within the same spinal segment.” The researchers note, “The point-specific actions resulting from stimulation of different acupoints in controlled laboratory trials confirm that needling different points on the body produces more than just placebo responses, given that placebo acupuncture is not associated with differential or acupoint-specific responses in anesthetized animals.”
Migraine Acupuncture Point Specificity
In yet another investigation, it was discovered that acupuncture “induce(s) different cerebral glucose metabolism changes in pain-related brain regions and reduce(s) intensity of pain” for patients with migraines. In this randomized controlled study using PET-CT (positron emission tomography - computed tomography), acupuncture effectively reduced migraine pain.
PET-CT revealed that acupuncture raised glycometabolism in the middle temporal cortex, orbital front cortex, middle frontal gyrus, angular gyrus, post cingulate cortex, the precuneus and the middle cingulate cortex. Acupuncture simultaneously lowered glycometabolism in the parahippocampus, hippocampus, fusiform, postcentral gyrus and the cerebellum in the migraine patients. The study revealed that the choice of acupuncture points determined variations in brain glycometabolism. The researchers note that this measurable phenomenon demonstrates acupuncture point specificity; specific acupuncture points have specific effects.
Subjects with migraines were separated into 3 groups. There was a traditional acupuncture group, a controlled acupuncture group and a non-intervention group. The traditional acupuncture group received acupuncture at TB5 (Waiguan), GB34 (Yanglingquan) and GB20 (Fengchi). The controlled acupuncture group received acupuncture at ST8 (Touwei), LI6 (Pianli) and ST36 (Zusanli).
The traditional acupuncture group experienced the greatest pain reduction. Glycometabolism was highest in the traditional acupuncture group. The traditional acupuncture group had decreased glycometabolism in the parahippocampus, hippocampus, fusiform, postcentral gyrus and cerebellum over the non-intervention group. The controlled acupuncture group more greatly increased glycometabolism in the middle temporal cortex, supratemporal gyrus, supramarginal gyrus and the middle cingulate cortex than the non-intervention group. In addition, the controlled acupuncture group decreased glycometabolism more greatly than the non-intervention group in the cerebellum.
New research demonstrates that acupuncture exerts medically significant benefits and does so, in part, by regulating brain chemistry. Acupuncture research has also demonstrated that the specific choice of acupuncture points affects both brain chemistry and clinical outcomes.
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Point specificity in acupuncture. Chinese Medicine 2012, 7:4, Emma M Choi, Fang Jiang, John C Longhurst. Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine, Department of Medicine, School of Medicine, University of California, Irvine CA.
A PET-CT study on specificity of acupoints through acupuncture treatment on migraine patients. Jie Yang, Fang Zeng, Yue Feng, Li Fang, Wei Qin, Xuguang Liu, Wenzhong Song, Hongjun Xie , Ji Chen, Fanrong Liang.
Acupuncture and Tuina School, Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Chengdu, China.
Life Science Research Center, School of Life Science and Technology, Xidian University, Xi’an, Shaanxi, China.
PET-CT center, Sichuan Provincial People’s Hospital, Chengdu, China.