Researchers at the Department of Surgery, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School have discovered that a form of acupuncture called electroacupuncture controls inflammation and may help to save lives. The researchers proved that electroacupuncture fights infections including polymicrobial peritonitis. In addition, they found that electroacupuncture reduces severe systemic inflammation due to infections, sepsis.
The researchers discovered that the anti-inflammatory effects of electroacupuncture “are voltage dependent.” Non-acupuncture points (sham points) did not exert anti-inflammatory responses. Additionally, “electroacupuncture with a wooden toothpick” did not reduce inflammation. Only true acupuncture (verum acupuncture) was effective in regulating cytokine levels, producing anti-inflammatory effects and preventing death.
The researchers discovered important biochemical changes stimulated by electroacupuncture. Electroacupuncture was found to significantly boost dopamine levels. Using this evidence, the researchers used the drug fenoldopam in their experiments because it has similar effective actions as dopamine. This drug was also effective in reducing sepsis.
Sepsis is responsible for approximately 250,000 deaths per year in the USA. In many cases, it is not infections which kill patients because antibiotics are often effective. However, the resultant sepsis is a dangerous inflammatory disorder caused by the initial infection. Sepsis is responsible for over 9% of all deaths in the USA annually. The new research points to the biochemical process stimulated by electroacupuncture as a means to control sepsis and save lives.
The researchers note that the anti-inflammatory mechanism of electroacupuncture is “mediated by the sciatic and vagus nerves that modulates the production of catecholamines in the adrenal glands.” As a result of these findings, the researchers discovered that “selective dopamine agonists mimic the anti-inflammatory effects of electroacupuncture and can provide therapeutic advantages to control inflammation in infectious and inflammatory disorders.”
The researchers investigated electroacupuncture because of its non-invasive approach to stimulating the vagus nerve. They note, “Multiple investigators have already reported that the vagus nerve controls systemic inflammation” including cases of septic shock, severe sepsis, endotoxemia, colitis, pancreatitis, hemorrhage, ischemia and reperfusion. Direct nerve stimulation has already been attempted in other studies using anesthetics and surgery. The researchers note that “electroacupuncture is endorsed by the US National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization. They add that there is ”growing evidence supporting its effects in postoperative and stroke rehabilitation.” Based on this acceptance and scientific data, they used acupuncture to stimulate nerves instead of surgical procedures. It worked. Electroacupuncture successfully reduced lipopolysaccharide-induced serum levels of all cytokines that were analyzed, reduced inflammation and prevented death due to sepsis.
The findings at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School are consistent with other research. Researchers at the prestigious Kyung Hee University in South Korea discovered similar anti-inflammatory effects and cytokine regulation caused by acupuncture. They concluded that, “acupuncture stimulation may be effective for reducing elevated body temperature induced by bacterial inflammation, and part of its action may be mediated through the suppression of hypothalamic production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.” Another team of researchers in an earlier study concluded that “these results indicate that stimulation of the cholinergic antiinflammatory pathway by either pharmacological or electrical methods can attenuate the systemic inflammatory response to endotoxin-induced shock.”
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