A recent study published in Nature Neuroscience created a media buzz that hit many major news outlets. The study concludes that adenosine is released during acupuncture treatments. Adenosine is a neuromodulator with anti-nociceptive attributes. A nociceptor is a sensory receptor that responds to stimuli by conducting nerve signals to the spinal cord and brain. The process itself is referred to as nociception and commonly results in the perception of pain. Lead investigator Maikin Nedergaard, co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York stated, “We have produced the first evidence that acupuncture releases a natural pain-relieving molecule into the body…. Adenosine is a key to reducing pain during acupuncture treatment.”
Adenosine and the Heart
Adenosine not only blocks pain transfer but also promotes sleep due to its role as an inhibitory neurotransmitter. Adenosine also functions to dilate the coronary arteries and relaxes the smooth muscle inside the artery walls. Adenosine is an antiarrhythmic agent and is responsible for helping individuals cardiovert from an abnormal heart rhythm to a normal heart rhythm. Interestingly, since caffeine’s chemical structure tends to bind to the same receptors are adenosine, the pharmacological effects of adenosine can be reduced from the intake of coffee, tea, and chocolate.
The discovery of the adenosine release helps to understand the function of acupuncture in a western clinical model. However, numerous studies show that acupuncture stimulates the release of beta-endorphins which are also pain-killing chemicals. Generally, any major news of acupuncture mediating the pain response makes headlines. However, recently singer Celine Dion, age 42, notes that she used acupuncture to help get pregnant. This also created a media flurry. Studies show that acupuncture patients have a lower miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy rate and a higher rate of live births than comparative non-acupuncture groups. In one randomized, double-blind study in Fertility and Sterility it was found that acupuncture improves implantation rates for in-vitro fertilization by 180% while discovering a significant reduction of gonadotrophins.
Research and Diabetes
There are many chemicals that are mediated by acupuncture treatments and what research on an individual chemical release fails to show is the natural homeostatic drive of an acupuncture treatment. Homeostasis, the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium in physiological processes, goes far in explaining why acupuncture is able to stimulate entire cascades of chemicals within the body to help stimulate optimal health. For example, Life Science published research showing that the homeostasis model assessment (HOMA) index changed with acupuncture. HOMA is a method used to quantify insulin resistance and beta-cell function. The thrust of the study showed that acupuncture significantly improved glucose tolerance in rats with diabetes. In conclusion, studies support acupuncture’s effects on chemical pathways that help restore normal physiological processes. While researching the release of individual chemicals helps to understand acupuncture, it is only one part of understanding acupuncture’s ability to balance entire system of chemicals and neuropathways within the body. Continuing educational research into the methods of acupuncture's actions now begin to uncover a broader picture of its effects on bodily responses.