Acupuncture is used to treat a number of different chronic illnesses, including stress, and some doctors actually specialize in medical acupuncture. Despite this, the exact mechanism of action behind acupuncture remains unknown, leaving the practice relegated to complimentary or alternative medicine.
Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) thus set about carrying out studies attempting to verify acupuncture's efficacy in reducing stress hormone response in an animal model, with a view towards further legitimizing the three thousand year old practice.
According to the study's lead author, Ladan Eshkevari, PhD, an associate professor of nursing at Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies:
Many practitioners of acupuncture have observed that this ancient practice can reduce stress in their patients, but there is a lack of biological proof of how or why this happens. We're starting to understand what's going on at the molecular level that helps explain acupuncture's benefit.
Eshkevari herself is a physiologist, nurse anesthetist and certified acupuncturist. She designed these rat studies to test the effect of electronic acupuncture on levels of proteins and hormones secreted by biologic pathways involved in stress response. She used electroacupuncture to ensure that each animal would receive the same treatment dose.
The spot used for the acupuncture needle is called "Zusanli," which is reported to help relieve a variety of conditions that include stress. The spot is the same on the rats as it is on humans.
We found that electronic acupuncture blocks the chronic, stress-induced elevations of the HPA axis hormones and the sympathetic NPY pathway … Our growing body of evidence points to acupuncture's protective effect against the stress response.
The NPY pathway is part of the fight or flight response to stress.
Their most recent study appears in the April issue of the Journal of Endocrinology.