Needle calls adenosine

Energy molecule kills pain  

By Pratibha Narayanan
Published: Thursday 15 July 2010

imageSOME soldiers wounded in a battle by arrows got cured of chronic diseases. So goes the popular tale about the origin of acupuncture. Practitioners of the traditional Chinese healing method believe health is a balance between the yin and yang—energy forces that govern the body.

Chronic back pain, joint pains and headache occur when either of these forces is unbalanced or blocked. This can be rectified by stimulating specific points in the body with fine needles.

Modern medical science has been sceptical about the theory. A team led by neurologist Maiken Nedergaard from University of Rochester Medical Centre in USA recently said it has a scientific explanation for the complex mechanism of acupuncture. An energy molecule in the body, adenosine, is responsible for the pain-reducing properties of acupuncture. Nucleotide adenosine plays an important role in biochemical processes, such as energy transfer.

The team performed acupuncture treatment on two groups of mice: one with adenosine receptors and the other without the receptor. Both had discomfort in one paw. They gently inserted acupuncture needle 1.5 mm deep at a point near their knees and rotated once in every five minutes for 30 minutes mimicking an acupuncture session. Then they examined extracellular fluid samples collected from a point near the puncture before and after the session. The concentration of adenosine in the mice with adenosine receptors increased 24 times around the knee during the treatment and remained elevated for 60 minutes after the therapy.

The scientists measured the level of a chemical that goes up during pain. The level was low in the group with adenosine and adenosine receptors. Their response to heat and touch had also improved following the acupuncture session. This showed, the team noted in Nature Neuroscience on May 30, adenosine is responsible for the pain reduction in acupuncture.

The study resolves the doubt that the effects of acupuncture could be due to placebo effect. A study by Hong Kong researchers in 2007 showed there is no difference in response to treatments by invasive acupuncture and by sham needles; patients’ belief is responsible for the therapy’s success. “Those who say it is placebo have not seen acupuncture working,” said S K Sharma of Ethos Clinic in Delhi. Several researches have proved its efficacy, following which WHO recognizes the healing therapy, the acupuncture expert said.

Such studies increase patients’ confidence on alternative therapies, Sharma added. Some patients who don’t want to take drugs or go for surgery say they find relief in the 7,400-year-old treatment. “Doctors advised surgery for my acute lumber pain,” said Vinod Gupta, a banker in Delhi. “My pain relieved in three acupuncture sittings of 10 days each. I have no pain since,” he added.

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