Booster Shots

Oddities, musings and news from the health world

Category: acupuncture

Rodent of the Week: How acupuncture eases pain

June 4, 2010 |  1:00 pm

Rodent Acupuncture seems so mysterious. How can sticking needles into the body cause physical changes, such as pain or nausea relief or an enhanced immune system?

Researchers working on mice say they have a clue. They have identified a molecule, called adenosine, that seems to be involved in generating the physical effects seen in acupuncture. Adenosine is a natural substance known for helping to regulate sleep and for its anti-inflammatory properties. It also acts as a natural painkiller, developing in the body after an injury to stop nerve signals that are screaming "pain!" But scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center found that the substance is also active in deeper tissues in the body that are affected by acupuncture.

In the experiment, researchers performed acupuncture on mice that had discomfort in one paw. The mice received a 30-minute acupuncture treatment at a point near the knee. The study showed that in mice with normal functioning levels of adenosine, acupuncture reduced pain by about two-thirds. During and after the treatment, the level of adenosine in the tissues near the needles was 24 times greater than before the treatment. But  the treatment had no effect on mice that lacked the adenosine receptor.

The researchers also tested the effects of a cancer drug called deoxycoformycin that makes it harder for the tissue to remove adenosine. Adding this drug significantly boosted the effects of the acupuncture.

"Acupuncture has been a mainstay of medical treatment in certain parts of the world for 4,000 years, but because it has not been understood completely, many people have remained skeptical," the lead author of the study, Maiken Nedergaard, a neuroscientist, said in a news release. "In this work, we provide information about one physical mechanism through which acupuncture reduces pain in the body."

The study was published online this week in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Advanced Cell Technology Inc.


Acupuncture in the delivery room remains a prickly research topic

April 28, 2010 |  5:12 pm

Acupuncture has been practiced in labor and delivery rooms since the 1970s, but its efficacy has been hard to judge. Two studies released Wednesday provide more mixed results.

Baby The first report pooled data from 10 clinical trials in which some patients received acupuncture (sometimes in conjunction with traditional pain relievers) and others were treated with drugs. The trials were conducted in Europe, China and Iran, with varying results.

Some of the trials found that women who used acupuncture were able to get through labor with lower doses of Demerol or other pain-relieving drugs. But the researchers said they weren’t persuaded that the acupuncture needles deserved the credit.

“Our analyses show that the effects of acupuncture perceived by women are largely due to placebo,” study co-author Dr. Edzard Ernst of Peninsula Medical School in England said in a statement.

The study was published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Meanwhile, an Iraqi anesthesiologist dealing with extreme shortages of medicine reported that acupuncture reduced the need for oxytocin during Caesarean-section deliveries at Baghdad's Red Crescent Hospital for Gynecology & Obstetrics.

Dr. Lazgeen Zcherky said shortages forced anesthesiologists to use a drug called halothane during C-sections, even though it is known to relax the uterus and can cause increased bleeding. To counteract the effects of halothane, Zcherky inserted acupuncture needles into women as soon as possible after their babies were delivered. Six needles were placed in the feet and ankles at points related to uterine bleeding (SP1 and SP6) and another related to uterine contraction (BL67).

Of 200 women who received acupuncture, 45% did not need any oxytocin to counteract uterine bleeding. Another 35% required two units of the drug, 18% needed two to five units, and only 2% needed more than that.

“Without acupuncture, it had been standard for the surgeon to ask for a minimum of 10 units of oxytocin,” Zcherky wrote. “He would have preferred 20, but this was simply not available except in problem cases.”

The report appears in Thursday’s edition of the journal Acupuncture in Medicine.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Could acupuncture needles take some of the pain out of childbirth? Credit: Victor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images


A daily routine improves sleep quality

April 1, 2010 |  9:25 am

For older adults, keeping a daily routine may prevent insomnia and improve sleep quality, according to a new study.

Pillow When a colleague of mine heard about this finding, she suggested that the boredom of doing the same thing at the same time every day must account for the easy bedtime. But the researchers, from the University of Haifa in Israel, say it's more likely that humans benefit from synchronization between their daytime and nighttime activities.

The study, of people living in a retirement community, showed that stability in the timing, frequency and duration of daily activities like watching TV, reading, bathing, dressing and eating was more strongly associated with sleep quality than stability in activities like shopping or keeping appointments.

More research is needed, the authors said, to understand whether good quality sleep leads to stable lifestyle routines or stable lifestyle routines lead to restful nights. The study is published in the journal Sleep.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times


Acupuncture can calm anxious dental patients, study finds

March 29, 2010 |  4:01 pm

If you’re the type who gets anxious about visiting the dentist, you might think the last thing you’d want would be a bunch of extra needles. Apparently, you’d be wrong.

Dentist A small study being published in Tuesday’s edition of the journal Acupuncture in Medicine found that dentists who administered acupuncture to their nervous patients succeeded in calming their fears. That allowed all 20 subjects to complete their necessary dental exams and treatment. Without acupuncture, only six of the patients were able to get even partial treatment.

The patients in the study initially scored an average of 26.5 on the Beck Anxiety Index (a score above 26 indicates “severe anxiety”). Five minutes after acupuncture, their average anxiety score dropped to 11.5. The acupuncture focused on two points on the head (GV20 and EX6), and the needles stayed in throughout the patients' dental procedures.

The researchers, from England and Denmark, noted that 5% of people in Western countries have “pronounced dental anxiety” and an additional 20% to 30% have “moderate dental anxiety.” They pointed out that while such patients can be treated with sedatives, hypnosis, biofeedback and other behavioral therapies, those approaches are “time consuming and demand psychotherapeutic education and skills.”

One might think that considerable education and skill are also needed to administer acupuncture safely and effectively, though the researchers didn’t discuss the training involved.

Apparently, the combination of acupuncture and dental work is still uncommon here in the states. But in the U.K. there is such a thing as the British Dental Acupuncture Society.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: If this picture gives you the heebie-jeebies, perhaps some acupuncture needles will do the trick. Photo credit: Yang Liu/Corbis



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