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4 Reasons Scientists Believe Acupuncture May Actually Work


If anyone has ever suggested that you stick needles in your body in the name of health, it is likely that you showed some skepticism. Besides the uncomfortable thought of undergoing what looks like an ancient torture method, it is difficult to understand logically how such a procedure could even be effective. You also may have heard that most doctors and medical scientists believe that acupuncture is a hoax propagated by "alternative" quacks who don't know how to use science. What you may not know is that there actually is some scientific evidence of beneficial effects from acupuncture. Several studies that have attempted to test the validity of acupuncture have found it to be more effective than a placebo at reducing chronic pain, nausea, and inflammation. Despite these findings, doctors often write acupuncture off as a hoax because it is based on a belief in an unmeasurable energy called "chi" that flows through seemingly arbitrary body locations called "meridians." However, some medical scientists have hypothesized that the effectiveness of acupuncture can be explained with non-mystical, well-established scientific principles.

Natural Opiates

One explanation for the ability of acupuncture to relieve pain is that inserting needles in the back stimulates opiate concentrations in the cerebrospinal fluid. These substances (including dynorphin, endorphin, and encephalin) are known to block pain receptors in the spine and brain. This hypothesis has been supported by a study in which scientists performed acupuncture on rabbits and found higher opiates levels in their cerebrospinal fluid.

Myofibrillary entanglement

Sometimes as a result injury, stress, or nutritional problems, the tiny rods that provide structure to muscle cells (called myofibrils) can become entangled and cause chronic pain and migraines. It is possible that inserting needles into the appropriate areas could physically untangle these entanglements, resulting in pain relief.

Endogenous corticosteroid release

One hypothesis that could explain the effect of acupuncture on inflammation is that the simple act of injecting a needle into one's veins may stimulate the movement of Adrenocorticotrophic hormone, which is often prescribed as an anti-inflammatory drug. This hypothesis is supported by the existence of higher percentages of this hormone during acupuncture.

Blood flow

One of the simplest explanations of acupuncture is that since acupuncture needles cause a minor injury to the body, it stimulate an increase of blood flow to that area. This increased blood flow could induce healing in the desired area. With an increase in scientific support for acupuncture, it is becoming more accepted as a treatment for certain conditions. However, there is still plenty of pushback from the scientific community due to its metaphysical basis. It is possible that more research on these scientific explanations could eventually bring acupuncture into the realm conventional medicine.