Here is the latest in a series of blog posts highlighting recent scientific research in the field of acupuncture. Although acupuncture has been around for thousands of years, it may not be until we can understand it scientifically through rigorous research and clinical trials that acupuncture can be fully embraced as a credible system of medicine in the West. These blog posts aim to address this ongoing issue and offer insights into a Western understanding of acupuncture. This month, we talk about depression, cognitive function in the elderly, chronic pain and PMS.
Acupuncture fights depression
There has been some promising new research that offers scientific evidence of acupuncture's effect on relieving depression – showing that acupuncture may be as effective as anti-depressant medication. Acupuncture has long been used for the treatment of stress and mental illness, and its proponents have claimed a beneficial effect on conditions such as depression for quite some time. Until recently these claims were not substantiated by sufficient scientific evidence. However, in 2013 a team of Chinese researchers uncovered preliminary evidence to explain in scientific terms the reasons acupuncture can act like a natural anti-depressant.
The researchers discovered that acupuncture can have a regulatory effect on special brain cells in the hippocampus called neural progenitor cells (NPs). It can also stimulate particular functions of the hippocampus in the same way that SSRIs (serotonin reuptake inhibitors – a common class of anti-depressant medication) do, leading to a decrease in depressive-related behaviours in test subjects. Following their initial findings, further research has been conducted to substantiate the claims and will continue to do so. While these findings are relatively new, its a promising start to explaining the effects of acupuncture in a Western scientific way, and a great reason to consider acupuncture as an alternative or complementary treatment when facing depression. Read the research here and here.
Acupuncture improves cognitive function in the elderly
A recent study conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Cong has demonstrated the beneficial effects of acupuncture in adults over 65 with MCI (Mild Cognitive Impairment). The preliminary findings of this pilot study have shown that acupuncture can help improve cognitive functioning and reduce the risk of dementia development in the elderly. Whilst the study was conducted using only a small sample size, the results were conclusive enough to instigate a subsequent research project with a much larger group of people.
One of the lead researchers on the experiment, Professor Albert Leung, said “We are delighted to see that acupuncture treatments help improve the cognitive functions of the elderly.” One disease linked to dementia is Alzheimer’s disease which over 300,000 Australians currently suffer from. With Alzheimer’s and Dementia becoming an increasingly serious problem for today’s elders it’s without doubt worth investigating the options for its prevention. With more research being done after these promising early results, acupuncture should definitely be taken into consideration as a viable strategy to offset these diseases.
Have a look at the research here.
Acupuncture relieves chronic pain
A recent meta-analysis of 29 high-quality randomized controlled trials, covering research involving 17,922 people, provides the most rigorous evidence to date that acupuncture may be helpful for chronic pain. Chronic pain is a widespread problem affecting millions of Australians everyday, defined as pain anywhere in the body lasting more than three months, and is a top reason why adults go to the doctor. Chronic pain often makes it difficult or impossible for people to pursue active lifestyles in an effort to alleviate the pain and until recently western medicine has been at a loss for drug free approaches to treating this kind of pain.
This is changing however as acupuncture is becoming a much more viable option people suffering from chronic pain who are looking to treat the source of the problem rather than just the symptoms. For a long time Western medicine dismissed acupuncture as having a placebo effect on patients and insisted that acupuncturists cited bogus studies and science. However the extensive array of recent research analysed by this meta-analysis has revealed concrete evidence that acupuncture has statistically significant effects on the reduction of pain across all pain conditions studied. The authors state that their study provides the most robust evidence to date that acupuncture is more than just a placebo and makes it clear that acupuncture is a viable and drug free way to treat chronic pain. Read it yourself here.
Using acupuncture to treat premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
A recent review of eight acupuncture studies has found acupuncture to be clinically effective in treating the symptoms of PMS. It was initially published in the “Journal of Menopause” because the symptoms can be very similar to PMS and the study found that real acupuncture as opposed to “sham” acupuncture yielded tangible results in reducing PMS symptoms such as mood swings and pain. Jamie Starkey from the Cleveland Clinic who was interviewed for an article with CBS said “Patients will typically come in to see an acupuncturist if they’ve been on medication that’s not working. They can use acupuncture to start tapering down off of their medication, or to eliminate the need to use medication all together.”
With this and more research coming out regularly it’s no wonder western medicine is finally starting to come around to understanding the tangible benefits of a natural, side-effect free, alternative to treating pain and discomfort of all kinds. When you see mainstream news sources such as CBS touting the benefits of acupuncture, you know that there must be something to it! Watch the news article here.
Hopefully this research update has been helpful for you. If you or anyone you know is experiencing any of issues listed above, please consider consulting an acupuncturist about what they can do to help. Their answer is likely to be “A lot.”
Acupuncture and Anxiety
Acupuncture and Stress
Acupuncture and Depression
Acupuncture and Digestion
Acupuncture and Immunity
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