Sticking thin needles all over your body as a way to relieve pain seems like a very counter-intuitive move, yet acupuncture treatment has been around for thousands of years. To be sure there are some skeptics out there who assert that it does nothing, yet some decent studies that do show something is going on. The latest in the list of positive studies comes from Indiana University, but looks at the efficacy of electro-acupuncture, instead of the traditional, non-electrified treatment.
For the study, which was recently published in the journal Stem Cells, a team of over 40 scientists in the U.S. and South Korea performed several experiments on humans, horses, and rodents and discovered that the technique sparks the hypothalamus—an area in the front of the brain that releases hormones that control physiological functions like hunger, sleep, sex—to release stem cells into the bloodstream. They noted that the hypothalamus becomes activated from nine to 22 minutes after electro-acupuncture application, with the stem cells showing up about two hours later.
“The acupuncture stimulus we’re giving these animals has a rapid effect on neuroanatomical pathways that connect the stimulus point in the arm to responsive neurons in the spinal cord and into a region in the brain called the hypothalamus. In turn, the hypothalamus directs outgoing signals to stem cell niches resulting in their release,” said study co-author Fletcher White, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis.
The researchers found that the treatment also increased pain tolerance when caused by an injury, and boosted levels of collagen linked to tendon repair, plus produced more anti-inflammatory cells that are thought to be tied to faster healing outcomes. “We could potentially capture [stem cells] from an individual’s blood following electro-acupuncture and save the cells for future re-introduction in the patient post-surgery or to treat chronic pain due to an injury,” he said.