LONDON: If you’re an acupuncture fan, you might just have a point, scientists say.
Scans show that sticking needles into a body calms brain cells used to process and perceive pain.
This suggests that the popular technique relieves pain, the researchers said.
The finding will provide a sense of vindication for those who have spent thousands of rands on acupuncture for bad backs, sprained ankles and other aches and pains.
And it will provide food for thought for detractors of the ancient Chinese art, including many scientists. They claim the benefits of the practice are all in the mind and that patients benefit from the placebo effect in which care and the simple belief that the treatment works lead to improvements in health. The research team from the University Hospital in Essen, Germany, studied whether giving acupuncture affected how the brain reacted to electric shocks.
Eighteen volunteers had brain scans at the same time as an electric shock was applied to their left ankle.
Acupuncture needles were then placed at three places on the right side – between the toes, below the knee and near the thumb – and the electricity was switched back on.
A second set of brain scans showed noticeably less activity in the brain’s pain regions. Researcher Dr Nina Theysohn said: “Activation of brain areas involved in pain perception was significantly reduced or modulated under acupuncture.”
Research earlier this year revealed that the act of sticking acupuncture needles in and twisting them releases a flood of natural painkillers.
The research, however, doesn’t support the traditional explanation for acupuncture – that the needles rebalance the body’s vital forces .
The studies also don’t explain the rationale behind other, non-painrelated uses of the technique, such as using acupuncture to help quit smoking or to boost odds of becoming pregnant through IVF.
Some sceptics are unconvinced. David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London, said those taking part in the study may simply have expected the technique to work. – Daily Mail