Acupuncture comes from the Latin words acus and punctura, meaning ‘needle’ and ‘to puncture’. This refers to the “stimulation of specific points along the skin of the body using thin needles.” Traditionally, acupuncture involves needle insertion, moxibustion (the traditional Chinese medicine therapy using moxa made from dried mugwort, Artemisia argyi), and cupping therapy (a form of alternative medicine in which a local suction is created on the skin to mobilize blood flow to promote healing).
In China, acupuncture has been used in the treatment of several diseases for at least 5200 years. In Europe and the USA, it has become a visible component of the health delivery system and has steadily claimed its usefulness in contemporary medicine.
Inflammation or “inflammatory response” is the body’s natural reaction to trauma or injury. This part of the immune response takes place to heal wounds and fight infection and disease. However, it is also involved in a large variety of problems, from mosquito bites to asthma and auto-immune diseases like Rheumatoid Arthritis. Inflammation that gets out of control can lead to serious health issues like cancer, heart disease, and auto-immune diseases.
In a study spearheaded by Freek J. Zijlstra of the Department of Anesthesiology of the Erasmus Medical Center, the effect of acupuncture on inflammatory diseases such as asthma, rhinitis, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, epicondylitis, complex regional pain syndrome type 1 and vasculitis was observed.
Inflammation is generally associated with increasing temperature, edema, redness, pain, and loss of function. “The effects of neuropeptides, cytokines, and vasoactive mediators could play an intermediate role during and after acupuncture. If we assume that local blood flow is indeed stimulated by acupuncture, the neurogenic formation of vasoactive mediators could regulate blood flow and blood distribution to the affected organs and tissue after inflammation. Acupuncture then activates the defense systems by influencing specific and non-specific cellular influx, activation of cell proliferation and regulation of subsequently involved cells that results in a complex mechanism of transport, further breakdown and clearance of all bioactive mediators.”
In another study, it was documented that the use of electroacupuncture, a form of acupuncture that sends an electric current through the nerves, could alleviate sepsis and the inflammatory disorders it triggers. Sepsis is an infection that develops in hospital intensive care units when the whole body undergoes inflammation caused by an infection in the blood commonly caused by bacteria but may also be caused by fungi, viruses, or parasites.
The researchers knew that if one of the body’s major nerves, the vagus nerve, is stimulated, it triggers processes in the body that can reduce inflammation. They then tried to find out whether electroacupuncture could reduce inflammation and organ injury in septic mice. When it was applied to the mice vagus nerve, molecules called cytokines that help limit inflammation were stimulated, and the survival rate rose to 50%.
The results showed the potential benefits of acupuncture not just for the treatment of sepsis, but also other inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and Crohn’s disease.