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  • Carol Braverman

How Acupuncture Impacts Stress

hormones and neurotransmitters play a role in our emotions and responses to stress

Acupuncture impacts stress by its indirect influence on the nervous system. It has the ability to even out the high and lows of energy, attitude and mood.

This post is covers the highlights of a research study pinpointing what part of the brain is involved when acupuncture relieves stress. Blood tests and behavioral observation were the common methods used to collect data and compare results across four groups. Each group had different use or no use of acupuncture, as well as different exposures to stress.

The blood tests measured levels of two hormones in the hypothalamus-pituitary-axis (HPA): corticosterone (CORT) and stress-induced circulating ACTH. The stress on the lab rats was basic: exposure to colder temperatures. The behavioral tests placed each group in an open box to observe their behavior after receiving acupuncture, and a forced swim test that placed the subjects in a bucket of water to see how resilient they were in the face of a life-and-death challenge.

The group given acupuncture had lower levels of the hormones in their bloodstream, and the same group was also swam the best in the bucket and were the most relaxed in the box, exploring their new surroundings and not retreating to the corners like their more anxious counterparts.

This study has a third part, comparing acupuncture’s effects with anti-anxiety/anti-depression SSRIs. Interestingly these drugs and acupuncture follow the same pathway in the HPA, the pathway that affects mood. The HPA regulates hormones by a feedback mechanism that detects chemical levels and adjusts them automatically as needed o help the body function as neutral and steady as possible. An example of this might be calcium in the blood: too much and the HPA directs the excess to be stored in the bone, and not enough and the directive is sent to pull some out of the bone and put it in the bloodstream. The research found that while the SSRIs rely on this feedback loop, acupuncture does not. Instead, it is simply its presence that elicits the regulation of hormones.

This finding is remarkable and it has the wider implications in bioscience that are yet to be studied.


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