Acupuncture and stress has been a rich area of study for researcher Dr. Laden Eshkevari, who is building on past studies showing acupuncture’s effect on the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-axis). One of her goals is to specifically show how acupuncture is helpful in treating PTSD and chronic stress. Her study Effects of Acupuncture, RU-486 on the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis in Chronically Stressed Adult Male Rats, published in The Journal of Endocrinology, shows how acupuncture relieves stress in the same way anti-stress drugs do, without potential side effects.
In this study Eshevari covered three key areas: acupuncture’s biologic effects on hormones, how this affects behavior, and whether anti-stress drugs act differently on the body despite sharing a common pathway.
In her previous study, Eshkevari treated lab rats with acupuncture before inducing the stress of exposure to cold. This time she used acupuncture afterwards, reasoning that people seek acupuncture for stress relief.
Blood levels of two hormones, corticosterone (CORT) and stress-induced circulating ACTH were measured in the following sequence: exposure to cold for one hour, returning to room temperature in ½ hour, then receiving 20 minutes of acupuncture. This sequence was done for a total of 11 days. One major acupuncture point, ST 36, was chosen in part because it is used in other studies.
Four groups of rats were tested.
Group 1 was stressed with cold and then given acupuncture
Group 2 was stressed with cold and given sham acupuncture at a non-acupuncture point
Group 3 was stressed with cold and given no acupuncture
Group 4 was not stressed or given acupuncture – “normal”
The research team found that the lab rats in Group 1 were comparable to Group 4. Further, Group 1 besides having lower levels of the hormones in their blood, exhibited less anxiety and depression than either Group 2 or Group 3 when the behavioral tests were done.
So how do you test lab rats for normal or anxious behavior? Apparently exploring new surroundings indicates a lack of stress. When they were placed in an open box, those that moved freely rated normal and those that retreated to a corner indicated some degree of anxiety.
Next, to test depression and hopelessness, the lab rats were given a forced-swim test by being dropped in a bucket with no choice but to swim. Some gave up quickly, rating high on the depression and hopelessness scale, while others swam to survive, showing their resilience.
Again, Group 1 behaved like Group 4, whereas Group 2 and Group 3 showed more depression and hopelessness.
Prescription drugs vs. acupuncture
In the third part of this study, acupuncture’s effects were compared with specific anti-anxiety and anti-depression drugs that follow the same pathway in the HPA that affects mood, to see if there is any difference between the drugs and acupuncture.
First, the drug-acupuncture comparison confirmed that acupuncture follows the same pathway as HPA-blocking drugs. The difference lies in their influences. The drug, effectively blocking the pathway, works via the feedback system in the HPA. This results in an uneven circulating levels of hormones, present but suppressed in the presence of the drug. By comparison, acupuncture, blocking the same pathways but not via the HPA feedback system, reduced hormones and has a centralized regulating effect, .
I’ve gone into some detail for those of you who want to understand the mechanisms of action acupuncture has on the body. Even if this stuff bores you to no end, the simple takeaway is that Eshkevari’s research has broad implications for our over-stimulated, over-stressed modern world.
Acupuncture treatment is not forever but its effects are long-lasting with a course of treatment. Striving to achieve overall health, there’s no substitute for a stellar diet, respect for the body’s need to rest, getting into a deep sleep state every night, and regular exercise. Every day we face life challenges, and adding acupuncture to your wellness regime, especially when you need a boost, is as preventive as you can get.
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