The BBC has reported on some breaking research involving a molecule which may control how acupuncture relieves pain. The US study showed that levels of adenosine – a natural painkiller – increased in tissues near acupuncture sites. admittedly, this work used mice, not people, but the early results only add to the growing body of evidence that supports the scientific basis for acupuncture as an effective pain management tool.
Adenosine is made by the body and controls many internal processes by triggering a response through one of its many receptors (A1, A2A, A2B, and A3) located in the surface of many cells.
With regards to pain, adenosine acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter – in other words, it slows or blocks the transmission of pain messages. In addition to this, adenosine promotes sleep by accumulating hour by hour while we are awake. When levels reach a certain threshold level we start to feel sleepy… If we take a slug of coffee (or chocolate) we can block this effect because caffeine binds to the adenosine receptors effectively blocking their call for us to seek our bed! The chemical structure of adenosine and caffeine is similar because both are based on a purine ring structure.
The proof that acupuncture boosts adenosine not only supports the pain killing effects but also the commonly reported sedation effects associated with the treatment. Interestingly, those who are non-responders to acupuncture may find avoiding coffee and chocolate around their treatment sessions may it’s effects.
Click here for a download of the study.