Acupuncture really can reduce stress levels, scientists claim after alternative therapy experimentAcupuncture “reduces” levels of protein linked to stressScientists believe this explains the sense of well-being patients receive from ancient Chinese therapy

Acupuncture really does reduce stress levels, scientists have found.

In the first study of its kind, a team of researchers discovered that the ancient Chinese therapy reduces levels of a protein linked to chronic stress.

While the study was carried out on rats, scientists believe it may help to explain the sense of well-being many people receive from the therapy.

And if their findings are replicated in human studies, acupuncture would offer a proven therapy for stress – which is often difficult to treat.

Finally proven Scientists have discovered that the ancient Chinese therapy acupuncture reduces levels of a protein linked to chronic stress

Finally proven Scientists have discovered that the ancient Chinese therapy acupuncture reduces levels of a protein linked to chronic stress

A study was designed to test the effect of acupuncture on blood levels of the protein neuropeptide Y (NPY), which is secreted by the sympathetic nervous system in humans.

This system is involved in the ‘flight or fight’ response to acute stress, resulting in constriction of blood flow to all parts of the body except to the heart, lungs and brain (the organs most needed to react to danger).

Chronic stress, however, can cause elevated blood pressure and cardiac disease.

The study used four groups of rats for a 14-day experiment:

A control group that was not stressed and received no acupuncture,A group that was stressed for an hour a day and did not receive acupuncture,A group that was stressed and received ‘sham’ acupuncture near the tail,And the experimental group that were stressed and received acupuncture.

Lead author Dr Ladan Eshkevari, of Georgetown University, allowed the rats – animals which can mount a stress response when exposed to winter-like cold temperatures for an hour a day – to become familiar with her.

“It has long been thought that acupuncture can reduce stress, but this is the first study to show molecular proof of this benefit”

She then encouraged them to rest by crawling into a small sock that exposed their legs, and gently conditioned them to become comfortable with the kind of stimulation used in electroacupuncture – an acupuncture needle that delivers a painless small electrical charge.

This form of the therapy is more intense than manual acupuncture and is often used for pain management.

She selected a single acupuncture spot to test – Zuslanli, one of the most frequently used acupuncture points and said to help relieve a variety of conditions including stress. As with rats, the point lies on the leg below the knee.

Dr Eshkevari found NPY levels in the experimental group came down almost to the level of the control group, while the rats that were stressed and not treated with Zuslani acupuncture had high levels of the protein.

In a second experiment, she stopped acupuncture in the experimental group but continued to stress the rats for an additional four days, and found NPY levels remained low.

She said: “It has long been thought that acupuncture can reduce stress, but this is the first study to show molecular proof of this benefit.

“I used electroacupuncture because I could make sure that every rat was getting the same treatment dose.

“We were surprised to find what looks to be a protective effect against stress.”

The study is published online in the journal Experimental Biology and Medicine.