London - Fans of acupuncture may have a point – as research suggests the treatment really can reduce pain.
A new US study of the ancient Chinese art – which involves inserting thin needles in different parts of the body – has been described as the strongest evidence yet that it can have genuine benefits.
Study author Ladan Eshkevari said the research demonstrates how acupuncture may “reduce stress and pain, and potentially depression”. Dr Eshkevari, of Georgetown University in Washington, DC, gave acupuncture to rats that had regularly been exposed to extreme cold.
This was meant to mimic the sort of biological changes that occur in people who are grieving or under other extreme mental pressure, when stress hormones rise.
Some of the rats were jabbed in a part of the stomach the Chinese believe to have healing powers. Others had the needle stuck elsewhere, or were not treated.
Levels of stress hormones, as well as signs of depression and anxiety, only fell in the animals given proper acupuncture, the journal Endocrinology reported.
The research did not look at the rats’ pain levels, but because pain and stress are closely linked, Dr Eshkevari believes this may have been eased too.
However, David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London, described the study as “dubious”.