- Posted on: Apr 19 2021
Electroacupuncture Quells Inflammation & Cytokine Storm
By Dr. Andrew Godenick ND L.Ac
Neuroscientists at Harvard Medical School successfully used acupuncture to tame systemic inflammation in mice.
The “cytokine storm” (aka sepsis or blood infection) is medical speak for your immune system running amok. This phenomena has been long known to physicians as the hallmark of a bacterial or viral infection that gets out of control and has wide reaching organ-damaging effects. Sepsis is estimated to affect 1.7 million people in the United States each year (30 million people worldwide) and has been in the headlines lately due to the severe and often deadly complication of the Wuhan virus (SARS-Cov-2) or Covid-19.
So, it is timely that a team of Harvard researchers set out to understand how electroacupuncture can influence animals coping with the rapid release of large amounts of inflammatory molecules in their blood stream. In one of the experiments, Qiufu Ma, a neurobiologist who studies the fundamental mechanisms of pain, along side other Harvard researchers, applied low-intensity electroacupuncture (0.5 milliamperes) to a specific point on the hind legs of mice with bacteria induced cytokine storm. The team observed how electroacupuncture activated the vagus nerve and caused the adrenal glands to secrete dopamine, and subsequently lowered three key types of inflammation-inducing cytokines. These mice had greater survival rates compared to mice that did not receive treatment—60 percent of acupuncture-treated animals survived, compared with 20 percent of untreated animals, which was great news for the power of electroacupuncture.
In another experiment, the team delivered high-intensity electroacupuncture (3 milliamperes) to the same hind leg acupoint as well as to an acupoint on the abdomen of mice with sepsis, and found that it activated nerve fibers in the spleen. They went on to observe that the timing of treatment was critical, noting that animals treated with acupuncture immediately before they developed cytokine storm fared better, and experienced lower levels of inflammation during subsequent disease. This preventive measure of high-intensity stimulation increased survival to 80 percent! By contrast, animals that received acupuncture after disease onset and during the peak of cytokine storm experienced worse inflammation and more severe disease.
The lead researcher went on to speculate the potential role of electroacupuncture to help modulate inflammation in people undergoing cancer immune therapy, which while lifesaving in itself, can also sometimes trigger cytokine storm due to overstimulation of the immune system.
While more human study is needed to confirm this, electroacupuncture seems to be best used as a preventative measure and can mitigate the devastating effects of excess body inflammation – whether it is from a deadly virus, bacterial infection, painful rheumatoid arthritis or the side effects of cancer fighting immunotherapy!
Somatotopic Organization and Intensity Dependence in Driving Distinct NPY-Expressing Sympathetic Pathways by Electroacupuncture; Shenbin Liu, Zhi-Fu Wang, Yang-Shuai Su, Xiang-Hong Jing, Yan-Qing Wang, Qiufu Ma; Published: August 12, 2020 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2020.07.015
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