02 Nov Acupuncture Junkie
My patient Robert promptly announced, “I’m hooked!” in his follow up appointment after his initial treatment for low back pain two days ago. I was intrigued by his remark because while his comment referred to his pain having been greatly reduced by acupuncture, it could have been mistaken for an addict looking for dope. This got me thinking about the profound analgesic effect of acupuncture. Is acupuncture triggering a biochemical mechanism that mimics the pain-killing effect of an opiate?
In the 1970s, when the book Love & Addiction was published, Candace Pert and Solomon Snyder became the first scientists to isolate a receptor responsible for the effects of heroin and similar drugs, that ultimately led to the discovery of the brain’s natural opioids, the endorphins.
Endorphins was termed in the 1970s by the U.S. Researcher Eric Simon because they are endogenous–they originate within the organism–and because they bear a resemblance to morphine. As it turns out, endorphins is human’s innate opiate system. In the context of understanding the relationship between acupuncture and pain relief, acupuncture stimulates the release of endorphins which turns on the body’s opiate receptors. These chemical catalysts are powerful soothers of pain, both physical and emotional.
According to NIH (National Institutes of Health), acupuncture as complementary and alternative medicine have been accepted worldwide mainly for the treatment of acute and chronic pain. Studies on the mechanisms of action have revealed that endorphins, endogenous opioid peptides, in the central nervous system play an essential role in mediating the analgesic effect of acupuncture.
Dr. Bruce Pomeranz is a neuroscientist who earned his medical degree from the University of Illinois in Chicago. His scientific achievements include being first to publish that analgesia in acupuncture is mediated by endorphins. According to his hypothesis, acupuncture stimulates peripheral nerves that send messages to the brain to release endorphins; these endorphins block pain pathways in the brain. Like a good scientist with skepticism, he set out to disprove his own acupuncture-endorphin theory over the next 20 years. In that time, he concluded that he has more evidence in favor of the acupuncture-endorphin hypothesis than he has for 95% of conventional medicine.
One of the tests he engineered asked the question: What happens when you block the endorphins? He used naloxone, an “endorphin antagonist”, a powerful endorphin blocker that binds to receptors. For example, if you have an unconscious addict in the ER and you want to know if it’s an overdose of morphine (remember that endorphins are morphine-like compounds), you inject tiny amounts of naloxone. Because it blocks so powerfully, if it’s morphine, he will completely wake up. So his hypothesis was that if endorphins were involved with acupuncture and if he injected tiny amounts of naloxone, it should block the acupuncture effects he was seeing on these cells. Sure enough, it did!
With the overwhelming scientific support discussed here, the next time, whether you are seeking pain relief, stress release from emotional distress, or just a general euphoric feeling of wellness; you can get your fix from Chris Veiga by getting your brain’s “natural narcotics” turned on. He will give you the straight dope!!