Although it has been practiced for thousands of years, there seems to be a lack of modern scientific language to explain how and why acupuncture works. While modern day fans of the technique swear by its ability to reduce pain, many are skeptical, attributing the efficacy of acupuncture to placebo effect.
A recent study in Nature Neuroscience journal points to the naturally-occurring substance adenosine as a possible mechanism for the pain relief acupuncture has provided for millennia. The body sends adenosine to punctured or otherwise injured tissue. Adenosine appears to cause an anti-inflammatory response, easing pain and discomfort.
In this study, conducted at the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, mice were treated with acupuncture. After treatment, the level of adenosine in the tissue near the needle insertion points was nearly two dozen times greater than before the treatment.
Though the findings are promising, researchers agree that human trials are the next step in determining the role acupuncture and adenosine play in pain management. As scientific evidence mounts, skeptics await proof of what acupuncture devotees know from real life experience and 4000 years of successful practice.