Scientists have identified a mechanism which explains why acupuncture can be effective at relieving pain. Researchers found that adenosine, a natural compound with painkilling and anti-inflammatory properties, is produced in tissues where needles are inserted.
In experiments involving mice with chronic inflammatory pains, they found that acupuncture dramatically reduced signs of discomfort. Adenosine levels in tissues punctured by needles were 24 times higher than usual. In contrast, there was no effect on mice which had been genetically prevented from responding to adenosine.
Researchers, who reported their findings in the journal Nature Neuroscience, also found that the cancer drug deoxycoformycin, which makes it harder for tissues to remove adenosine, extended the time acupuncture was effective as a pain reliever.
"Acupuncture has been a mainstay of medical treatment in certain parts of the world for 4,000 years, but because it has not been understood completely, many people have remained sceptical," said Maiken Nedergaard, of the University of Rochester Medical Centre.