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What we know vs. what we don't know

Updated: Mar 18, 2022

I've been doing a bit of light reading about the science and evidence behind acupuncture's methods of action.

Many people who come to me are content to allow their pets to be treated when conventional approaches have failed without knowing how it might work, and a growing number are just interested in exploring more 'natural' therapies (for themselves and their pets) anyway, but there are still a proportion of hardened sceptics in the human and veterinary healthcare fields who would label acupuncture as quackery; at best a placebo and at worst a dangerous distraction from more effective treatment methods.

For this reason I feel it is sensible to keep refreshing and updating my knowledge of the growing body of research that has gone into trying to explain acupuncture's effects.

It started in the 1970s with some grotesque studies: one by Peng and others in 1978 treated some rabbits with acupuncture, then extracted their serum and cerebrospinal fluid and injected it into another group of rabbits. This second group were then subject to painful stimuli and it was shown that they had a higher pain threshold than a non-treated control group. Although it makes me wince it did show that something (a neurotrasmitting chemical or hormone) in the body fluids of the acupunctured rabbits was producing a protective effect against the painful stimuli. When they administered naloxone (an opioid-blocking drug) to the treated rabbits they did not show this higher pain threshold. This led the researchers to suggest the treated rabbits must have had high levels of endorphins (the body's natural opioid chemicals) to produce their pain relief, and that these endorphins were a result of the acupuncture treatment.

This was the first 'evidence' (along with several other studies) that showed that acupuncture causes endorphin release and helped the medical establishment (or at least most of it) to consider acupuncture seriously as a treatment option for pain.

There are new studies appearing all the time about the pain modulating effects, mechanical effects on muscle and fascial tissues, and like the paper above, the effects on the autonomic nervous system which regulates most of the body's automatic maintenance functions.

If you have any questions about the mechanisms behind acupuncture, do drop me an email or message. I might not have all the answers but I am happy to try and help you understand how it may be able to help your pet.

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