Acupuncture holds promise for treating sepsis
Washington: New research has shown relation between acupuncture use and physical processes that could alleviate sepsis - a condition that often develops in hospital ICU's, springs from infection and inflammation.
The researchers already knew that stimulation of one of the body's major nerves, the vagus nerve, triggers processes in the body that reduce inflammation, so they set out to see whether a form of acupuncture that sends a small electric current through that and other nerves could reduce inflammation and organ injury in septic mice.
Luis Ulloa, an immunologist at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, said that increasing the current magnifies the effect of needle placement, and notes that electrification is already FDA-approved for treating pain in human patients.
When the electroacupuncture was applied to mice with sepsis, molecules called cytokines that help limit inflammation were stimulated as predicted, and half of those mice survived for at least a week. There was zero survival among mice that did not receive acupuncture.
Ulloa and his team found that when they removed adrenal glands - which produce hormones in the body - the electroacpuncture stopped working.
That discovery, on its face, presented a big roadblock to use of acupuncture for sepsis in humans, because most human cases of sepsis include sharply reduced adrenal function. In theory, electroacupuncture might still help a minority of patients whose adrenal glands work well, but not many others.
On the one hand, Ullo said, the research shows physical evidence of acupuncture's value beyond any that has been demonstrated before. His results show potential benefits, he adds, not just for sepsis, but treating other inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and Crohn's disease.
The study has been published in the journal Nature Medicine.