In a newly published study, researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center say that acupuncture triggers the release of adenosine, a natural pain killer in the body, as well as metabolites of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the major source of cellular energy.
Adenosine blocks pain signals to keep them from being sent to the brain. It's typically released in response to injury. The researchers theorize that while the acupuncture needle typically causes little or no pain, it damages enough cells to trigger adenosine release.
Once they saw adenosine levels rise, they tried a drug known to keep adenosine in the body longer -- deoxycoformycin (a.k.a. pentostatin) -- to see if it helped sustain the pain relief from acupuncture. It did, which adds credence to their theory and also provides a possible new method of treatment. Deoxycoformycin is already on the market in the U.S., so researchers say human trials may begin soon.
This study was looking at pain, but the results are interesting for sleep and energy, as well. Adenosine is believed to be involved in regulating the sleep cycle, which is typically dysregulated in people with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. ATP, which was also increased in the study, provides energy for cellular function -- and some studies have suggested that ATP is deficient in people with these illnesses.
After an acupuncture session, I feel less pain, and relaxed but energized. I typically sleep really well for a night or two. Is adenosine release responsible for that? It's too early in the research stage to say for sure, but it does seem to fit.
I hear a lot of people say that acupuncture helps, but just for a short time. If further research demonstrates that deoxycoformycin helps extend the benefits, the combination could make for a much more beneficial treatment. (Of course, then you have the possibility of side effects or drug intolerance to deal with.)
I hope this study gets the follow-up it needs to prove or disprove these effects -- if they're proven, it could not only mean better treatment for millions of people, it could make skeptical doctors more likely to write referrals for acupuncture because it provides a scientific basis for its effects