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Advances in stress relief: Electroacupuncture

Posted on 02-03-16 in Behavioral Health, Mental Health, PTSD, Stress

Advances in stress relief: Electroacupuncture

According to a study conducted by researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., electroacupuncture — or acupuncture combined with electrical stimulation — can reduce the impact of chronic stress in rats. These promising results indicate that electroacupuncture might also be able to help people struggling with anxiety disorders.

What is electroacupuncture?

Electroacupuncture is a relatively new form of acupuncture that involves continuous, small electrical shocks as well as the more traditional needles. Like in traditional acupuncture, a trained professional inserts needles into specific locations along the body. The needles are then attached to a device that generates electrical pulses. The intensity and frequency of these pulses can be dampened or increased depending on the condition being treated.

Electroacupuncture treatments usually last no longer than 30 minutes.

How electroacupuncture helps rats

The study, published in the scientific journal Experimental Biology and Medicine, was the first to find that electroacupuncture can effectively block one of the biological pathways that is activated during chronic stress.

The researchers divided the rats into four groups: a stress-only group, an electroacupuncture group, a sham electroacupuncture group and a control group.

  • In the stress-only group, rats were exposed to cold stress for one hour every day. They received no treatment afterward and were simply returned to their cages.
  • In the electroacupuncture group, the rats were exposed to cold stress and then treated with electroacupuncture. The scientists were curious to see whether or not electroacupuncture could mitigate each rat’s physiological response to the stress.
  • In the sham electroacupuncture group, the rats were exposed to cold stress and then treated with incorrectly applied electroacupuncture. In other words, the researchers placed the needles in non-therapeutic locations. This was to determine whether the mere presence of electricity and needles was sufficient to reduce the stress.
  • In the control group, the rats were neither exposed to cold stress nor treated with acupuncture. The scientists used this group to determine typical rat physiology.

The researchers measured each rat’s blood level of a neuropeptide Y, a protein that floods the body during chronic stress. The neuropeptide Y levels were much lower in the rats that received electroacupuncture than in the rats in the sham or stress-only groups.

In other words? Electroacupuncture successfully reduced chronic stress in the rats.

Can electroacupuncture help me?

Scientists are still investigating how well electroacupuncture works in humans. Even though sparse, research has been encouraging (for instance, electroacupuncture has been found to reduce neuropathic pain in some instances). Giving it a chance shouldn’t hurt — and it might very well make your life a little less stressful.

At the Sovereign Health Group’s mental health treatment program, we understand that no two patients have identical needs. For this reason, all patients receive individualized, customized treatment plans best suited to their unique challenges. We provide patients with scientifically based cognitive training to improve brain wellness, as well as individual therapy, group therapy, yoga classes, equine therapy, stress management and group outings. For more information, please contact our 24/7 helpline.

Written by Courtney Lopresti, M.S. in neuroscience, Sovereign Health Group staff writer

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