Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medical practice dating back thousands of years. Even today, it is a critical component of traditional Chinese medicine. In the past few decades, traditional Chinese medicine, particularly acupuncture, has gained a following in the West. So much so, that studies have recently been conducted to test the validity of the widely praised practice.
Researchers have studied the effects of acupuncture on a variety of issues, including pain relief, stress management, immune system response, inflammation, and even chronic conditions such as psoriasis, arthritis, and Parkinson’s. It is important to note that no major double-blind studies have been conducted regarding the topic of acupuncture’s effectiveness. The small-scale research that currently stands, however, suggests that it may help alleviate symptoms.
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So far, three scientific reviews suggest that acupuncture is worth investigating as an alternative therapy treatment for psoriasis. Two of the studies–a 2015 systematic review and a 2017 review of 13 randomized trials–saw a slight benefit to acupuncture treatments, but also some conflicting results. A third review yielded a more positive result. A 2017 literary overview cited acupuncture therapy as an easy method that produced effective results, all with little to no risk of side effects on the patient. The outlook is even more positive on patients with joint pain. In 2018, a study found that acupuncture treatments alleviated joint pain in postmenopausal women with early-stage breast cancer. The following year, researchers found that patients with rheumatoid arthritis in the hand experienced fewer pain symptoms and more strength after they received acupuncture treatments.
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Perhaps more intriguing about acupuncture is its observed effects on patients with Parkinson’s Disease. In May 2019, researchers from the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found evidence that points to the idea that acupuncture may improve patients’ motor skills by enhancing specific neural pathways in the brain that control movement. The researchers observed the results of bee venom acupuncture treatment with magnetic resonance imaging. Korean scientists conducted a review of 42 studies of acupuncture on rodent subjects and concluded that 40 of the 42 studies properly demonstrated that acupuncture increased tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) in the substantia nigra region of the brain–the region which is primarily affected by Parkinson’s Disease. This finding is fairly significant because tyrosine hydroxylase is a key enzyme involved in dopamine production. Symptoms of Parkinson worsen if there is a shortage of dopamine in the brain. However, the studies could not prove that acupuncture increased dopamine levels. Still, test subjects in multiple of the studies were shown to demonstrate alleviated symptoms after treatment.
Researchers have not yet reached the conclusion of whether or not acupuncture is a viable treatment for the conditions listed. Though more comprehensive studies still need to be conducted, the existing evidence suggests that there is validity to this traditional practice. The extent of these effects has yet to be determined.
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