Acupuncture has been shown both clinically and in plentiful research studies to be helpful for a range of pain conditions, psychological conditions as well as autoimmune conditions. Fibromyalgia is quite commonly treated and generally does quite well in large part due to the systemic and broader nature of the effects of acupuncture on the body. Fibromyalgia is more common than many may realize even though diagnosis can be difficult to pin down due to the range of symptoms. Worldwide it is estimated at 3-6% of the population with about 10 million in the United States – 70% or more of cases showing up in women.
For a basic introduction to the Chinese Medicine view of fibromyalgia, I suggest “Understanding fibromyalgia from an acupuncture perspective” which I wrote a couple years ago. Basically from a Chinese Medicine perspective we know it is a treatable condition and generally responds quite well. From a research perspective, however, we don’t exactly know “how” it seems to help fibromyalgia and that is the focus of my article today.
To better understand the “how” a group of researchers from a variety of Turkish institutions, including researchers from the Departments of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at both the Istanbul Training and Research Hospital and within Ataturk University, conducted a study to look deeper.
Using an acupuncture treatment group, a sham acupuncture control group and another simulated acupuncture control group researchers looked at effectiveness of acupuncture for fibromyalgia via a variety of pain scales but also in modulation of serotonin and substance P.
Now most people know generally the term serotonin, probably more as a mood chemical, but it plays a large role in pain and inflammation management in the body. Substance P, however, is less well known, certainly to the general public. Substance P was originally discovered in the 1930’s and it is an important part of the body’s initial responses to threat including the experience of pain, inflammation for protection, and other mood changes. It is often elevated, many times considerably so, in patients with fibromyalgia ( 1 ).
Researchers recruited 75 women with fibromyalgia and divided them into the treatment and two control groups. They were offered treatment twice weekly for 4 weeks and were evaluated before and after these sessions.
The researchers found that serotonin levels were increased significantly in the acupuncture group and the Substance P levels were significantly decreased compared to the control groups. In the acupuncture group all of the other pain scales and other markers were improved in addition to these very positive chemical changes. In most cases researchers saw that these positive changes lasted upwards of 3 months following cessation of the acupuncture treatment.
The researchers concluded that “Acupuncture, rather than sham or placebo acupuncture, may lead to long-term improvements on clinical outcomes and pain neuromediator values. Changes in serum serotonin and SP levels may be a valuable explanation for acupuncture mechanisms in FM treatment.”
All things considered this is a very useful study giving us insight into the reactions of the body internally to acupuncture in fibromyalgia patients. The findings here are, of course, not limited to fibromyalgia as many pain and destructive inflammatory responses related to many conditions have the same or similar chemical workings.