One thing lovers of acupuncture agree upon is that a session leaves them feeling at peace, calm, and relaxed, and decreases their overall level of stress.
While the empirical evidence is there, Wang, et al. sought to scientifically determine what brain activity is occurring that causes a decrease in stress in acupuncture patients.
The Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Cortex Axis (HPAA) includes the three endocrine glands: the hypothalamus, the pituitary, and the adrenal glands. These organs are a major part of the system that controls stress reactions and regulates many of the body’s processes, including mood and emotions. The Glucocorticoid Receptor (GR) is expressed in almost every cell in the body, and is involved in controlling development, metabolism, and immune response. Previous research found that stress affected GR expression, and previous acupuncture research had linked stimulation of the HPAA to stress reduction, but changes in the GR linked to acupuncture treatments had not yet been clearly shown. In this study, researchers focused on these areas to determine how acupuncture reduces stress.
The researchers were able to conclude that the effect of acupuncture on stress reduction was achieved via HPAA functional regulation by stimulating different acupuncture points throughout the body. While more research will need to be done to confirm the findings of this study, it’s exciting to see scientifically-based evidence for how acupuncture decreases stress and how it can have an effect on patients’ mood and emotions.