Acupuncture could help treat alcoholics, according to a study.
Researchers inSouth Koreafound rats had suffered less withdrawal symptoms after undergoing the ancient practice.
Tests revealed that acupuncture ‘restored’ pathways in the brain believed to be impaired in those dependent onalcohol.
Acupuncture, traditionally fromChina, uses tiny needles inserted into parts of the body, most often to relieve pain.
The researchers at Daegu Haany University believe their findings could implicate treatment strategies.
But a sceptical expert today slammed the study and said the evidence supporting acupuncture remains too weak.
Acupuncture could help treat alcoholics, according to Korean researchers who conducted a study on rats. (Stock photo)
Acupuncture has become more popular as many Western practitioners offer it for health conditions as well as general wellbeing.
The NHS sometimes offer it as a complementary medicine for migraines, joint pain and chronic pain in line with guidance from health watchdogs.
The traditional view is energy, or ‘Qi’, flows through 12 channels in the body and if the flow is interrupted it can cause ill-health.
Using very thin needles at ‘trigger points’ restores the flow of energy and relieves pain, advocates say.
The latest study, published in Science Journals, suggests acupuncture is able to change how the brain reacts to alcohol.
Researchers, led by Suchan Chang, administered ethanol – the chemical compound in alcohol that causes intoxication – to rats over a period of 16 days.
This made the rats dependent on alcohol, and suffering from withdrawal symptoms when it was kept from them.
The researchers recorded when withdrawal was strongest. For example, tremors spiked around three hours after a ‘drink’.
A control group of rats were also studied. They were given the same diet and no alcohol.
The alcohol dependent rats underwent acupuncture on the wrist for 20 seconds two hours after alcohol.
The wrist point, known as HT7, is believed to fire up neurons in the brain thought to be dampened in people with alcohol dependency.
The rats were given acupuncture at the wrist point known as HT7, which is believed to fire up neurons in the brain which are believed to be reduced in people with alcohol dependency
WHAT DID THE STUDY FIND?
The animals underwent acupuncture on the wrist for 20 seconds two hours after alcohol consumption.
The wrist point, known as HT7, is believed to active neurons in the brain which have are believed to be reduced in people with alcohol dependency.
It has been shown that chronic alcohol consumption reduces β-endorphin neuron activity.
There also appears to be less movement of β-endorphin in the brain into a region called the nucleus accumbens, which play a role in our reward and stress responses.
The researchers found a significant elevation in β-endorphin levels in the alcohol-dependant rats, and more firing of neurons into the nucleus accumbens.
They rats showed less withdrawal symptoms of tremors and anxiety after having acupuncture.
Acupuncture significantly reduced how often the rats’ sought ethanol, known as self-administration. This was recorded by how often the rats pressed a button.
The researchers noted acupuncture at a different location of the wrist, the LI5 point, did not have an effect.
This suggests the tremors were not reduced by acupuncture itself – as acupuncture can be used to reduce motor impairment – and instead reduces the tremors by changing activity in the brain.
Results showed these neurons significantly increased in number and activity, more so than the healthy rats, slashing the need for alcohol.
The alcohol dependent rats had less withdrawal symptoms after having acupuncture and they didn’t seek alcohol as much as before.
They authors wrote: ‘These results suggest acupuncture may provide a novel, potential treatment strategy for alcohol use disorder by direct activation of the brain pathway.’
But Dr Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter, was critical of the study.
He told MailOnline: ‘There are many reasons why I am not impressed with this investigation.
‘Firstly, it is an animal experiment, and we know that such research is often not reproducible in human patients.
‘Secondly, the researchers knew which animal received which intervention; therefore they could easily have influenced the results.’
‘Thirdly, the study comes from Korea, and we know from several independent reviews that acupuncture studies from Asia are rarely negative. This means we must doubt their reliability.’
Dr Ernst added: ‘Most importantly, the current best evidence fails to convincingly demonstrate that acupuncture is effective for alcohol withdrawal.
‘In other words, this new study is at odds with what we already know, and my advise is to never trust a single study but rely on what the totality of the evidence tells us.’
Acupuncture has emerged as a treatment for alcohol dependency in recent years, but it has little scientific support.
The World Health Organization listed a number of conditions in which they say acupuncture has been proven effective in 2003, with alcohol or substance dependency falling under ‘may help but more evidence is needed’.
Human studies have shown mixed results for the effects of acupuncture on reducing clinical symptoms of alcohol addiction.
This could be due to it not working, or variations in how acupuncture was administered.
WHAT IS ACUPUNCTURE USED FOR AND IS IT SAFE?
What is acupuncture used for?
Acupuncture is used in many NHS GP practices, as well as in most pain clinics and hospices in the UK, as a form of complementary or alternative medicine.
It’s used to treat a wide range of health conditions. In 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed a number of conditions in which they say acupuncture has been proven effective.
These include high and low blood pressure, painful periods, morning sickness, tennis elbow, sciatica and inducing labour.
In the UK, The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) provides guidelines for the NHS on the use of treatments and care of patients.
Currently, NICE only recommends considering acupuncture as a treatment option for chronic tension-type headaches and migraines.
Acupuncture is also often used to treat other musculoskeletal conditions (of the bones and muscles) and pain conditions, including chronic pain, such as neck pain, joint pain, dental pain, postoperative pain.
However, the evidence on the effectiveness of acupuncture compared with other treatments is unclear.
Acupuncture is sometimes available on the NHS, although access is limited. Therefore most acupuncture patients pay for private treatment.
Is acupuncture safe?
The NHS advises on its Choices website that acupuncture is safe when practiced with good hygiene by a qualified practitioner.
Some people experience mild, short-lived side effects such as:
Pain where the needles puncture the skin
Bleeding or bruising where the needles puncture the skin
Feeling dizzy or faint
Worsening of pre-existing symptoms
If you have a bleeding disorder, such as haemophilia, or are taking anticoagulants, talk to your GP before you have acupuncture.
Acupuncture is also not usually advised if you have a metal allergy or an infection in the area where needles may be inserted.
It’s generally safe to have acupuncture when you’re pregnant. However, let your acupuncture practitioner know if you’re pregnant because certain acupuncture points can’t be used safely during pregnancy.
The British Acupuncture Council holds a register of practitioners that has been vetted and approved by the Professional Standards Authority