In Western medicine, the jury is still out on whether acupuncture delivers health benefits, Medical News reports. But now, a new study adds further evidence of its worthiness, as scientists have shown a direct connection between acupuncture and physical mechanisms that heal sepsis, a common condition in hospital intensive care units that springs from infection and inflammation.
The researchers, from Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, published their results in the journal Nature Medicine.
They note that sepsis causes around 250,000 deaths in the US each year.
"But in many cases patients don't die because of the infection," says lead author Luis Ulloa, an immunologist at Rutgers. "They die because of the inflammatory disorder they develop after the infection. So we hoped to study how to control the inflammatory disorder."
Although acupuncture has been practiced for thousands of years in Eastern countries, it is relatively new to Western medicine. The technique works by stimulating specific points on the body with tiny needles that penetrate the skin.
Researchers from this latest study say they already knew that stimulating the vagus nerve - a major nerve in the body - activates mechanisms in the body that reduce inflammation.
As such, they tested whether electroacupuncture - a form of acupuncture that involves sending a small electric current through the nerves - reduces inflammation and organ injury in mice with sepsis. Half of septic mice who received electroacupuncture survived.
Researchers say their findings are significant because they provide evidence of acupuncture's benefits beyond what has been shown before, and they also show uses for treating other inflammatory diseases besides sepsis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and Crohn's disease.
Additionally, they say they have provided a potential avenue for developing drugs for humans that could reduce sepsis deaths.