New Jersey: The ancient Chinese medical art of acupuncture holds promise for treating a life-threatening disease that often develops in hospital intensive care units springs from infection and inflammation.

“Sepsis is the major cause of death in the hospital. But, in many cases, patients do not die because of the infection. They die because of the inflammatory disorder they develop after the infection. So we hoped to study how to control the inflammatory disorder,” explained Luis Ulloa, an immunologist at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

The stimulation of one of the body’s major nerves – the vagus nerve – triggers processes in the body that reduce inflammation.

The researchers set out to see whether a form of acupuncture that sends a small electric current through that and other nerves could reduce inflammation and organ injury in septic mice.

When the electro-acupuncture was applied to mice with sepsis, molecules called cytokines that help limit inflammation were stimulated as predicted and half of those mice survived for at least a week.

There was zero survival among mice that did not receive acupuncture.

The researchers dug even deeper – to find the specific anatomical changes that occurred when electro-acupuncture was performed with functioning adrenal glands.

Those changes included increased levels of dopamine, a substance that has important functions within the immune system.

But they found that adding dopamine by itself did not curb the inflammation.

They then substituted a drug called fenoldopam that mimics some of dopamine’s most

positive effects, and even without acupuncture, they succeeded in reducing sepsis-related deaths by 40 percent.

This research shows physical evidence of acupuncture’s value beyond any that has been demonstrated before.

“The results show potential benefits not just for sepsis but treating other inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and Crohn’s disease,” added Ulloa in the study published by the journal Nature Medicine.

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