New Science: Acupuncture Can Prevent Muscle Atrophy

Acupuncture has been part of Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries, but now Western science is looking into how and if it works. New research shows it can help prevent muscle atrophy.

Traditional Chinese medicine has used acupuncture for centuries to treat common ailments. Acupuncture is a technique originally used to restore balance to the flow of energy or life force known as qi or chi. Chi is believed to flow along pathways throughout your body called meridians. The technique of acupuncture uses thin needles that are inserted into various points along these meridians with the belief that chi will be rebalanced.

While research has not proven its efficacy in that regard, thousands of people in the United States still turn to this alternative medicine technique to stimulate nerves, muscles, and connective tissue.1 Acupuncture appears to help the body naturally deal with pain by increasing blood flow. A recent study done by Japanese researchers indicates that acupuncture therapy may also aid in mitigating muscle loss.2

The results of the study showed that decreases in muscle mass in mice can be significantly reversed by acupuncture. Akiko Onda, an acupuncturist and graduate student at the Waseda University School of Sport Sciences said, “The main focus of this study is changes in the mRNA expression levels of muscle-specific atrophic genes such as atrogin-1.” Onda continued:

Muscle mass and structure are determined by the balance between protein degradation and synthesis. It is my hope that this study will demonstrate acupuncture’s feasibility with regard to improving health among the elderly and medical patients. Our findings could identify acupuncture as the primary non-pharmacological treatment to prevent skeletal muscle atrophy in the future.3

The results of this study are quite promising since it uncovered one particular molecular mechanism responsible for the efficacy of acupuncture treatment and clarified its usefulness in preventing skeletal muscle atrophy in mice on the molecular level. Losing skeletal muscle mass has a negative effect on the elderly and sick, and inhibits their ability to participate in physical activity. Resistance training, improved nutritional habits, and other methods are often recommended to help deter muscle atrophy. Those who are already at a disadvantage from being frail due to age or sickness may not be able to implement those methods. Consequently, the possibility of using acupuncture as a non-pharmaceutical method to help prevent atrophy seems like a beneficial alternative.4

Acupuncture is still considered to be quite obscure, and is still not completely understood since all of its underlying mechanisms are unknown. This is why it is still considered an alternative form of medicine, and is still not accepted in the medical world as an effective and legitimate treatment for preventing skeletal muscle loss. However, with advancing research, acupuncture may soon be accepted as a new strategy for preventing skeletal muscle loss. Fortunately, this study has piqued more interest and will result in more in depth studies on acupuncture, in hopes of better understanding its mechanisms, and convincing the world of its efficacy.5

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