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Acupuncture Migraine Relief Confirmed In Laboratory Investigation

Acupuncture alleviates migraine headaches. Many clinical trials compare MRI scans, biological markers, and subjective clinical outcomes in human trials. This investigation varies by using only biological markers to confirm the results in a laboratory investigation. Overall, this multi-arm investigation demonstrates that a limited acupuncture point prescription of local points is enhanced by the addition of distal acupoints. 

Researchers from Shandong University of Traditional Chinese Medicine found both a limited conventional acupuncture protocol and Shu Gan Tiao Shen acupuncture produce significant positive clinical outcomes for patients with migraines. Shu Gan Tiao Shen (translated as liver-soothing and spirit-calming) acupuncture is a method of acupuncture used by China’s renowned Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctor, Professor Shan Qiuhua. The primary acupoints in Shu Gan Jie Yu are: Baihui (GV20), Fengchi (GB20), Neiguan (PC6), and Taichong (LV3). [1] The researchers also explained the biological mechanisms stimulated by acupuncture. The study was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

Biological Markers Prior to getting into the results, let’s go over the biomarkers used in the study. Calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) is an important marker of migraines. [2] It is released from the trigeminal neuro-microvascular system and triggers migraines by promoting sensitization of peripheral and central trigeminal neurons and glial cells, brain blood vessel vasodilation, and by enhancing release of substance P (SP) and 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT). [3] Receptor activity-modifying protein 1 (RAMP1) is essential for producing the receptor for CGRP.

A previous study demonstrates that elevation of RAMP1 can cause migraines by increasing neuronal CGRP receptor activity. [4] In addition, 5-hydroxytryptamin 1D Receptor (5-HT1DR) is a 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) receptor. When interacting with 5-HT, 5-HT1DR mRNA relieves migraines by decreasing CGRP levels in the trigeminal ganglion and nucleus. Acupuncture was successful at increasing these levels, thereby facilitating migraine relief.

Design The randomized study involved 40 laboratory rats. Subjects were divided into four arms, with 10 subjects in each arm. The first arm is a blank control group, which didn’t receive any intervention. The other three arms were injected with nitroglycerin to induce a migraine model. After injection, the third arm received conventional acupuncture (CA), while the fourth arm received Shu Gan Tiao Shen acupuncture (SGTSA). The second arm was a migraine model group which received no treatment for the study duration.

Results Compared with the control group, the levels of RAMP1 protein and mRNA in the spinal trigeminal nucleus (STN) and mesencephalon were significantly increased (P<0.05), while those of 5-HT1DR protein and mRNA considerably decreased (P<0.05) in the model group. After acupuncture treatment, both increased levels of RAMP1 protein and mRNA and decreased levels of 5-HT1DR mRNA and protein were significantly reversed in the two acupuncture groups (P<0.05). In addition, Shu Gan Tiao Shen acupuncture provided significantly superior outcomes over conventional acupuncture in down-regulating RAMP1 mRNA and protein levels in the STN and mesencephalon (P<0.05) and in up-regulating 5-HT1DR mRNA and protein levels (P<0.05). The researchers conclude that, “Our data indicates that acupuncture provides positive outcomes for migraine treatment.” They add that Shu Gan Tiao Shen acupuncture produced a superior benefit over conventional acupuncture by down-regulating RAMP1 mRNA and protein levels and up-regulating 5-HT1DR mRNA and protein levels to a greater degree.

Acupuncture Points The following primary acupoints were selected for the CA group: