This article examines the mechanisms underlying the effects of acupuncture in the prevention and treatment of asthma. Existing evidence from asthma acupuncture research shows that benefits come from acupuncture’s anti-inflammatory properties – acupuncture modulates Th1/Th2 balance, blocks inflammatory cells and mediators, improves airway remodeling, and regulates the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis function.
Acupuncture’s Long History Treating Asthma
Acupuncture has been used to treat asthma and bronchitis in China for more than a thousand years. Typical asthma symptoms include wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and tightness in the chest. Asthma is considered a chronic inflammatory disease of the lungs. The National Institutes of Health of China has approved acupuncture as a primary treatment for asthma based on its regulatory effect on mucosal and cellular immune systems in asthma patients.
Asthma Acupuncture Research – Current Evidence
Numerous studies have confirmed acupuncture’s anti-inflammatory effect on the lungs. Carneiro et al. reported that electroacupuncture at GV 14, BL 13, LU 1, CV 17, ST 36, and SP 6 led to a reduction in the overall cell counts of neutrophils and eosinophils, seen from bronchoalveolar samples.
Manual acupuncture at GV 14, BL 12, and BL 13 suppressed airway hyperresponsiveness and inhibited the elevation of total leukocyte, neutrophil, lymphocyte, and eosinophil counts in lung fluid. Furthermore, Nurwati, et al. (2019), reported that manual acupuncture at BL 13 and ST 36 reduced the numbers of inflammatory cells, such as neutrophils and eosinophils in the blood, in a mouse model of chronic asthma.
Acupuncture Improves the Adaptive Immune Response
Evidence suggests that acupuncture regulates the immune system via T-helper cells – restoring equilibrium between Th1 and Th2 activity by decreasing cytokines, increasing Th1 levels, reducing proinflammatory cytokines, and controlling T-regulator levels.
Park et al. found that acupuncture reduced the serum levels of IgE and Th2-specific cytokines, while Kwon et al. concluded that acupuncture affected the activity of cluster of differentiation.
One study showed that acupuncture at GV 14, BL 13, LU 1, CV 17, ST 36, and SP 6 increased the IL-1 levels while simultaneously reducing IL-4 levels of bronchoalveolar lavage pulmonary fluid. A number of other studies have examined acupuncture’s effects on reducing levels of proinflammatory cytokines. Manual acupuncture at BL 13 and ST 36 significantly reduced blood levels of IL-17 in ovalbumin-induced asthmatic mice. Other acupoints, including GV 14, BL 12, and BL 13 (Wei et al.) reduced airway hyperresponsiveness and inflammation.
Additional asthma acupuncture research (Dong, et al.) concluded that acupuncture reduced the concentration of proinflammatory cytokines, as well as levels of CD4+ IL-17A. At the same time, acupuncture increased serum levels of secreted suppression of tumorigenicity
Acupuncture Improves Airway Remodeling
Manual acupuncture at BL 13 and ST 36 was shown to improve airway remodeling in a mouse model of chronic asthma. Two weeks of acupuncture treatment significantly reduced the thickness of the bronchial lining and smooth muscle and reduced the number of Goblet cells in the bronchioles.
Acupuncture and HPA Axis Function
Another asthma acupuncture research study, Wei et al., utilized manual acupuncture at GV 14, BL 12, and BL 13 to reduce airway inflammation and regulate HPA activity in asthma patients. Acupuncture reduced immune cell levels, shifting the hyporesponsiveness of the HPA axis and increasing corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) levels.
Acupuncture Segmental Stimulation
Allergy-induced asthma involves the autonomic nervous system. Acupuncture increases parasympathetic nerve activation while reducing sympathetic nervous system response. Furthermore, the acupuncture points located along the thoracic vertebrae engage the sensory-nerve fibers of the thoracic segment of the spinal cord. Stimulating these points activates the sympathetic nervous system.
Sympathetic nerve fibers originating from T-1–T-4 of the spinal cord innervate the bronchus and its branches. Thus, segmental stimulation of acupuncture points activates the sympathetic nerves toward the bronchus, calming asthma in the process.
Acupuncture, through segmental stimulation, HPA axis, and local inflammation reaction modulate Th1/Th2 balance, bronchodilatation, mucous production inhibition, and blockage of inflammatory mediators from mast cells. Extensive asthma acupuncture research confirms acupuncture’s benefits in treating asthma patients.
Ida Nurwati, Muthmainah Muthmainah, and Khairunnisa Nurul Huda.Medical Acupuncture.Oct 2020.272-279.http://doi.org/10.1089/acu.2020.1443
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My treatments for asthma at Raleigh Acupuncture were successful. I’ve had asthma my whole life. It was typically triggered when I played sports or physically exerted myself. I was using an inhaler (Advair) for years, but wanted to try acupuncture to see if I could stop using it.
My research on acupuncture treating asthma showed mixed results, but the doctor at the acupuncture office encouraged me to try their treatment. I received 12 treatments total. After the first six treatments I was noticing a positive difference. I didn’t have to use my inhaler as often. After the 12 visits I was needing the inhaler even less frequently.
I can tell that my lungs are stronger now. I get less winded, wheeze much less frequently, and have more stamina. I will continue the acupuncture on a maintenance basis to keep up the benefits. I recommend them for treating asthma.