Electroacupuncture may improve the regulation of blood sugar (glucose) levels, reveals a new international study that tested the technique in overweight and obese women, and in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Electroactupuncture is based on the same founding principles as the traditional Chinese technique of acupuncture. However, electrodes or crocodile clips are attached to the needles to send a small electric current between needles in order to stimulate acupuncture points in the body.
This painless method can have beneficial effects for women who are overweight or obese and who are unable to exercise, reports an international team of researchers who experimented with the technique.
The scientists studied a cohort of overweight and obese women, with or without PCOS, a common hormonal disorder among women of childbearing age that can lead to fertility problems and is associated with a risk of prediabetes. This condition is characterized by higher than normal fasting blood glucose levels.
The scientists measured changes in blood glucose in volunteers during and after the treatment session.
The procedure was also tested in rats to allow the scientists to study the mechanism leading to blood glucose uptake.
The findings, published online, April 2017, in The FASEB Journal, show that blood glucose levels improved after 45 minutes of treatment in women with PCOS and those without.
In rats, the researchers observed that electroaccupuncture caused muscle contractions, activating the autonomic nervous system. Similarly, the blood glucose regulating effect was reversed by administering drugs that block autonomic receptors.
"This study has the potential to gain better quality of life for patients with prediabetes and reduced capacity to regulate blood sugar levels, especially for those who have difficulty performing voluntary exercise," explains Elisabet Stener-Victorin of Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, one of the study's co-authors.
Previous research, published in 2013 by scientists in China, established beneficial effects on metabolism in patients who were obese or with PCOS.
Electroacupuncture is also used to ease the side effects caused by cancer treatments and is believed to have an analgesic effect on acute and chronic pain.