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Endorphins & Acupuncture/Acupressure: Is there a neurobiological explanation for the results we achieve with tapping?

By Dr. David Lake

Warning: scientific concepts approaching. Some may find this a bit “heavy” in scientific language however the implications for possibly explaining the effects of tapping are fascinating…

Here is a very simple concept, with some scientific references for those who like big words and more proof. In theory, it is possible that much of the clinical changes we see when using the tapping are mediated by the brain, because of neuropeptide transmitter chemicals.

Greater scientific minds than ours are pondering the links between acupuncture and the body’s own morphine-like compounds. [Dr GB Stefano is one such researcher. The references here are for some of his research, typically the simple abstracts below. These are taken from the website of the National Center for Biotechnology Information.] These substances are called endorphins or opioids, and there are many of them. They are in a class of compounds called neuropeptides. They are vital compounds in the body and brain.

The purpose of this brief summary is to outline some of the recent research..

For an overview see:

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endorphins

2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuropeptide

Here are some of the fascinating associations of neuropeptides (click on the links to be taken to the original abstract or article from which these quotes are taken):

We make our own endorphins in many different tissues

“Recent studies have unequivocally proven the existence of a mammalian morphine biosynthetic pathway, which consists of at least 19 steps and is different in its early steps from that occurring in plants. Because the endogenous morphine biosynthesis takes place in mammals, their cells and tissues are constantly exposed to certain amounts of morphine and its precursors” (http://www.jbc.org/cgi/content/full/282/37/27126).

The pleasure and reward mechanisms of the brain are likely to be involved with these compounds

“Pleasure can serve cognition, productivity and health, and endogenous morphinergic mechanisms may play a role”

(http://www.nel.edu/pdf_/NEL250404R01_Esch-Stefano_p_.pdf)

Morphine-like compounds signal vital systems for animals during evolution to now

“… ongoing development and adaptation of catecholamine signaling pathways in animals appear to be related to their mobile lifestyle associated with complex feeding, sexual and protective processes, which also generate free radicals, thus requiring morphinergic signaling coupling to NO release.” (http://tinyurl.com/644tqv)

These compounds are the main signal regulators in the embryo’s growth

“Our data provide compelling evidence in support of both the evolutionary primacy and primordial regulatory role of mu(3)-like opiate receptor/NO signaling in embryogenesis.” (http://tinyurl.com/6zbj2c)

Acupuncture

“The phenomenon of acupuncture is both complex and dynamic. Recent information demonstrates that acupuncture may exert its actions on pain and immune processes…Furthermore, acupuncture needle manipulation elicited signal increases bilaterally in the region of the primary and secondary somatosensory corticies in human brain as determined by magnetic resonance imaging. The maps reveal marked signal decreases bilaterally in multiple limbic and deep gray structures including the nucleus accumbens, amygdala, hypothalamus, hippocampus, and ventral tegmental area. Taken together, we surmise a major central nervous system pathway as well as local pain and immune modulation during acupuncture.”

(http://tinyurl.com/6e4wcw)

The placebo effect seems to be present and measurable, and could involve neuropeptides:

Some say that tapping is “snake-oil” and isn’t a scientifically-validated technique. That its effect is “all in the mind”. Steve Wells has said that tapping has never gained its fair share of the placebo effect! But now researchers are finding that complex neurological mechanisms underlie this effect, if it is present while using tapping. These include neuropeptides.

Definition: “A placebo effect or placebo response is a therapeutic and healing effect of an inert medicine or ineffective therapy, or more generally is the psychosocial aspect of every medical treatment. Sometimes known as non-specific effects or subject-expectancy effects, a placebo effect (or its counterpart, the nocebo effect), occurs when a patient’s symptoms are altered in some way (i.e., alleviated or exacerbated) by a treatment, due to the individual expecting or believing that it will work.”…

“Recent research strongly indicates that a placebo response is a complex psychobiological phenomenon, contingent upon the psychosocial context of the subject, that may be due to a wide range of neurobiological mechanisms, with the specific response mechanism differing from circumstance to circumstance. The very existence of these “placebo responses” strongly suggest that “we must broaden our conception of the limits of endogenous human control” (Benedetti et al. 2005, p.10390); and, in recent times, researchers in a number of different areas have demonstrated the presence of biological substrates, unique brain processes, and neurological correlates for the “placebo response”: (http://tinyurl.com/3hvpcc)

“We surmise that placebo-induced belief will activate the prefrontal cortex with downstream stimulatory effects on these dopamine systems as well as on periaqueductal grey opioid output neurons. Placebo responses in Parkinson’s disease, depression and pain disorder may result. In addition, mesolimbic/mesocortical control of the stress response systems may provide a way for the placebo response to benefit other medical conditions.” (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15874901)

Relaxing could be molecular

“There appears to be a molecular process for relaxation. Given this, we attempt to demonstrate this phenomenon based on established molecular and physiological processes in light of our current understanding of central and peripheral nervous system mechanisms. Central to our hypothesis is the significance of norepinephrine, nitric oxide, dopamine and morphine signaling both in the central and peripheral nervous system. We find that nitric oxide and morphine control catecholamine processes on many levels, including synthesis, release and actions. We conclude that enough scientific information exists to support these phenomena as actual physical processes that can be harnessed to provide better patient care.” (http://tinyurl.com/6c8262)

Endogenous morphine and wellness

“…morphine is an endogenous signaling molecule, functioning in the capacity of a neurotransmitter and hormone” (http://tinyurl.com/4odrt3)

Over-eating might be due to opioid signalling

http://tinyurl.com/68wfzl

Endorphins may regulate tumour growth

http://tinyurl.com/3oe4e9

Endorphins might protect against Alzheimer’s disease

http://tinyurl.com/55gspl

The pain pathways in the brain might also be linked to immunity:

“Acupuncture may exert its actions both on pain and immune processes by the coupling of immune and pain systems which occurs via common signaling molecules-opioid peptides. It is possible that opioid activation leads to both the processing of opioid peptides from their precursor, proenkephalin, and the simultaneous release of antibacterial peptides contained within the precursor (proenkephalin). Thus, central nervous system pain circuits may be coupled to immune enhancement (Gollub, Hui and Stefano, 1999)”. [“Foundations For Integrative Musculoskeletal Medicine: An East-West Approach” Alon Marcus]

Conclusion

On one hand, I like to remember that no-one knows how tapping works. On the other hand, the actual results in treating fear and anxiety-based conditions are compelling, so something powerful is happening. Wouldn’t it be interesting if this kind of research approach found a valid neurobiological explanation-even cause-for the effects of tapping?

 

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