We rely on our immune system for many things. It is the immune system that fights against viruses, bacteria, and fungi; and it is the immune system that sets up sites of inflammation in places in the body such as when patients have rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease. The immune system protects us every second of the day from the plethora of germs in the air and in the things we touch.
There are few western therapies that can boost the activity of immune cells within the body. This is why many practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine have begun to look at the effectiveness of alternative therapies like acupuncture to maximize the function of the immune system.
The Effectiveness Of Acupuncture On The Immune System
There have been at least seven studies on humans that have been performed to see the effect of acupuncture on the immune system of patients suffering from cancer. These research studies were all performed in China with five of the studies reported in English and the others in Chinese.
Four of the studies were randomized controlled studies, which meant that there was a control group to compare with the group that got acupuncture. Two of the studies were simply case reports showing that acupuncture had a positive effect on the individual’s immune system.
Improved Platelet Counts
The first study was published in The Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It was a randomized and controlled study showing that acupuncture therapy improved the subjects’ platelet counts and stopped the typical decline in leukocytes that is seen after a person has chemotherapy or radiation therapy, when compared to a group of participants who did not receive acupuncture therapy.
Increased Leukocyte Function
A second study was also published in the The Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine. This study took 40 cancer patients who had just had surgery. Half of the patients received acupuncture on a daily basis, while the other has received no special treatment. After just three days of acupuncture, the function of the leukocytes was increased in the acupuncture-treated group when compared to the function of the leukocytes before surgery. This was not seen in the control population.
Enhanced Natural Killer Cells
A third study was published in another Chinese journal. It showed that acupuncture enhanced the activity of the body’s natural killer cells in patients who were suffering from cancerous tumors. The patients had either acupuncture treatment for a half hour every day for ten days, or were in a control group had no acupuncture therapy. The activity of the natural killer cells and the level of interleukin-2 were increased in those patients who got acupuncture therapy when compared to those who received no therapy.
Increased T-Lymphocytes and Endorphins
A fourth study was published in a Chinese medical journal. It looked at the effectiveness of acupuncture treatments on the T lymphocytes of the body as well as the level of endorphins in the blood of participants who had cancerous tumors. The research showed that acupuncture increased the number of T lymphocytes and increased the number of endorphins in the bloodstream.
Microwave Acupuncture Increased White Blood Cell Counts
A non-randomized research study, published in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, looked at the effectiveness of microwave acupuncture on the immune function of patients with cancer. Microwave acupuncture is a new technique in which needles are inserted and microwave radiation is applied to the needles in order to heat them up.
This study showed that there was a large increase in the white blood cell count among patients who received microwave therapy but the change wasn’t much different from that seen in patients who just took drug therapy.
Electro-Acupuncture Therapy Maintained T-Cell Levels
Another research study was published in The Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It took 28 patients stricken with cancer and treated them with electro-acupuncture therapy at the same time they were undergoing chemotherapy for their cancer. There were no decreases in the levels of T cells or in the natural killer cell activity in these patients. These are usually suppressed when a patient undergoes chemotherapy.
A related study, published in The Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, researchers found no decrease in immune functioning in patients who underwent chemotherapy for the treatment of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, colon cancer, and breast cancer.
Still another study was published in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It looked at 48 patients who were suffering from low white blood cell counts, including two patients suffering from cancer who received ordinary acupuncture. These patients showed an elevation in their white blood cell count, their immunoglobulin levels, and in their intracutaneous phytohemagglutinin (PHA) levels after receiving a total of fourteen acupuncture treatments given daily. This was compared to the levels of these things prior to being treated for their low blood cell count.
Overall, it appears from the studies that acupuncture can, in fact, boost the immune cell activity, particularly among patients being treated for cancer who have naturally low white blood cell counts after their chemotherapy or radiation treatments.