Acupuncture and endorphins

Neurosci Lett. 2004 May 6;361(1-3):258-61. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2003.12.019.


Acupuncture and electroacupuncture (EA) as complementary and alternative medicine have been accepted worldwide mainly for the treatment of acute and chronic pain. Studies on the mechanisms of action have revealed that endogenous opioid peptides in the central nervous system play an essential role in mediating the analgesic effect of EA. Further studies have shown that different kinds of neuropeptides are released by EA with different frequencies. For example, EA of 2 Hz accelerates the release of enkephalin, beta-endorphin and endomorphin, while that of 100 Hz selectively increases the release of dynorphin. A combination of the two frequencies produces a simultaneous release of all four opioid peptides, resulting in a maximal therapeutic effect. This finding has been verified in clinical studies in patients with various kinds of chronic pain including low back pain and diabetic neuropathic pain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Analgesia*
  • Afferent Pathways / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System / metabolism
  • Diabetic Neuropathies / therapy
  • Electroacupuncture / standards
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / therapy
  • Nociceptors / physiology
  • Opioid Peptides / metabolism*
  • Pain / metabolism
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Pain Management*


  • Opioid Peptides