Acupuncture – the new ergogen?

acuface1One thing that you readers may or may not have clued up on is my scepticism. While I do love a conspiracy theory as much as the next man, I do have my own reservations about what is bullshit and what is comprehensive bullshit. And of course, what is true – also known as science. This is one of two reasons I have actually written this article. This study was peer-reviewed and is soon-to-be published in The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, so I will give it the benefit of the doubt.

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese form of medicine aimed at inserting needles into the skin at certain point of the body, thereby allowing Qi (your “life energy”) to flow correctly. This can apparently help soothe aches and pains, promote recovery, clear a heavy mind and all-round relax you. I am not going to discuss any other study on acupuncture in this article, so don’t expect anything comprehensive here. But to sum a potentially long story short, the researchers concluded that while acupuncture will not aid any aerobic performance, it can actually help promote blood flow. Will this help recovery? It’s very possible, yes. Do I think its worthwhile paying to have a ton of needles stuck in me every week? Probably not, no. But no doubt some elite performance athletes believe it will make a difference to their game.

Earlier I said there were two reasons for this article, but never explained the second. Well, now I will – it’s to discuss an older article looking at the effect of electroacupuncture. And I realize that earlier I also said I would only discuss one study in this article. And as you no doubt realize at this point, I was lying. Consider it “author creativity”, and deal with it, ‘cause I like it. But back to the topic.

Electroacupuncture is basically acupuncture where the needles are wired up and a low-frequency microcurrent is fed through them (and thus, you the patient). A study from 2007 looked at the effect of electroacupuncture in mice in order to assess what effect it would have on myostatin. And as you’ve no doubt come to realize given that I am even bothering to type it, they found reductions in its expression. For those clueless, myostatin is a gene expressed that impedes muscle growth. This is because muscle comes with high metabolic demands to build and maintain, and is not something that made a whole lot of sense to have a lot of during winter fasts etc. If you’ve seen photos of cows that look obscenely muscular, these are the “Belgium Blue” breed that is missing the myostatin gene thanks to some clever breeding over time.myostatin_bull1

I am not sold (you could say skeptic) that electroacupuncture will make any difference in terms of body composition, but it is certainly something I have been curious about since I first saw that article three years ago. Does anyone know of a local acupuncturist that offers this service? If so, give it a go and get back to me.

Ahmedov S. Ergogenic Effect of Acupuncture in Sport and Exercise: A Brief Review. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Apr 9.

Takaoka Y, Ohta M, Ito A, Takamatsu K, Sugano A, Funakoshi K, Takaoka N, Sato N, Yokozaki H, Arizono N, Goto S, Maeda E. Electroacupuncture suppresses myostatin gene expression: cell proliferative reaction in mouse skeletal muscle. Physiol Genomics. 2007 Jul 18;30(2):102-10.

About the Author

Matt Cahill has worked extensively in the nutritional supplement field, and is the former CEO of Designer Supplements. During his time in the field has researched and developed prohormones, testosterone boosters, and other related compounds, both for his own company and others.