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Acupuncture does not appear to have an immunological effect on the Th1–Th2 imbalance; however, acupuncture treatment reduces levels of eotaxin and other nonspecific pro-inflammatory cytokines in patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis.

As a supplementary and integrative medical therapy, acupuncture targets specific acupoints to enhance the treatment of various disorders. As acupuncture is a relatively risk-free treatment, many individuals attempt to alleviate their symptoms using acupuncture. Numerous studies have proved acupuncture’s efficacy in treating seasonal allergic rhinitis (SAR).

This randomized controlled trial, published in the European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology, explored the efficacy of acupuncture in SAR. The inclusion criteria were patients between the ages of 16 and 45 with moderate to severe SAR for at least 2 years. Over eight weeks, 16 patients received acupuncture plus rescue medication (RM, cetirizine), 6 received sham acupuncture plus RM, and 8 received RM alone. Patients were unaware of whether they were receiving real or sham acupuncture. In addition to validated disease-specific questionnaires, plasma and nasal concentrations of mediators of several biological activities were measured at baseline and at various time points during the intervention.

It was found that plasma and nasal fluid concentrations of biomarkers related to the Th1-, Th2-, and Treg-cluster did not change in individuals who received acupuncture. In contrast, acupuncture decreased the nasal concentration of eotaxin and other nonspecific pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-1b, IL-8, IP-10, MIP-b, and MCP-1). In addition, only real acupuncture lowered the nasal symptom score significantly among patients.

After 8 weeks following the intervention, the level of pro-inflammatory cytokines was highest in the sham-acupuncture group, followed by the RM group. The lowest levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines were found in the participants who received real acupuncture. This shows that acupuncture reduces nonspecific inflammation. This study did not reveal any acupuncture-related significant change in concentrations of cytokines associated with the Th1- or Th2-pathway, neither locally in nasal fluid nor systemically in plasma.

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The study concluded that patients with SAR who received real acupuncture showed a reduction in pro-inflammatory cytokines; however, acupuncture does not appear to affect the Th1–Th2 imbalance immunologically. The paper stresses the need for additional research on this element of acupuncture since an anti-inflammatory effect may assist in explaining why acupuncture helps treat various diseases.

Gellrich, D., Pfab, F., Ortiz, M., Binting, S., Brinkhaus, B., & Gröger, M. (2022). Acupuncture and its effect on cytokine and chemokine profiles in seasonal allergic rhinitis: a preliminary three-armed, randomized, controlled trial. European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology, 279(10), 4985-4995. doi:10.1007/s00405-022-07335-5