School of Medicine researcher John McDonald said previous research had shown that acupuncture helped to treat allergy and hay fever symptoms, but had not studied how it did this.
“As a practicing acupuncturist for 40 years, I have seen how effectively acupuncture can improve allergic conditions,” Mr McDonald said.
“However there is little understanding about acupuncture’s effects on our immune and nervous systems.”
More than 3.17 million Australians or 15.1 per cent of the population suffer from hay fever, commonly caused by grass pollen and dust mite.
Mr McDonald said current medication included antihistamines, which were only effective in treating early stages of the allergic response.
“If hay fever becomes chronic, antihistamines are not as effective and we urgently need to develop new medicine to deal with the later stages of the disorder.”
His PhD thesis is revealing for the first time how acupuncture changes our immune system and this understanding will inform future therapeutic treatments.
When our bodies produce too much neurotrophins, proteins that help to repair and grow nerves, it makes our nose hyper-sensitive resulting in itchy nose, sneezing, runny nose, blocked nose and a general feeling of unease.
Mr McDonald said acupuncture slowed the production of neurotrophins and other substances that stimulated their growth.
“Chemicals in our nervous system and immune system collaborate and interact with neurotrophins to stimulate their production,” he said.
“If we can break this collaboration, we can effectively control hay fever symptoms and we suspect that this is exactly what acupuncture does. The results of our study will answer this question.”
This research project commenced in November 2009 and now requires 60 more participants suffering from hay fever to take part in a trail on the Gold Coast early next year, which will offer free consultation with an allergy consultant and free acupuncture sessions.
The research project is funded by a grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council.