The role of CES in reducing the inflammatory response has been implicated more recently by Black who has shown that repeated acute or chronic psychological stress may also initiate the inflammatory response when the brain utilizes the same efferent pathways to respond to stress that it uses in the inflammatory response to fatty acids in the blood. The mediators are the major stress hormones norepinephrine, epinephrine, and cortisol together with components of the renin-angiotensin system, the proinflammatory cytokines.
There are numerous CES studies in which CES has been shown to reduce the levels of stress hormones in the body. Usually this reduction is found to be in connection with a rebalanced relationship between stress related hormones and other hormones with which they are normally in balance in non stress states.
For example, Pozos and his team found that CES could bring back into homeostatic balance the neurotransmitter dopamine that had been deliberately thrown out of balance in an animal preparation, thus removing Parkinson like symptoms that he had induced with the imbalance earlier.4
Gold and his coworkers found that CES could bring back into homeostatic balance the endorphin-norepinephrine system in the brains of withdrawing human addicts, thus eliminating the major stress of the drug abstinence syndrome.5
Similar results were found in an animal preparation by Dougherty and his coworkers at the University of Texas.6,7
Shealy studied stress hormones specifically in a group of 164 patients who were severely depressed and found abnormal levels of melatonin, norepinephrine, beta-endorphin, serotonin and cholinesterase ranging widely throughout the group.8
Since similarly depressed patients had routinely responded well to CES in the past, he selected another group of 37 chronic pain patients whose pain was nonresponsive to usual treatments, and who were also depressed. He studied their stress hormone levels before and following CES treatment. He found pre-post changes in serotonin, beta-endorphin, norepinephrine and cholinesterase in the patients following stimulation with CES, 20 minutes a day for two weeks. Forty-four percent of the chronic pain patients reported significant improvement in their pain and required no additional treatment. The depressed patients reported 50% clinical improvement in their depression, often bringing them back within the normal range.9
In searching for the mechanism with which CES induced these changes, Shealy studied the cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) vs. blood plasma in 10 normal subjects prior to and following 20 minutes of CES stimulation. He found changes in melatonin, serotonin, norepinephrine, beta-endorphin and cholinesterase in both the CSF and blood plasma, but with greater changes in the blood plasma, in each instance. He concluded that CES activated a hypothalamic response that resulted in a body-wide change in the levels of those stress realted biochemicals.10
While inflammation was not measured in the above studies, in so far as stress hormones can engender the inflammation response CES could be inferred to be a significant treatment in reducing inflammation in the body, along with the myriad medical pathologies that accompany it.
To restate, we can assume that CES, by reducing depression and other signs of psychologically engendered chronic stress, may well play a significant role in reducing or eliminating psychogenic inflammation. That being the case, then another mechanism for the effectiveness of CES in reducing pain throughout the body, and engendering an overall return toward a state of wellness can be inferred. By reducing stress CES can rationally be implicated in assuaging or ameliorating all of the inflammation related medical conditions mentioned above, from diabetes to heart disease, stroke, and all of the various “itis” conditions, including pain.
By Ray B. Smith, Ph.D.