Microcurrent Electrical Therapy Mechanisms and Results
Agrowing body of research shows the effectiveness of microcurrent electrical therapy (MET) to control pain.
Robert O. Becker, MD, of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery, State University of New York Upstate Medical Center, demonstrated that low level endogenous electrical currents are the triggers that stimulate healing, growth and regeneration in all living organisms, and suggested that this system becomes less efficient as we age.1
Dr. Becker postulated that the first living organisms must have been capable of self-repair, otherwise they never would have survived. The repair process requires a closed-loop system. A specific signal is generated, called the current of injury, which causes another signal to start repair. The injury signal gradually decreases over time with the repair process, until it finally stops when the repair is complete. Such a primitive system does not require demonstrable consciousness or intelligence. In fact, many animals have a greater capacity for healing than humans.
Science has amassed a vast amount of information on how the brain and nervous system work. Most of this research involves the action potential as the sole mechanism of the nerve impulse. This is a very sophisticated and complex system for the transfer of information. It is helpful to compare this conceptualized concept of the nervous system to a computer.
The fundamental signal in both the computer and the nervous system is a digital one. Both systems transfer information represented by the number of pulses per unit of time. Information is also coded according to where the pulses originate, where they go and whether or not there is more than one channel of pulses feeding into an area. All our senses are based on this type of pulse system. Like a computer, the nervous system operates remarkably fast and can transfer large amounts of information as digital on and off data.
It is unlikely that the first living organisms had such a sophisticated system. Dr. Becker believes they must have had a much simpler mechanism for communicating information because they did not need to transmit large amounts of sophisticated data. Accordingly, they probably used an analog system, which works by means of simple DC currents. Information in an analog system is represented by the strength of the current, its direction of flow and slow wavelength variations in its strength. This is a much slower system than the digital model. However, the analog system is extremely precise and works well for its intended purpose.
Dr. Becker theorizes that primitive organisms used this analog type of data-transmission and control system for repair. He postulates that we still have this primitive nervous system in the perineural cells of the central nervous system. The perineural cells, which comprise 90 percent of the nervous system, have semiconductor properties that allow them to produce and transmit non-propagating DC signals. This system functions so vastly different from the "all or none" law of propagation of the nerve action potentials that Dr. Becker called this the fourth nervous system.
This analog system senses injury and controls repair. It controls the activity of cells by producing specific DC electrical environments in their vicinity. It also appears to be the primary primitive system in the brain, controlling the actions of the neurons in their generation and receipt of nerve impulses. Accordingly, as knowledge of this aspect of our nervous system is uncovered, another mystery of brain physiology may be explained, including the regulation of our consciousness and decision-making processes. Given this understanding, the application of the correct form of microcurrent electrical intervention is a powerful tool for treating pain, initiating the endogenous mechanisms for healing and altering states of consciousness.
Ngok Chang, MD, of the Department of Biochemistry and Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Louvain, Belgium proposed another mechanism for MET.2 His research showed that microcurrent stimulation increased adenosine triphosphate (ATP) generation by almost 500 percent. Increasing the level of current to milliampere levels actually decreased the results. Microcurrent was also shown to enhance amino acid transport and protein synthesis in the treated area 30 to 40 percent above controls.
It would be helpful to review the cellular nature of an injury to fully appreciate the importance of Dr. Chang's research. Dr. Becker has shown that trauma will affect the electrical potential of cells in damaged tissues. Initially the injured site has a much higher resistance than that of the surrounding tissue. Basic physics dictates that electricity tends to flow toward the path of least resistance. Therefore endogenous bioelectricity avoids areas of high resistance and takes the easiest path, generally around the injury. The decreased electrical flow through the injured area decreases the cellular capacitance. 3 As a result, healing is actually impaired. This may be one of the reasons for inflammatory reactions, such as pain, heat, swelling and redness. Electricity flows more readily through these hot inflammatory fluids.
The correct microcurrent application to an injured site augments the endogenous current flow and allows the traumatized area to regain its capacitance. The resistance of the injured tissue is then reduced allowing bioelectricity to enter the area to reestablish homeostasis. Therefore microcurrent electrical therapy can be viewed as a catalyst helpful in initiating and sustaining the numerous chemical and electrical reactions that occur in the healing process.
ATP is an essential factor in the healing process. Large amounts of ATP, the cell's main energy source, are required to control primary functions such as the movement of vital minerals, like sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium, into and out of the cell. It also sustains the movement of waste products out of the cell. Injured tissues are deficient in ATP.
As MET restores circulation and replenishes ATP, nutrients can again flow into injured cells and waste products can flow out. This is necessary for the development of healthy tissues. As ATP provides the energy tissues require for building new proteins, it also increases protein synthesis and membrane transport of ions.
Björn Nordenström, MD, professor of Diagnostic Radiology at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden, and former chairman of the Nobel Assembly, has also proposed a model of bioelectrical control systems he calls biologically closed electric circuits (BCEC).4,5 The principle is analogous to closed circuits in electronic technology. Dr. Nordenström's theory is that the mechanical blood circulation system is closely integrated anatomically and physiologically with a bioelectrical system.