Acupuncture & the Brain: New Research

Brain-Ability-02062Investigators from the Acupuncture and Moxibustion Department of Beijing Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine conducted a meta-analysis of 44 studies concluding that acupuncture activates specific areas of the brain allowing the treatment of specific disease as well as modulation of neurotransmitters in these brain regions.  Contrary to the results of the many of “sham-acupuncture” studies, this research finds that only needling into actual acupuncture points, not sham acupuncture, regulates the central autonomic system.

The theoretical footing for this study posits that acupuncture’s Yin and Yang are the sympathetic and parasympathetic sides of the autonomic nervous system when translated through a biomedical lens.  Numerous studies demonstrated that acupuncture regulates the most critical part of the autonomic nervous system-the hypothalamus. The mechanism is hypothesized through acupuncture’s suppression of corticotropin releasing hormones that in turn buffer the effects of stressors. In the medulla oblongata, acupuncture modulates neuronal function reducing blood pressure and increasing cardiovascular efficiency.

Acupuncture investigations have strongly implied that acupuncture regulates neurotransmitters like serotonin and opioids. One studied showed that needling acupoint ST-36 activated central opiods that buffered sympathetic reaction thus restoring gastric motility. Another study showed that needling acupoint P-6 increases production of enkephalin which also regulates the sympathetic outflow.  Additional studies suggest that acupuncture may aid in the regulation of nerve growth factor, modulate the sympathoexcitatory reflex response, and impact the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis by reducing the stores of cortisol.

Limitations of this study encourage RCT investigation especially to discern if individual acupuncture points are the causal agent or the acupuncture meridians themselves.

To read full copy of this publication, Li.Brain

Li, Qian-Qian, Guang-Xia Shi, Qian Xu, Jing Wang, Cun-Zhi Liu, and Lin-Peng Wang. “Acupuncture Effect and Central Autonomic Regulation.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2013 (2013).