Acupuncture Really Does Activate Specific Parts Of The Brain

Originating in ancient China, acupuncture has been used for 2500 years. Traditional Chinese medicine holds that disease is caused by blockages and imbalances of energy (known as chi) flowing through meridians in the body and can be eased by inserting needles at specific points.

Since the 1970s, acupuncture has become more popular outside east Asia. Once widely considered a quack medicine, there is now tentative support for its use in certain conditions from respected official bodies such as the World Health Organisation, the National Health Service in the UK and the National Institutes of Health in the US.

There is evidence that acupuncture is effective in treating a range of conditions including spinal injuries, infertility and the side effects of chemotherapy, and that its effects aren't entirely due to the placebo effect. However, despite extensive research, the mechanism of this ancient healing art remains unknown.

Wenjing Huang of Charité University Medical Center, Berlin, Germany, and colleagues, used more than 100 studies to produce these brain maps of 18 acupuncture points. Areas of the brain activated by stimulating a point are shown in red; areas deactivated are shown in blue.

For example, the two vision-related points GB37 (gall bladder) and UB60 (urinary bladder) showed deactivation in visual brain areas like the cuneus. The team concluded that acupuncture seems to affect the brain's processing of both physical sensations and thought. For now, though, the source of our chi remains elusive. [PLoS One]

Images: Huang and colleagues, PLoS

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Comments

    So how did they know, way back, when they first stated doing this, just where to stick the things. Oh, and lets face it, I doubt the first patient was a volunteer :)

      Actually Noddy, the Chinese noticed that when they had certain symptoms, then certain parts of the body would become more tender than others. They started doing acupressure, not acupuncture to stimulate the tender points on the body. After documenting which points became tender with specific symptoms and syndromes, they began to notice a correlation.

    Maybe they discovered it by trial
    and error. You can try a lot of stuff in 2500 years.

    The take away from the conclusion is:

    "the evidence based on meta-analyses confirmed some of these results. More high quality studies with more transparent methodology are needed to improve the consistency amongst different studies."

    They've done a meta analysis of a wide range of other studies, and via the analysis of all these studies they have confirmed SOME of these results, in that via this broad ranging analysis of the literature they have found studies that are agreeing with each other.

    They go on to say that additional HIGH QUALITY studies are required with more TRANSPARENT METHODOLOGY in order to get some independant verification of these results.

    Sorry, but PLoS One is not a high quality peer reviewed journal - they will publish almost any rubbish. There have been lots of large well-designed studies done which show that acupuncture doesn't work any better than a placebo. It doesn't matter where you stick the needles. It doesn't even matter whether you stick the needles in or not.

    Saying that disease is caused by something that doesn't exist ('chi') is no more plausible than sticking to the idea that disease is caused by an imbalance in the four humours and treating them with leeches, cupping, and bloodletting. Just because it's ancient and Chinese doesn't mean that it's more likely to be true.

    More detail than I could go into here: http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2010/06/when_what_an_acupuncture_study_shows_is.php

    Given the information references a often repeated but now questioned 'fact' http://www.acuwatch.org/hx/basser.shtml I am not suprised that the rest of the piece seems to suggest ther is evidence that acupuncture is effective, when in fact no reputable, transperant study has indicated anything like that. This study reported in article is no exception.

    Please if NS is to publish stories like this have them pesented by someone who can report them with the rudiments of attentionto what is the scienctific method or else you will become as full of woo as the Huffington Post.

      This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

    I'm interested... There are plenty of statements around the lack of scientific proof of weather acupuncture works. Where is the scientific proof that it doesn't work?

    Unfortunately, the majority of people in the west don't understand that "chi" is simply a mistranslation. Chi is not "energy", chi is 2 things; #1 oxygen flow throughout the body #2 a measure of FUNCTION of organs in the body. Chi was mistranslated by a french bank clerk into energy and the West now believes that the Chinese worship a metaphysical substance called Chi (energy). When in retrospect, the Chinese performed dissections on human bodies long before it was done in the west and discovered the anatomy of the body including afferent and efferent nerve fibers. Acupuncture activates sections of the brain due to stimulation of NEARBY nerves! This of course will create a reaction in the brain! If I stick a needle in your body, are you telling me it won't activate a part of your brain? Of course it will! The problem is, ignorant people are still pushing the idea that acupuncture points stimulate energy flow throughout the body, and try to dismiss the scientific basis behind acupuncture that it has real physiological responses that can be measured independent of this chi (energy). Unfortunately, there is not enough interest in the west to research acupuncture in universities and thus limited funding leads to limited research. Any acupuncturist in the West was taught that chi is energy, and unfortunately, they were misinformed and kept ignorant of this fact.

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