This Is Your Brain On… Acupuncture

This Is Your Brain On… Acupuncture

“Natural forces within us are the true healers of disease.” ~ Hippocrates

The ancient art of acupuncture is getting some modern attention.

Recently, MRI studies show that acupuncture has distinct effects on the brain. And the type of acupuncture done determines the areas affected.

This is new information. For thousands of years, acupuncturists have seen the healing results of their treatments in patients. But now, modern imaging techniques are giving insights into some of the details of why acupuncture works.

Below are two images of the brain. The one on the left shows increased blood flow from very shallow needling.

The image on the right shows the effect of needling for what’s called “needle sensation.” In Chinese this sensation is called “de qi” (pronounced “da chi”). De qi is a feeling of a mild ache, tingling or pressure when acupuncture points are stimulated.

The right image shows that parts of the brain that sense pain are shut down. These are the areas that have to do with the perception of pain. This may, in part, explain acupuncture’s ability to relieve pain.

Acupuncture MRI

Acupuncture’s Effect on the Brain – Image: James Whittle, L.Ac.

Clinically, how you needle someone will have different effects. This image seems to show part of the reason why this happens. And it definitely shows that the feeling of de qi is important in pain relief.

In other studies, electro-acupuncture (mild electric current run through needles) triggered specific responses along nerve pathways that reduced pain. These responses included biochemical changes. This may show the reason why electro-acupuncture is so effective at reducing pain.

What About Acupuncture Points?

For a long time, Western scientist wondered if acupuncture points really exist. There were no obvious structures where the points are located.

Now, new 3-D capabilities in CT scanning have changed that. They can measure oxygen levels and find microscopic blood vessels.

Bellow is a CT scan of the left wrist. It shows red and orange where the oxygen flow is greater. You will notice that the red and orange areas are exactly where acupuncture points are located. This shows that the points themselves are associated with microscopic structures and qualities.

Acupuncture point oxygen pressure readings show unique characteristics.

What Does This Mean For You?

I think it’s great that this type of research is being done. It adds credibility to why acupuncture works.

At the same time, if you’ve had acupuncture, you already know it works. So in reality, this information just confirms what you already know.

And there are many types of acupuncture. Each has a unique way of diagnosing and treating. Each treats points is specific ways. I have learned 40 different systems of acupuncture over the past 44 years. If one doesn’t get the relief we want, often another will.

Even knowing these 40 systems, I don’t know all of the systems that exist. There are hundreds of them that have developed over several thousand years.

This is one more reason that even with modern confirmation of acupuncture’s effects, you are best off finding someone with enough experience to quickly find the right approach for your unique situation.

All the best to you for your health and happiness,

Dr. Bruce Eichelberger



Medical Daily

Health CMI


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