Scientists Research Acupuncture
The ancient Asian healing practice continues to infiltrate mainstream Western medicine, as scientists learn more about its workings
Western scientists continue to explore how acupuncture’s slim needles work, seeking insight into the pathways through the body that makes the practice so effective in treating some maladies. Radiologist Bruce Rosen of Harvard Medical School set out to “connect the dots” using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study how acupuncture changes the body’s blood flow and the amount of oxygen in the blood. When Rosen’s team applied needles to points on the hand linked to pain on acupuncture charts, blood flow decreased in certain areas of the brain within seconds. The brain areas affected are associated with mood, pain, and craving, perhaps explaining why acupuncture seems to help in treating depression, eating disorders and addiction. These areas in the brain are also rich in dopamine, a chemical in the body that increase when the brain is stimulated by positive associations, ranging from food to money to beauty to sex. The reduced blood flow in the brain, Rosen speculates, could lead to dopamine changes that trigger a “cascade” effect ending in the release of endorphins, the brain’s natural pain-relieving chemicals. More good news: scientists in Britain found signs indicating that acupuncture may help those who suffer chronic headaches and migraine. Their study found that the frequency of headaches among patients who had been treated with acupuncture dropped 34% compared with a 16% drop among those who had used medication. The decline continued for at least nine months after the treatments had stopped. On average, those who had been suffering the most from headaches report the greatest benefits from acupuncture.