Pain In Brain Not Body
Acupuncture works by making the brain, rather than the body, no
longer experience pain, according to new research.
Scientists who scanned the brains of volunteers as they were
given the Chinese therapy found it deactivated pathways that govern
Complementary medicine expert Dr Hugh MacPherson, of the University
of York, said: "These results provide objective scientific
evidence that acupuncture has specific effects within the brain
which hopefully will lead to a better understanding of how acupuncture
The findings, published in Brain Research, suggest acupuncture
has a significant effect on specific nerve structures.
Dr MacPherson and colleagues explained when a patient receives
acupuncture treatment a sensation called deqi can be obtained.
Scientific analysis showed this switches off areas within the
brain that are associated with the processing of pain.
Dr MacPherson said: "We carried out two tests of acupuncture
on our participants, one where the needles are inserted at a shallow
depth which is the practise in Japan and the other where they
went in much deeper which is the Chinese tradition.
"We found 10 out of the 17 experienced 'deqi' while the
others didn't, and this appeared to help in deactivating areas
in the brain that are associated with pain.
"The Chinese have been using acupuncture for 2,000 years
for wide ranging illnesses but we have only touched the surface
at the moment.
"We believe it can help relieve a number of conditions,
including depression which we have recruited 640 people for another
study where half will receive acupuncture and the others counselling."
Last summer acupuncture was recommended for the first time by
the drugs watchdog NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical
Excellence) as a treatment option for NHS patients with lower
Guidelines now state that GPs should "consider offering
a course of acupuncture comprising a maximum of ten sessions over
a period of up to twelve weeks" for patients with this common
Co researcher Dr Aziz Asghar, a neuroscientist at Hull York Medical
School, added: "The results are fascinating. Whether such
brain deactivations constitute a mechanism which underlies or
contributes to the therapeutic effect of acupuncture is an intriguing
possibility which requires further research."
The team is currently researching if acupuncture has the ability
to successfully treat irritable bowel syndrome and depression.
Previous studies have indicated the holistic treatment works on
knee pain and migraines.
Dr MacPherson and colleagues say their research could help to
clear the way for acupuncture to be more broadly accepted as a
treatment option on the NHS for a number of medical conditions.
February 8, 2010