Proof That Acupuncture Really Does Activate Specific Parts of the Brain

Illustration for article titled Proof That 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 Organization, 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.

Journal reference: PLoS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0032960

Images: Huang and colleagues, PLoS

Illustration for article titled Proof That Acupuncture Really Does Activate Specific Parts of the Brain

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Joe Marzen

People are always so opposed to considering things that arent proven scientifically. Just because something hasn't been proven by science doesn't mean it can't be proven by science. That's especially true in areas involving the brain. Half the time scientists don't even know what they're looking for, just that some sort of activity is taking place. Experiments are found to be using the entirely wrong variables all the time.

Acupuncture may stimulate chemical changes within the mind via direct manipulation of the nervous system through nerve endings. That sounds entirely plausible to me. Not all ancient knowledge is astrology and tarot cards.