Acupuncture is over 2500 years old and practiced in most countries throughout the world. In the past three decades, there have been extensive studies on acupuncture and great efforts have been undertaken to conduct controlled clinical trials, including the use of “sham” acupuncture or “placebo” acupuncture controls. During the past decade, there has been a growing convergence between the most advanced research knowledge from physiology, biochemistry and pharmacology, and knowledge obtained by research in the field of acupuncture; that is to say, a convergence of modern international science with traditional Chinese medicine.
Findings from basic medical research that acupuncture stimulation causes release of endorphins, serotonin, enkephalins, and γ-amino-butyric acid (GABA; a major inhibitory neurotransmitter of the brain), norepinephrine, and dopamine helped to explain the acupuncture effect on a biomedical and pharmacological basis that was acceptable to the Western medical establishment. Numerous articles are being published on the efficacy of acupuncture for many types of diseases.
In the Americas and Europe there is significantly increased familiarity with acupuncture and thousands of patients have sought acupuncture treatment to relieve pain and stress-related syndromes, to enhance the immune system, to reduce insomnia, to improve athletic performance, to address neurological conditions, as well as for cardiac and poststroke therapy. From the viewpoint of modern medicine, the principle action of acupuncture is to regulate the function of the human body and to increase its resistance by enhancing the immune system and the antiphlogistic, analgesic, antispastic, antishock and antiparalytic abilities of the body.
Acupuncture now occupies a unique place in modern medicine. Research on acupuncture has taken place in many universities and research institutions around the world, increasing our understanding of how the human body works. These articles only review a fraction of the research that has been conducted on acupuncture.
• A 2010 study of the GABA modulating effects at the Daegu Haany University in South Korea in 2010 followed up on similar study in 2006 (Zhao et al) and found that acupuncture stimulation at a single point (HT7) effectively modulated GABA neuron excitability and dopamine release.
• A 2012 study at the Henan College of Chinese Medicine Zhengzhou, China, found that stimulation at the acupuncture points HT7, UB62 and K6, Shenman, Shenmai, and Zhaohai, potentiated GABA expression and the expression of GABA receptors in the hypothalamus, significantly better than stimulation at P6, ST36 and SP6.
• A clinical study in 2010, at the Catholic University of Korea, Department of Integrative Medicine, found that a 2 Hz 2mA electrical stimulation for just 10 minutes at a single acupuncture point, ST36, ameliorated physiological dysfunctions in anxiety triggered by restraint stress, such as cortisone spikes and immunoreactive expression affecting neurotransmitters, as well as decreasing anxiety-related behavioral responses.
• A 1999 article on acupuncture and the limbic system outlines some of the early scientific observations after fMRI studies revealed how directly acupuncture stimulation affected the limbic system, and how science explains these effects.
• A study in 2003 in Seoul, South Korea, at Kyung Hee University, found that acupuncture stimulation significantly modulated the hippocampus and neuropeptide Y, restoring functional activities. The hippocampus and neuropeptide Y have been observed to have decreased activity in patients with stress disorders, causing physical symptoms.
• A follow-up study in South Korea to the one mentioned above found that neuropeptide Y is involved in the regulation of various physiological functions related to anxiety, and that specific acupuncture stimulations signficantly modulated the expression of both neuropeptide Y (NPY) in the amygdala, as well as the expression of NPY-immunoreactive cells. The researchers found that this may be one way that the acupuncture stimulation reduced anxiety-related symptoms in study animals following traumatic stress.
• A 2008 study at Kyung Hee University then found that acupuncture stimulation also modulated corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), as well as neuropeptide Y, in the limbic system, to improve physical manifestations of anxiety induced by chemical stimulation.
• A 2012 study at the Henan College of Medicine, Zhengzhou, China, found that acupuncture stimulation at P6, ST36, HT7, SP6, K6 and UB62 increased both the expression of GABA type A receptors in the hypothalamus of laboratory animals, as well as the up-regulation of GABA at the receptors. Stimulation at points UB62 to K6 and HT7 were shown to be significantly more effective in this regard, providing information that acupuncturists can use to achieve better results with waking insomnia and anxiety.
• A 2014 study in China showed that electroacupuncture stimulation at the points ST36 and GB34 downregulated expression of CRF type 2 receptors and upregulated expression of CRF type 1 receptors in the amygdala of laboratory animals. This not only achieved pain relief, but also had positive effects on the animal affect, or mood. This same imbalance of corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) receptor types is seen in chronic use of benzodiazepines, showing that this treatment could potentially aid in benzo withdrawal over time.
• A 2010 study at Shanghai Medical College of Fudan University, in China, also found that electroacupuncture to ST36 and SP6 improved the measurable disorder in the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) of laboratory animals with induced traumatic stress, and normalized the balance of CRF receptor types and UCN 1 expression (urocortin). Since these imbalances are found to be at the heart of the pathology of benzodiazepine withdrawal and rebound syndromes, such study shows the potential of electroacupuncture in the holistc treatment regimen.
• A 2015 study in China showed that acupuncture stimulation at the points DU20 and PC6 every other day for 28 days significantly reduced inflammatory and oxidant stress in the hippocampus of laboratory animals, reducing depression. Such studies demonstrate the potential for acupuncture stimulation to help restore these key areas of mood control in the brain, integrated with a more holistic protocol.
• A 2015 human clinical study with functional MRI in China found that electroacupuncture stimulation at the points DU20 and DU24, along with acupuncture at Sishencong and GB20, performed 3 times a week for 12 weeks, significantly restored connectivity between the hippocampus and parietal lobe in patients with PTSD, and inhibiting excess activity between the hippocampus, parahippocampal gyrus, and amygdala, relieving symptoms.