Previously we published an article on the Limbic System, describing its function and positing acupuncture’s effects on it. This month, we found a study that supports this idea: Effects of Electroacupuncture versus Manual Acupuncture on the Human Brain as Measured by fMRI, published in the academic journal Human Brain Mapping in 2005.
This study was funded by the NIH and conducted by Harvard University at Massachusetts General Hospital. Researchers used fMRI’s on 13 healthy participants. Brain activity was measured at just one acupuncture point, ST 36, using four mechanisms:
1. manual acupuncture
2. electrical stimulation at 2 Hz
3. electrical stimulation at 100 Hz
4. placebo acupuncture creating a tactile sensation as a control
Please note: electrical stimulation utilizes a machine that attaches to the needles to amplify their effect. ST 36 is a major, commonly-used point for its many functions supporting overall health. For those of you who receive acupuncture treatment, it is located below the knee, on the outer side of the leg.
While the researchers found that electrical stimulation increased desirable effects in specific regions of the brain, overall their study supported the “…hypothesis that the limbic system is central to acupuncture effect regardless of specific acupuncture modality.”
To read this study is humbling, for it requires advanced knowledge of the brain’s anatomy and physiology. In a nutshell, it found the first three mechanisms listed above had a regulating effect on the limbic system, while the placebo of tactile control had little or no change. That is, where it is beneficial for activity to increase (a biological call to action) or to decrease (a biological call to calm), real acupuncture, with the help of the electrical stimulation machine or alone, affected this part of the nervous system in the manner intended.
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