By Kimball Chatfield L.Ac., O.M.D.
Does acupuncture really work? Can we measure it? Can we see it working? These are questions that scientists from both the United States and China have wrestled with for years. Now, thanks to new highly sophisticated fMRI’s (functional MRI’s are a motion picture MRI) we can see in real time if and how acupuncture works. Researchers from around the world are now using functional MRI’s to study if acupuncture really works or if it is just placebo. Interest in using fMRI’s to test acupuncture has really taken off in the last year with 15 scientific studies in 2018 so far and about 50 overall.
What scientists have found is that when acupuncture needles are inserted in to people, nervous system messages are sent to specific areas of the brain to respond to the acupuncture. Measurements of these reactions prove that acupuncture is real and can be objectively measured. One such study released in May of 2018 studied acupuncture effect on Alzheimer’s patients. Patients were given acupuncture at two acupuncture points. Using fMRi, the study showed that acupuncture increased what is called the functional connectivity of specific regions of the brain. What that means is that acupuncture increased the ability of the area of the brain that is damaged in Alzheimer’s Disease (substantial gyra) to “talk” to adjacent areas of the brain and increase normal messaging. Patients also had improvements in mental and physical performance.
Many other studies of acupuncture and fMRI’s have shown that when acupuncture is given, the brain engages significantly and sends messages to areas of the body that are injured or diseased to function better, heal faster, and become more efficient. Studies like this are objective. There is no subjectivity, no bias, no fakery. We are now at the moment in our scientific evolution we can say that acupuncture works well and we can effectively measure it through sophisticated fMRI’s. Utilizing fMRI’s in the future will help acupuncturists zero in on acupuncture points that have been shown in these studies to significantly impact patients in a very positive way.