Brain imaging suggests acupuncture works, study says
December 1, 1999
Web posted at: 1:17 p.m. EST (1817 GMT)
(CNN) -- Traditional Western medicine has been skeptical of the benefits of acupuncture, but researchers in New Jersey say that evidence derived from brain imaging shows the treatment helps to relieve pain.
Although it's considered a relatively new alternative in the West, acupuncture has been practiced in China for over 2,500 years. During the treatment, very fine needles are inserted slightly into the skin at certain prescribed points to relieve pain or other ailments.
Scientists at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) compared brain images of 12 people experiencing pain with images after they received acupuncture. Under brain imaging, the brain "lights up," or shows activity, in specific areas when a person experiences pain. Following acupuncture, researchers found a marked depletion in that activity.
"We found activity subsided in 60 percent to 70 percent of the entire brain," said Wen-Ching Liu, Ph.D., a co-author of the study and assistant professor of radiology at UMDNJ.
Released at a conference of the Radiological Society of North America, the study also found the amount of pain depletion can vary from person to person, and some of the people in the study experienced a change in their pain threshold.
"The person (being tested at the time) actually experienced a high tolerance of pain. We gave a pain stimulation and after acupuncture we applied the same degree of pain stimulation. He didn't feel it," said Dr. Huey-Jen Lee, chief of neuroradiology at UMDNJ.
Although there are 401 acupoints on the body, this study focused on the Hegu acupoint, or the point on the hand between the thumb and forefinger. Most acupuncture treatments involve stimulating more than one point, but the Hegu acupoint is one that is frequently used, according to Lee.
This research backs up what many Chinese have believed for centuries -- acupuncture works to relieve pain. But how or why it works is still unclear.
Historically the Chinese have theorized that the body has an energy force call Qi (chee) running throughout it. The Qi is divided into two opposing forces, the Yin and Yang, which work together when balanced.
The flow of the Qi through a person's body influences all essential life activities, including health. If its flow is interrupted, the Yin and Yang become unbalanced, causing pain or illness.
The Chinese believe the Qi flows through special pathways or meridians. Acupuncture points are specific locations where these pathways come to the surface of the skin. The procedure is said to restore balance to the flow of the Qi.
No matter how it works, acupuncture is continuing to gain acceptance in Western medicine. In 1997, the National Institutes of Health published official guidelines for its use. Researchers are optimistic it will become a useful tool for pain management, especially for those who cannot tolerate medication.
Medical Correspondent Dr. Steve Salvatore contributed to this report.
Giving Chinese Medicine a Shot
October 7, 1999
Meditation may add support during cancer treatment
October 1, 1999
The new language of medicine: Part II
August 11, 1999
The new language of medicine: Part I
August 2, 1999
Fighting depression with needles and herbs
July 21, 1999
Cancer physicians discuss the use of alternative therapies
May 24, 1999
Alternative therapies gain new respect in cancer treatment
May 16, 1999
Alternative therapies moving toward the mainstream
February 23, 1999
More cancer patients, doctors explore alternative therapies
June 12, 1998
Study: More doctors learning alternative medicine, but safety still questioned
September 1, 1998
Journal gives stern warning on unproven dietary supplements
September 17, 1998
From herbs to acupuncture: Journal explores effectiveness of alternative medicine
November 10, 1998
UMD - New Jersey
Your online resource for Traditional Chinese Medicine
Welcome To RSNA Link
OAM/OMAR Acupuncture Consensus Conference Update
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
University program brings traditional and alternative medicines together
April 7, 1999
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.
LATEST HEALTH STORIES: