Research Study: How Laser Acupuncture Helps Improve Brain Performance 5/5 (16)

Research SubjectHello Friends,

The short Alzheimer’s study I shared recently has motivated me to search for additional research into the effectiveness of Laser Acupuncture. The research cited below looks at how laser acupuncture, at various points, affects the brain.

I love these quotes from the study:

“The main finding of our study was that each acupoint or control point resulted in a different pattern of brain activity when contrasted against all the other acupoints or control point.”

“The use of low level laser acupuncture, which does not produce a skin sensation, permitted the blinding of subjects to placebo stimulation, something difficult to achieve with needle acupuncture.”

I’m sure you’ll enjoy this as much as I did. We know Acupuncture is amazing and with research like this, the world will soon know too!


Alan Gifford, MS Practice Coach

Blue Bar

The Brain Effects of Laser Acupuncture in Healthy Individuals

An fMRI Investigation

Im Quah-Smith, Perminder S. Sachdev, Wei Wen, Xiaohua Chen, Mark A. Williams


As laser acupuncture is being increasingly used to treat mental disorders, we sought to determine whether it has a biologically plausible effect by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the cerebral activation patterns from laser stimulation of relevant acupoints.


Despite the remarkable developments in Western Medicine in modern times, public interest in Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine (TCAM), such as acupuncture, remains high. This may be because TCAM is perceived as holistic and relatively free of adverse effects. However, these treatments sit uncomfortably alongside scientific medicine because of strikingly different explanatory systems and the empirical tests applied by each discipline. In order to bridge the gulf between high public acceptability and the lack of empirical evidence for many of these treatments, it is important to reconcile them with modern scientific concepts. Our focus here is on laser acupuncture, and we address the question whether laser acupuncture produces brain effects that are biologically plausible.

Depression Treatment Points in Study
Depression Treatment Points used in this Study

While laser acupuncture has become an increasingly common clinical method, particularly in primary care, its empirical basis has been less well studied to date. Whereas needle acupuncture studies have shown activation and deactivation of the somatosensory cortex, superficial needling and laser intervention appear to stimulate cortical and subcortical structures other than the somatosensory cortex. This is consistent with the observation that low intensity laser stimulation does not produce a skin sensation. For example, laser acupuncture of a foot acupoint, classically used for treating visual problems, was demonstrated to cause activation of the occipital cortex.

This study has used laser delivered at low intensity as used in primary care. Other studies have reported high-intensity lasers can produce de qi sensation. High-intensity laser is not commonly used in primary care situations and therefore was not used in the current study. Further, as low-intensity laser does not result in sensory sensation it is ideal for double-blind randomized controlled studies where the subjects could not differentiate between placebo (laser off) and verum laser (laser on).

The evidence suggests that cortical activation does occur with acupuncture and this activation may be specific to certain brain regions in relation to the site and type of stimulation. In practice, acupoint efficacy is not specific, and one acupoint can be used for several different conditions, just as one medical condition can be managed with several acupoint locations. For instance, the antidepressant effect of laser acupuncture has been attributed to a group of acupoints – CV14, LR14, LR8 and HT7, however there are other acupoint combinations that are also applicable for the management of depression. The neurological effects of stimulation of these acupoints CV14, LR14, HT7 and LR8 in combination have yet to be investigated.

In this study, we examined the blood oxygen level dependant (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) response to laser simulation on the above-mentioned acupoints CV14, LR14, LR8, and HT7. We chose laser acupuncture as it permits blinding of application because of the lack of a local sensation at low intensity, together with the previously mentioned increases in practical usage and limited understanding of its mechanisms. We reasoned that if laser acupuncture is altering a person’s mental state a neurological effect should be observable. Further, if the effect differs dependent on the site of stimulation, then the neural locus of the activity should also differ.

Methodology/Principal Findings

Ten healthy subjects were randomly stimulated with a fibreoptic infrared laser on 4 acupoints (LR14, CV14, LR8 and HT7) used for depression following the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and 1 control non-acupoint (sham point) in a blocked design (alternating verum laser and placebo laser/rest blocks), while the blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) fMRI response was recorded from the whole brain on a 3T scanner. Many of the acupoint laser stimulation conditions resulted in different patterns of neural activity. Regions with significantly increased activation included the limbic cortex (cingulate) and the frontal lobe (middle and superior frontal gyrus). Laser acupuncture tended to be associated with ipsilateral brain activation and contralateral deactivation that therefore cannot be simply attributed to somatosensory stimulation.

Auriculo 3D Treatment Protocol
Auriculo 3D Treatment Protocol


This is the first fMRI study to examine the effects of laser stimulation of a suite of acupoints found to be efficacious in a clinical condition (depression). A salient feature of this study was that four acupoints and a control non-acupoint (sham point) were stimulated in a random design. The subjects were unaware of the relative significance of different acupoints. The use of low level laser acupuncture, which does not produce a skin sensation, permitted the blinding of subjects to verum or placebo stimulation, something difficult to achieve with needle acupuncture.

The main finding of our study was that each acupoint or control point resulted in a different pattern of brain activity when contrasted against all the other acupoints or control point. The acupoints we investigated in this study were those that have been used in our previous treatment study for depression. This finding suggests that although these acupoints are all used in the treatment of depression, the neural locus of this effect differs depending upon the site stimulated. The efficacy of these acupoints in the treatment of depression may vary greatly between patients and site stimulated, and our findings may shed some light on these effects.

This laser acupuncture fMRI study demonstrated the central effects of stimulation of a suite of acupoints found to be efficacious in treating depression in a primary care setting. The multiple acupoints each activated different groupings of frontal-limbic-striatal brain regions, suggesting some acupoint specificity but also a commonality in the regions affected. There was a trend for the limb acupoints to cause ipsilateral activation and contralateral de-activation. The results of the study suggest that laser acupuncture is a biologically plausible anti-depressant treatment. Its efficacy and the relative merits of the different proposed acupoints must be empirically examined.

We found that laser stimulation of acupoints lead to activation of frontal-limbic-striatal brain regions, with the pattern of neural activity somewhat different for each acupuncture point (emphasis added). This is the first study to investigate laser acupuncture on a group of acupoints useful in the management of depression. Differing activity patterns depending on the acupoint site were demonstrated, suggesting that neurological effects vary with the site of stimulation. The mechanisms of activation and deactivation and their effects on depression warrant further investigation..

Please rate this



Alan Gifford MS, Practice Coach

For 20 years, Alan worked in the corporate world as a director of sales and marketing. He made a career change in 2003, returning to complete his Masters degree in Exercise and Wellness from Arizona State University. As a marketer and Exercise Physiologist, Alan spent the next four years working with Healthcare practitioners to increase patient volume, satisfaction and retention. He now works directly with clients of Miridia Technology to promote their practice and patient experience. In addition to English, he is fluent in Spanish and assists in developing our Latin-market presence.

6 Replies to “Research Study: How Laser Acupuncture Helps Improve Brain Performance

  1. The question as a clinician is whether you can replicate the effects of this research using the laser device you own. The important variables here are power, time, and wavelength. The wavelength of the device used in the study is 808nm infrared. While they don’t state their rationale for using this wavelength previous multiple studies have shown infrared in the range of 808 to 830/840nm have both stimulatory and inhibitory effects on neural structures (depending on dose). They state the power of their device at 25mW and time per stimulation of each point is 20 seconds. They also state that stimulation of each point is repeated 8 times but for the purpose of finding the lowest possible dose administered we’ll assume just one 20 second treatment. Joules or dose are calculated as Power X Time (power in watts; time in seconds). Therefore .025W X 20 = 0.5 Joules. According the World Association of Laser Therapy treatment guidelines .5J is a reasonable dose to deliver physiological effect through an acupuncture point (found through meta analysis of multiple studies). Therefore, to truly replicate the effects found in this study (ignoring wavelength, which of course one can’t do) using a 5mW laser: 0.5J / .005W = 100 seconds or 1 – 2/3 minutes of stimulation per point to deliver the lowest dose reported in this study.
    Laser phototherapy is very promising field but comparing apples to apples, ensuring ability to replicate study results, is essential. To advance the field, my advice to those who sell or distribute laser devices: finance a study done by an independent researcher and publish the results whether positive or not!

  2. Very informative and good information. But in this study, not mentioned
    the point stimulation time for each point, with soft laser.

    1. Rajender, The laser used in this study is a fiberoptic infra-red light laser (808 nm) with 25 mW capacity. The wave length and intensity differ from the lasers we offer 650nm and 5 mW and 450nm and 5mW). Practitioners have reported experiencing excellent results with our lasers, however a similar scientific study has yet to be conducted. The structure of this study can serve as an excellent template for conducting future studies!

      The complete study is available here:

  3. Rajender and Alan,
    The authors do, in fact, give you the time but unfortunately you have to refer back to their previous study: Quah-Smith JI, Tang WM, Russell J (2005) Laser acupuncture for mild to moderate depression in a primary care setting – a randomised controlled trial. Acupunct Med 23: 103–111. doi: 10.1136/aim.23.3.103 (listed in their references).
    It’s rather poor form not to state full laser parameters within the article itself. They imply that they used ‘similar’ parameters to the previous study which gave me the 20 second treatment time per point that I used to calculate the dose in my previous post.
    You’re right to ask for this information, Rajender, because in order to duplicate the study and results you must duplicate the dose.
    There are thresholds of stimulation in laser therapy below which nothing happens, and above which you can cause inhibition of physiological processes or even harm (can’t do the latter with 5mW but certainly the prior can happen, ie nothing). This concept and biological treatment window is called the Arndt-Shultz law. There IS a threshold of therapeutic stimulation! and if we’re taking patient’s money for a therapeutic procedure we’d certainly better know that we’re actually delivering therapy!!

So, what do you think about it?