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
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.
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.
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.
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..