Scientists Find New Clue about Acupuncture


2004-3-16

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

American researchers have reportedprogress in learning how the ancient traditional Chinese method ofacupuncture fights pain and other conditions. During acupuncture,very small, sharp needles are placed in the skin at targeted pointson the body. Bruce Rosen presented an acupuncture study at a meetingof the American Psychosomatic Society in Orlando, Florida. DoctorRosen is with the Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.

Doctor Rosen reported that the study findings could show how thebrain might help people suffering from a number of health problems.These include pain, unexplained worry and sadness and some disordersof the stomach and intestines. The findings also may aid people whoare fighting dependence on substances like illegal drugs.

Doctor Rosen led a team that studied about twenty healthy people.The team examined the people with functional magnetic resonanceimaging devices. MRI's can show changes in the flow of blood and theamount of oxygen in the blood. They studied the people before,during and after acupuncture. The researchers placed acupunctureneedles in the skin on the peoples' hands. They chose places linkedto pain relief in traditional Chinese acupuncture.

Most of the people reported that their hands felt heavy after theneedles were placed. Blood flow to some areas of the brain decreasedquickly in these people. Doctor Rosen said that was a sign that theacupuncture was working correctly.

But a few of the people said their hands hurt. Their needles wereprobably not placed correctly. Their MRI's showed an increase inblood in the same areas of the brain where the other people showed adecrease.

Doctor Rosen reported that this means that acupuncture eased thework of the brain. The affected brain areas are the forebrain, thecerebellum and the brainstem. They help control pain and emotions.These areas have a rich supply of a chemical called dopamine.

Doctor Rosen said the reduced blood flow may lead to changes indopamine. This, in turn, leads to a reaction that releasesendorphins. These brain chemicals reduce pain and help fightfeelings of sadness.

Jerilyn Watson wrote this VOA Special English Health Report.