Acupuncture Continuing Education

Acupuncture Alzheimer’s Disease Brain Protection Found

Acupuncture enhances brain activity for patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers examined the effects of two acupuncture points on Alzheimer’s patients with the Siemens 3-Tesla MRI system. The large field of view, high speed, and high image quality of the MRI scanner ensures accuracy of the data. Neuropsychological and clinical examinations confirm the findings derived from the MRIs. Acupuncture restores activity in the hippocampus for Alzheimer’s disease patients.


hippocampus lateral view


The hippocampus is part of the brain’s limbic system and is responsible for short and long-term memory. Degradation of this region is found in Alzheimer’s disease patients. The research team used MRIs to document that Alzheimer’s disease patients exhibit diminished hippocampal connectivity in frontal and temporal areas during resting states. After completion of acupuncture treatments applied to acupoints LI4 (Hegu) and LV3 (Taichong), hippocampal connectivity increased. 

The MRI findings of Wang et al. confirm that acupuncture exerts a homeostatic effect on brain activity in Alzheimer’s disease patients. The study was performed on human subjects and is entitled Acupuncture Modulates Resting State Hippocampal Functional Connectivity in Alzheimer Disease. Laboratory experiments also confirm beneficial effects of acupuncture on Alzheimer’s disease patients. Lin el al. discovered that electroacupuncture benefits cognition and reduces amyloid plaque deposits in the brain. The development of brain plaques are a major concern for Alzheimer’s disease patients.

Lin et al. also determined that electroacupuncture at acupoint DU20 (Baihui) increases the ratio among brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF) toward factors that stimulate neural potentiation rather than apoptosis. Acupuncture regulated the ratio of proBDNF (linked to atrophy and hippocampal cell death) and mBDNF (responsible for proper functioning of the brain). By enhancing BDNF neural potentiation, electroacupuncture impedes hippocampal cell death.

Zhou et al. confirm that electroacupuncture protects the ultrastructure of the hippocampus. Using electron microscopy, Zhou et al. conclude that electroacupuncture at acupoints GV20 (Baihui) and BL23 (Shenshu) prevents destruction of the hippocampus in laboratory rats with induced Alzheimer’s disease pathology. The researchers note that “neuronal cell injury was markedly reduced” in the hippocampus. They add that “electroacupuncture pretreatment has a neuroprotective function in the hippocampus, suggesting that this technique could be used to protect learning and memory functions, and prevent senile dementia.”

Current research indicates that a wider investigation of acupuncture’s clinical effects on Alzheimer’s disease patients is warranted. A large scale, multi-center trial may help to determine important clinical endpoints. The advantages of early intervention and to what degree brain damage may be reversed are of paramount clinical importance. Development of a systemized protocol may help in the implementation of effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease patients.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is both complex and devastating. This explains, in part, the strong history of investigations of acupuncture into the abatement of this disorder. Zhou and Jin, in their study entitled Effect of Acupuncture Given At The HT7, ST36, ST40 and KI3 Acupoints On Various Parts Of The Brains Of Alzheimer's Disease Patients, documents strong evidence suggesting that acupuncture benefits Alzheimer’s disease patients as early as 2008. The research was conducted at Xuan Wu Hospital’s Department of Neurology (Capital Medical University). The researchers conclude, “The activated regions induced by these acupoints were consistent with impaired areas in brain for AD patients, which were closely correlated with the cognitive function (memory, reason, language, executive, etc.). The present study provided the strong evidence that acupuncture had a potential effect on AD, and in partial revealed the mechanism.”

Getting back to the first research article we discussed, Wang et al.’s research entitled Acupuncture Modulates Resting State Hippocampal Functional Connectivity in Alzheimer Disease was preceded by an earlier investigation by Wang and a different team of investigators. In a study entitled Effect of Acupuncture in Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer Disease: A Functional MRI Study, Wang et al. note, “Our fMRI study confirmed that acupuncture at Tai chong (Liv3) and He gu (LI4) can activate certain cognitive-related regions in AD [Alzheimer’s disease] and MCI [mild cognitive impairment] patients.”

In the experiment, researchers used silver needles (0.30 mm x 25 mm) at the LI4 and LV3 acupoints in human subjects. Using the Siemens 3-Tesla MRI system, fMRIs were taken 10 minutes after withdrawal of the needles to determine responses. Importantly, fMRI post-processing was done by an investigator that was “unaware to whom the scans belonged.” This was added to the study protocol to prevent bias. The researchers discovered that acupuncture has clinical value for human subjects noting, “we investigated the effect of acupuncture in AD and MCI patients by combing fMRI and traditional acupuncture. Our fMRI study confirmed that acupuncture at Tai chong (Liv3) and He gu (LI4) can activate certain cognitive-related regions in AD and MCI patients.”

The research of Wang et al. builds on MRI investigations from additional research. He et al. (in a meta-analysis of 82 fMRI studies) conclude that true acupuncture causes specific brain effects whereas sham acupuncture does not. For example, “Acupuncture at Taichong (LR3) could specifically activate or deactivate brain areas related to vision, movement, sensation, emotion, and analgesia compared with sham acupuncture.” In addition, acupuncture produces significantly “more positive and negative hemodynamic signal response in brain regions compared with sensory stimulation used as a control condition.” The researchers note that brain networks accessed by specific acupuncture points relate to specific medical disorders and suggest an “acupoint-brain-organ” pathway.


Wang, Zhiqun, Peipeng Liang, Zhilian Zhao, Ying Han, Haiqing Song, Jianyang Xu, Jie Lu, and Kuncheng Li. "Acupuncture modulates resting state hippocampal functional connectivity in Alzheimer disease." PLoS One 9, no. 3 (2014): e91160.

Lin, Ruhui, Jixiang Chen, Xiaojie Li, Jingjie Mao, Yunan Wu, Peiyuan Zhuo, Yinzheng Zhang, Weilin Liu, Jia Huang, Jing Tao, and Li-Dian Chen. "Electroacupuncture at the Baihui acupoint alleviates cognitive impairment and exerts neuroprotective effects by modulating the expression and processing of brain-derived neurotrophic factor in APP/PS1 transgenic mice." Molecular Medicine Reports, 2015. doi:10.3892/mmr.2015.4751. Pg 1611.

Zhou, H., G. Sun, L. Kong, Y. Du, F. Shen, S. Wang, B. Chen, and X. Zeng. "Acupuncture and moxibustion reduces neuronal edema in Alzheimer's disease rats." Neural Regeneration Research 9, no. 9 (2014): 968.

Zhou, Youlong, and Jianping Jia. "Effect of acupuncture given at the HT 7, ST 36, ST 40 and KI3 acupoints on various parts of the brains of Alzheimer's disease patients." Acupuncture & electro-therapeutics research 33, no. 1-2 (2008): 9-17.

Wang, Zhiqun, Binbin Nie, Donghong Li, Zhilian Zhao, Ying Han, Haiqing Song, Jianyang Xu, Baoci Shan, Jie Lu, and Kuncheng Li. "Effect of acupuncture in mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer disease: a functional MRI study." PLoS One 7, no. 8 (2012): e42730.

He, Tian, Wen Zhu, Si-Qi Du, Jing-Wen Yang, Fang Li, Bo-Feng Yang, Guang-Xia Shi, and Cun-Zhi Liu. "Neural mechanisms of acupuncture as revealed by fMRI studies." Autonomic Neuroscience (2015).


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