Neurobiological mechanisms of acupuncture for some common illnesses: a clinician's perspective

J Acupunct Meridian Stud. 2014 Jun;7(3):105-14. doi: 10.1016/j.jams.2013.07.008. Epub 2013 Aug 17.

Abstract

This paper presents some previously proposed neurobiological mechanisms on how acupuncture may work in some clinical applications from a clinician's perspective. For the treatment of musculoskeletal conditions, the proposed mechanisms included microinjury, increased local blood flow, facilitated healing, and analgesia. Acupuncture may trigger a somatic autonomic reflex, thereby affecting the gastric and cardiovascular functions. Acupuncture may also change the levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, thereby affecting the emotional state and craving. This mechanism may form the basis for the treatment of smoking cessation. By affecting other pain-modulating neurotransmitters such as met-enkephalin and substance P along the nociceptive pathway, acupuncture may relieve headache. Acupuncture may affect the hypothalamus pituitary axis and reduce the release of the luteinizing hormone in the treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome. In addition, two other approaches to the acupuncture mechanism, the fascia connective tissue network and the primo vascular system, are briefly reviewed. Finally, the idea of true versus sham acupuncture points, which are commonly used in clinical trials, is examined because the difference between true and sham points does not exist in the neurobiological model.

Keywords: Western medical acupuncture; acupuncture; acupuncture point specificity; clinical applications; neurobiological mechanism; somato-autonomic reflex.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy*
  • Acupuncture*
  • Autonomic Nervous System*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Musculoskeletal Pain / therapy
  • Neurosecretory Systems*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents*

Substances

  • Neurotransmitter Agents