Philip Nino Tan-Gatue, MD

Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in the Philippines

Acupuncture Study on Heart Rate Variability Proves True Acupuncture Better Than Sham

Real Acupuncture Better Than Sham

Longtime followers of my blog will note that I have one basic underlying theme covering a good portion of the posts. Namely, that scientific evidence shows the difference between needling in true acupuncture points as opposed to non acupuncture points; and that needling produces different effects than merely touching the point.   I have already quoted several scientific articles on this, and there is no harm in adding one more.

Here is the newest study that the skeptics will once again choose to ignore:

Effect of acupuncture at HT7 on heart rate variability: an exploratory study. (

Image courtesy of digitalart /"

Image courtesy of digitalart /”

HT 7 Shenmen and Heart Rate Variability

Heart 7 Shenmen is the Yuan Source point of the Heart Meridian of Hand Shaoyin.  It is often indicated for problems of the Heart as well as the Shen or mind.

Heart Rate Variability is defined as:

Heart rate variability (HRV) is the physiological phenomenon of variation in the time interval between heartbeats. It is measured by the variation in the beat-to-beat interval. (wikipedia)

In layman’s terms, it measures changes in the time between beats.  The big deal is that it has various applications both in the physical heart and in the psychosocial aspects.  A reduction in HRV is related to increase in death rate after heart attack.  At the same time, HRV is related to emotional arousal.

So how did they study this?

The Study

This is how the study abstract described the procedure:

120 subjects were divided into four groups using a random number table. The following groups of acupuncture interventions were used: HT7 verum acupuncture; HT7 non-penetrating sham acupuncture; acupuncture at a sham point; and no acupuncture. HRV was recorded 10 min before, during and after each stimulation using an Actiheart ECG recorder.

This means that the subjects were divided into four groups.   The first group had real acupuncture on point HT7.  The second and third groups had sham acupuncture  – the second group had stimulation at the point, but no penetration; the third had real acupuncture but at a place near the point but not at a true acupuncture point.

In other words, both of the typical kinds of sham were used.

The Results

The results were as follows:

The HT7 verum acupuncture group had higher very-low frequency, low frequency and high frequency components of HRV compared with the control groups during but not after acupuncture. The HT7 verum acupuncture group also had higher SD of normal intervals compared with the sham needling and no acupuncture control groups

In plain language, there was an effect ONLY in the true acupuncture group.  The scientists noted this as well:

Our preliminary study suggests, subject to limitations, that acupuncture at HT7 could affect cardiac autonomic neural regulation in healthy subjects, manifest as increased HRV, most likely via the parasympathetic system.

So there we have it again, more proof that real acupuncture, at a real point, has different effects than just stimulating the point without needles AND putting a needle in a nearby non acupoint.


Huang, et al. Effect of acupuncture at HT7 on heart rate variability: an exploratory study. Acupunct Med. 2014 Dec 4. pii: acupmed-2013-010441. doi: 10.1136/acupmed-2013-010441.

Meridian Style Acupuncture for Headache Lecture Available on

As it turns out, my lecture on can be viewed for free online.  The title is “Meridian Approach for Treating Headaches  & Migraines”.  Just sign up for an account.

Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 10.32.48 AM

Click the link:

Am hoping to work with them more in the future!

6th Annual Acupuncture Convention

Courtesy Trisha Sanijon:

The Philippine Academy of Acupuncture, Inc. (PAAI) is inviting you to attend its 6th Annual Scientific Convention on November 20, 2014 (Thursday) at the Lung Center Auditorium, Quezon City with the theme “Building Capacities for Good Acupuncture Practice.”


The convention will feature updates and guidelines on the certification and accreditation process for institutions and training programs in acupuncture, the acupuncture syllabus, and sharing of teaching techniques in community-based and clinical settings.

The registration details are as follows:
Regular / on-site rate:
• PhP 1,000 for PAAI members
• PhP 1,300 for non-members16199_10204163103810409_1025545150937830139_n

And yes, that’s me giving a lecture.

Acupuncture for Varicocele: A Case

Documenting the Varicocele

A while back, I blogged about the use of acupuncture to reduce the size of gallstones in a patient. (link) Right now, we present another case with documentation.  I was approached by a patient some weeks ago with a diagnosis of varicoele.  Here is the first ultrasound.


Acupuncture for varicocoele

Four weeks and eight acupuncture sessions later, we see this:

varicocoele2According to the scan, the varicocoele has gone down a lot.  The patient told me that the medical staff had to keep on rechecking because they couldn’t believe it!

Is this proof?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  What’s important is that something happened and it was documented.

Acupuncture Effects Not Just Psychological

Acupuncture Effects – just in your mind?

One of the knocks against acupuncture is that it’s effect is merely “psychological”.  The patient thinks he or she will get benefits from it, and therefore gets some form of the placebo effect and receives some therapeutic benefit.  Previous blog entries of mine have enumerated various scientific journal articles that debunk the myth of acupuncture being only placebo effect (  We would like to add another one.

A study published in the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine by Xiong, et al in 2012 shows that the effects of acupuncture are dependent more on the needling sensation more than just being “psyched” about it.  I had previously blogged about another study that shows that the needling or Qi sensation is needed for effective treatment of Bell’s Palsy (  This time the condition studied was dysmenorrhea.


Image courtesy of marin /"

Image courtesy of marin /”

Primary Dysmenorrhea

Acupuncture effects on primary dysmenorrhea were discussed in this article entitled “De-qi, not psychological factors, determines the therapeutic efficacy of acupuncture treatment for primary dysmenorrhea.” [1]

The scientists did the following:

The patients with primary dysmenorrhea were randomly assigned to a group of acupuncture with manual manipulation (manipulation group, n=67) and an acupuncture group without manipulation (non-manipulation group, n=64). Pain intensity and pain duration were used as measures for evaluating the therapeutic efficacy of the acupuncture treatment. De-qi, the sensations a patient experienced during the acupuncture treatment, was scored on a 4-point scale by the subjects. In addition, the psychological factors, including belief in acupuncture, the level of nervousness, anxiety, and depression, were quantitatively assessed. The personality of the subject was assessed using the Eysenck personality questionnaire (EPQ) and 16 personality factor questionnaire (16PF). [2]

What this means is that all the subjects got acupuncture, but one group received actual manual stimulation of the needles and the others did not.  This reminds me of another article that I blogged about (

The subjects were then asked to rate both the degree of sensation as well as the degree of pain relief.  Among the factors used to study the psychological effects, notably, was belief (or non belief) in acupuncture.  According to the skeptics, acupuncture works because the patient thinks it will.  By that logic, patients who don’t believe shouldn’t have any effect.

The Results

The results were expressed as follows:

Complete data were obtained from 120 patients, 60 patients in each group. There were statistically significant differences in pain intensity (W=2410.0, P<0.01) and pain duration (W=3181.0, P<0.01) between the two groups. The number of De-qi acupoints (W=1150.5, P<0.01) and the average intensity of De-qi (W=1141.0, P<0.01) were significantly higher in the manipulation group as compared with their non-manipulation counterparts. The correlation coefficients between De-qi and therapeutic efficacy of acupuncture were greater than those between psychological factors and therapeutic efficacy. [3]

In layman’s terms, there was a huge difference in the benefits received by both groups.  What caused the difference? Was it the belief in whether or not acupuncture will work?  No.  It was the intensity of the needling sensations caused by manipulation of the needle.

I will re-emphasize:

The correlation coefficients between De-qi and therapeutic efficacy of acupuncture were greater than those between psychological factors and therapeutic efficacy. (emphasis mine)

My personal take: my professor Wang Zicai in Nanjing always told me to make sure my needling technique elicited proper qi sensation.  I owe him everything for that.  I’ve seen so many patients say they tried acupuncture somewhere else but found no therapeutic effect, only to discover later that their experiences with acupuncture was basically put the needle in and put the electrostimulation machines on.  They had never felt the Qi sensation before!

My personal conclusion: once again, acupuncture is not a pill, but a procedure.  It is dependent on the manual skill of the practitioner.


[1] Xiong, J, et al. “De-qi, not psychological factors, determines the therapeutic efficacy of acupuncture treatment for primary dysmenorrhea.” Chin J Integr Med. 2012 Jan;18(1):7-15. (link)

What is Gua Sha?

A Personal Anectode

I write this on a Sunday, my day off, and boy do I need a day off!  The past week had been hectic, with both my wife and daughter catching the recent flu bug that has been circulating throughout the metropolis.  My daughter had started feeling ill last Monday , and it blew into a full scale fever that night.  By Tuesday morning, she had asked me to treat her with a method that she very much enjoyed – Gua Sha.

What is Gua Sha?

Literally, gua sha means to scrape and get “sha”.  Nielsen et al define it as:

…therapeutic surface frictioning that intentionally raises transitory petechiae and ecchymosis… [1]

Which in plain English means using a tool to create friction to intentionally cause bruising and red dots to appear on the surface of the skin.  It is colloquially also called coining or spooning.

Chinese Soup Spoons are sometimes used in Gua Sha, hence the term "spooning"

Chinese Soup Spoons are sometimes used in Gua Sha, hence the term “spooning”

Soup spoons work much better than coins.  I prefer using the real tools though:

Gua Sha Tools

Gua Sha Tools

Gua Sha tools may be made of animal horn, jade, obsidian or special ceramics.

According to my book, “Illustrations of Guasha Therapy”,

It works well for seasonal diseases in summer or autumn such as sunstroke, external contraction, and gastrointestinal disorders.” [2]

Well, my daughter had the flu, which is, in Chinese Medicine, an externally contracted disease.

How is it done?

According to Zhang, et al., the doctor:

…exerts force on specific body parts or points with tools or hand manipulations to treat disorders and strengthen the body… guasha therapy can directly stimulate subcutaneous peripheral nerves, improve local circulation of blood and lymph fluid, speed up the metabolism, promote nutritional function through the nerve-endocrine-immunoregulation network and facilitate the body’s defensive capabilities” [3]

Nielsen’s research also shows that

Gua Sha increases microcirculation local to a treated area, and that increase in circulation may play a role in local and distal decrease in myalgia. Decrease in myalgia at sites distal to a treated area is not due to distal increase in microcirculation. There is an unidentified pain-relieving biomechanism associated with Gua Sha. [4]

The objective of Gua Sha is to produce the “sha” or reddish dots.  They look a bit scary but let me tell you, there IS a reason why my daughter loves it.

Scraping motion is done to produce reddish bruises and red dots (petechiae)

Scraping motion is done to produce reddish bruises and red dots (petechiae)

Now, not just anyone can do this.  The scraping and pressure is based on point and channel selection based on Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis.  In my daughter’s case the goal was to release the exterior, and thus expel the Wind-Heat.  In western medicine terms, we could say that we are forcing the autonomic system to regularize.

Red bruising after gua sha

Red bruising after gua sha.  It can actually be full of red dots.

Gua Sha effect

Gua Sha effect

So what happened with my daughter after the treatment?  She immediately broke into a sweat and her fever was reduced from 38.8 degrees to 38.1 degrees.  She then slept all afternoon while perspiring (we had to keep on wiping her sweat).

By early evening, she was already well, and she went back to school the next day.

Care to give Gua Sha therapy a try?

[1] Nielsen A, Knoblauch NTM, Dobos GJ, Michalsen A, Kaptchuk TJ. The effect of Gua Sha treatment on the microcirculation of surface tissue: a pilot study in healthy subjects. Explore (NY). 2007;3(5) (October):456-466.
[2] Zhang, M. F. and He, F. R. (editors) Illustrations of Guasha Therapy (English Edition) (2009) Shanghai Scientific And Technical Publishers.  Shanghai. pp. 2-3
[3] ibid, p. 5
[4] Nielsen A, et al



Acupuncture for Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s Disease

Australia’s Centre for Digestive Diseases (link) defines Crohn’s as:

Crohn’s Disease causes inflammation of the bowel. It most commonly affects the lower small intestine (ileum) and the large intestine (colon), but may involve any part of the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus. The inflammation extends through the entire thickness of the bowel wall. Such inflammation can cause abdominal pain, diarrhoea and a range of other symptoms including fever and weight loss.

Signs and Symptoms include:

The most common symptoms associated with Crohn’s Disease include abdominal pain, often in the right lower quadrant, and diarrhoea. Rectal bleeding, loss of appetite, fever and weight loss may also occur. Bleeding may persist and cause anaemia. Because Crohn’s is a chronic disease, patients will experience periods of aggravation of symptoms and other periods of remission. During periods of active symptoms, patients may experience fatigue, joint pain and skin problems. Some patients may experience symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Children with Crohn’s Disease may suffer delayed development and stunted growth.

It’s a good thing then that acupuncture can help.

image courtesy of cooldesign/

image courtesy of cooldesign/

Acupuncture for Crohn’s Disease

There is this newly published paper (link) is very good proof for acupuncture for crohn’s disease.  So how did the study go about?

METHODS: Ninety-two patients were equally and randomly divided into the treatment group and received herb-partitioned moxibustion combined with acupuncture, and the control group received wheat bran-partitioned moxibustion combined with superficial acupuncture. The patients received three treatment sessions per week for 12 wk and were followed up for 24 wk. The main outcome was evaluated using the CD Activity Index (CDAI) score, and the secondary outcomes were evaluated using laboratory indicators such as hemoglobin (HGB), C-reactive protein (CRP), erythrocyte sedimentation rate, quality-of-life, endoscopic ratings, and intestinal histology scores.

What this means was that they took 92 people and effectively flipped a coin to see if they would go to one of two groups.  One group is called the treatment group, which got the real acupuncture and moxibustion treatment.  The other group is called the control group, which got fake acupuncture and fake moxibustion.  As the study says, they got three sessions a week for twelve weeks.  They would then be followed up after 24 weeks to see if the treatment took hold.

Incidentally, the evaluation of the experiment was not just a subjective “are you feeling better” questionnaire.  In this study, they had an actual, scientifically validated scale in the CDAI score, and laboratory examinations!

Photo courtesy of Ohmega1982 /

Photo courtesy of Ohmega1982 /

Acupuncture points used included ST 36, ST 37, SP 4, SP 6, KI 3 and LIV 3, with moxibustion done at CV 6, CV 12 and ST 25.  It should be noted that not all points were used in every patient.  Chinese Medicine Syndrome Differentiation was used to select the appropriate points for each patient.

So what kind of sham acupuncture was used in this study?

The control group received wheat bran-partitioned moxibustion combined with superficial acupuncture. …  The acupoints used in wheat bran-partitioned moxibustion were the same as those used for the treatment group. The procedure of superficial needling at non-acupoints was based on previous studies. Non-meridian and non-acupoint zones located 1-2 cm away from the acupoints of the treatment group were selected for the control group, and an equal number of points were used in each group.

So firstly, they used fake moxibustion with wheat bran.  Rich in fiber!

Secondly, they needled very shallowly on non-acupoints.  Physiologically, inserting the needle at any part of the body triggers a physiologic reaction.  There have been studies that have shown that such needling seems to also trigger a therapeutic effect, and skeptics have pounced on this to try to debunk acupuncture by saying that needling anywhere produces an effect anyway, so why bother with acupoints?  What skeptics conveniently ignored was that putting needles was better than not putting needles at all.  Also, studies have shown that putting needles in acupoints have produced different effects on a cellular level than putting needles in non-acupoints.


RESULTS: The CDAI scores of both the treatment and control groups were significantly reduced after treatment compared with those measured before treatment. However, the degree of improvement in the treatment group was significantly greater than that of the control group. The improvement in symptoms in patients of the treatment group was sustained at follow-up, whereas that of the control group was not. The overall efficacy of the treatment was significantly greater than that of the control. Both groups demonstrated significant improvements in quality-of-life ratings after treatment, but the improvement was significantly greater in the treatment group than in the control group. In addition, the patients in the treatment group showed significantly increased HGB and significantly decreased CRP levels and histopathological scores at the end of treatment, whereas the control group did not exhibit significant changes.

In plain English, both groups experienced relief.  So once again the skeptics will repeat their mantra.  However, real scientists already know that there would be some effect just by needling the body, and especially so when needling near the actual acupoints.  The significant difference is that the improvement was sustained at follow up whereas the guys with fake treatment had the effects wear off quickly.  Also, the laboratory results reinforced the fact that needling in real acupoints is better than needling anywhere.



Acupuncture for Bell’s Palsy: the De Qi Sensation

Bell’s Palsy

Bell’s Palsy is named after Scottish physician and anatomist Charles Bell (1774-1842).  His work helps us understand what happens in Bell’s Palsy, or problems with the Facial Nerve (Cranial Nerve VII) and it’s branches.  CN VII controls the muscles of facial expression, which is why a problem with it leads to dysfunction of the muscles of the face.

Bell’s Palsy in particular, refers to a condition specifically involving CN VII.  There are many other conditions which may cause facial paralysis such as stroke, though, and these must be ruled out.

Symptoms of Bell’s Palsy

Bell’s Palsy patients most often experience weakening or paralysis of facial muscles.  They may find themselves suffering from ptosis, or inability to close the eyelid fully, as well as deviation of the lips, and obliteration of the nasolabial fold.

These may come suddenly, and in Chinese Medicine these are attributed to invasion of Wind into the channels of the face.  This leads to obstruction of the flow of Qi and Blood.

Acupuncture for Bell’s Palsy

When I was studying in China, I encountered a whole gaboodle of Bell’s Palsy patients.  I can roughly estimate that one out of every ten patients would be consulting the clinic for facial paralysis.  Even here, I have encountered a good number of acupuncture patients seeking help for this.  Yet it seems that the treatment is not as effective as it should be.

It is known that this disease can heal by itself, given time.  Is acupuncture then just a fancy placebo while the body heals itself?  I would say no, and present one study that may show why some acupuncture sessions may not cause as good an effect as others.

The Deqi Sensation

“Deqi” is a Chinese phrase that literally means “arrival of Qi”.  It refers to the sensation of heaviness brought about by insertion and stimulation of an acupuncture needle.  According to the Huangdi Neijing (click here to learn more about this), it is essential for acupuncture treatment success.

The study I would like to share is entitled “Effectiveness of strengthened stimulation during acupuncture for the treatment of Bell palsy: a randomized controlled trial” and published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. (link)  The study defines deqi as:

The traditional Chinese theory of acupuncture emphasizes that the intensity of acupuncture must reach a threshold to generate de qi, which is necessary to achieve the best therapeutic effect. De qi is an internal compound sensation of soreness, tingling, fullness, aching, cool, warmth and heaviness, and a radiating sensation at and around the acupoints. However, the notion that de qi must be achieved for maximum benefit has not been confirmed by modern scientific evidence.

Interesting.  Now this is what they did:

We performed a prospective multicentre randomized controlled trial involving patients with Bell palsy. Patients were randomly assigned to the de qi (n = 167) or control (n = 171) group. Both groups received acupuncture: in the de qi group, the needles were manipulated manually until de qi was reached, whereas in the control group, the needles were inserted without any manipulation. All patients received prednisone as a basic treatment. The primary outcome was facial nerve function at month 6. We also assessed disability and quality of life 6 months after randomization.

This means that all patients received standard treatment of prednisone.  This is because the goal of the study was not to compare acupuncture to no acupuncture, but needling sensation to no needling sensation.

Here is the result:

After 6 months, patients in the de qi group had better facial function (adjusted odds ratio [OR] 4.16, 95% confidence interval [CI] 2.23-7.78), better disability assessment (differences of least squares means 9.80, 95% CI 6.29-13.30) and better quality of life (differences of least squares means 29.86, 95% CI 22.33-37.38). Logistic regression analysis showed a positive effect of the de qi score on facial-nerve function (adjusted OR 1.07, 95% CI 1.04-1.09).

In laymen’s terms, there was a true difference in results if one has a deqi sensation vs just inserting the needles.  (see my previous entry, “Rotating acupuncture needles better than sticking them in”  here).

And incidentally, it shows that, and I quote the study: “Among patients with Bell palsy, acupuncture with strong stimulation that elicited de qi had a greater therapeutic effect, and stronger intensity of de qi was associated with the better therapeutic effects.”


Xu SB, Huang B, Zhang CY, Du P, Yuan Q, Bi GJ, Zhang GB, Xie MJ, Luo X, Huang GY, Wang W. Effectiveness of strengthened stimulation during acupuncture for the treatment of Bell palsy: a randomized controlled trial. CMAJ. 2013 Apr 2;185(6):473-9. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.121108. Epub 2013 Feb 25. PubMed PMID: 23439629; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3612150.

Spring Onion for Common Cold in Chinese Medicine

Common Herbs for the Common Cold

I was resting after clinic last Thursday afternoon when I received a text message from my friend Dr. Adrian Rabe.  He asked me if I would guest on a TV show, Pinoy MD, to talk about common household herbs that can be used for the common cold.  I had to talk about the scientific evidence regarding the use of onions, garlic, and ginger in this regard.  Of course, I agreed.

After taping the segment the following day, I came to a realization.  The show was talking about onion bulbs, but I then recalled that in Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is not the bulb that is used for the common cold.  Rather, it is the scallion.  In Chinese, this is called Cong Bai.

Spring Onion is used in Chinese Medicine in the Early stages of colds

Spring Onion is used in Chinese Medicine in the Early stages of colds

Cong Bai

To be precise, Cong Bai is the white part of the scallion stalk.  It would be great if you can get the stuff with some roots intact.  It’s main use is to help in decongesting runny noses.  However, since Cong Bai is warm in nature, it should only be used in the early stages of Wind-Cold.  If the snot is not watery or clear, but is thick and yellowish, then other solutions are indicated.

How to use Onion for Common Cold

For young children, I would recommend boiling 3-5 pieces of the white part of the scallion.  While it is hot and steamy, the vapors may be inhaled to help loosen mucus in the nose.

Image courtesy of khunaspix

Image courtesy of khunaspix

Later, the decoction may be also be drunk to help promote perspiration.  Do not mix with honey, though.

Another way to use Cong Bai is to decoct together with ginger to drink later.  Again, this should not be used for sore throats or signs of Heat such as high fever or yellowish, thick sputum.

Do you find that it works for you? Let us know!

Acupuncture For Sleep Deprivation

Spleen 6 Sanyinjiao

Spleen 6 Sanyinjiao is traditionally known for genitourinary and menstrual disorders.  However, one of it’s less popular functions is to tonify the Blood.  This can be deduced from the fact that the point is a crossing point for three meridians related to organs traditionally associated with Blood: the Spleen, the Liver, and the Kidneys.  While other points such as BL 17 Geshu and SP 10 Xuehai are more intimately related to Blood, I find SP 6 useful for Blood deficiencies in particular.

Blood and Sleep

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there can be many etiologies for a particular disease.  For insomnia, there may be excesses like what we would term Phlegm-Fire Agitating the Heart.  There can also be deficiencies such as Blood Deficiency.  In TCM, Blood is said to House the Mind.  Therefore, if Blood is deficient, it is akin to the Mind being housed in a less than ideal environment.  In addition to symptoms such as light headedness and poor memory, it leads to poor sleep.  Imagine trying to sleep on a rough floor with the temperature either too warm or too cold – how will the mind get some rest?

Image courtesy of marin /"

Image courtesy of marin /

Acupuncture for Sleep Deprived Patients

This entry takes a look at a study published last month.  It is entitled “Differential activation patterns of FMRI in sleep-deprived brain: restoring effects of acupuncture.”  (link) Now, what do we mean by insomnia recovery?  We are not just looking to improve sleep, but to reduce the effects of patients who are chronically sleep deprived.  Being a medical doctor who had gone through many sleepless nights during my medical education, both in front of the books and in front of the patients, I welcome any chance to undo the damage caused by such all-nighters.

Webmd lists the following effects of sleep deprivation.  For brevity, I only quoted the main lists.  Feel free to click the link to the article itself for details. (link)

1. Sleepiness Causes Accidents

2. Sleep Loss Dumbs You Down

3. Sleep Deprivation Can Lead to Serious Health Problems

Sleep disorders and chronic sleep loss can put you at risk for:

  • Heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes

4. Lack of Sleep Kills Sex Drive

5. Sleepiness Is Depressing

6. Lack of Sleep Ages Your Skin

7. Sleepiness Makes You Forgetful

8. Losing Sleep Can Make You Gain Weight

9. Lack of Sleep May Increase Risk of Death

10. Sleep Loss Impairs Judgment, Especially About Sleep

Hence, we can see that being sleep deprived has many mental effects.  So what can acupuncture do?

In the study, the scientists took volunteers and had the following plan.

SD). Sixteen healthy volunteers (8 males) were recruited and scheduled for three fMRI scanning procedures, one following the individual’s normal sleep and received acupuncture SP6 (NOR group) and the other two after 24 h of total SD with acupuncture on SP6 (SD group) or sham (Sham group).

What this means is that they used functional MRI to take a look at the volunteers’ brains.  To set a standard, they got the patients’ MRI after normal sleep.  That sets the control.  Then they got people to have a whole day – 24 hours – of no sleep at all.  For these two, they used SP 6 point.  The last group used sham acupuncture, just to compare again, what doing fake acupuncture does differently.

The results were as follows:

Acupuncture stimuli elicited significantly different activation patterns of three groups. In NOR group, the right superior temporal lobe, left inferior parietal lobule, and left postcentral gyrus were activated; in SD group, the anterior cingulate cortex, bilateral insula, left basal ganglia, and thalamus were significantly activated while, in Sham group, the bilateral thalamus and left cerebellum were activated.

What is interesting here is that acupuncture has different effects based on the situation.  Both the “normal” sleep group and the study group which was sleep deprived got acupuncture at the same point, yet the effects on the brain were different.  In the sham acupuncture group, there was a different effect again.  Again, we see a debunking of the idea that putting needles anywhere is just the same as putting needles in predefined acupoints.

The opinion of the authors was as follows:

Different activation patterns suggest a unique role of acupuncture on SP6 in remediation of SD. SP6 elicits greater and anatomically different activations than those of sham stimuli; that is, the salience network, a unique interoceptive autonomic circuit, may indicate the mechanism underlying acupuncture in restoring sleep deprivation.

Can’t get any more specific than that.


“10 Surprising Effects of Lack of Sleep.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 16 July 2014.

Gao L, Zhang M, Gong H, Bai L, Dai XJ, Min Y, Zhou F. Differential activation patterns of FMRI in sleep-deprived brain: restoring effects of acupuncture. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014;2014:465760. doi: 10.1155/2014/465760. Epub 2014 Jun 15. PubMed PMID: 25024729; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4082872.

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