There are a number of new studies on transcranial direct current stimulation and on transcranial magnetic stimulation. The newly discovered benefits of these therapies include pain relief, treatment for major depression, cognitive enhancement (including speeding up learning, creativity enhancement, and improving mathematical abilities, etc.).

Are these new transcranial therapies really novel? The treatment seems to be strikingly similar to scalp electro acupuncture, which has been used safely and effectively for decades.

We have numerous studies supporting scalp acupuncture for treatment of conditions such as

Acupuncture is much cheaper compared to transcranial therapies

  • US$300 is a cost of a typical transcranial magnetic stimulation session
  • NZ$70 (US$57) cost of a typical acupuncture session in New Zealand

As brain mapping techniques are becoming more accessible and we’re getting a better understanding of the human brain. This opens opportunities to design new treatments for numerous other conditions with electro-acupuncture, transcranial current stimulation and transcranial magnetic stimulation.

The image: mapping of the White Matter fibers

Acupuncture is great at reducing stress. Even the patients who are seeing me for treatment of other health issues with acupuncture such as infertility report reduced anxiety. One of the first things they often notice is that sleep improves and they experience reduced irritability. They feel more relaxed at work and at home.

Even though we had viable theories how and why acupuncture helps stress, we know very little about what exactly happens on the cellular level. Researchers at the Georgetown University Medical Center made a major contribution to understanding how acupuncture helps. They discovered that acupuncture interferes with the very mechanism of stress. It blocks the chronic, stress-induced elevations of the HPA axis hormones and the sympathetic NPY pathway. Read more

The largest study on acupuncture and insomnia to date found acupuncture to be more effective than orthodox sleeping medications in improving your sleep and relieving insomnia. The researchers also found that combining acupuncture with medication was more beneficial than medication alone. Acupuncture plus herbs also improved sleep better than herbs alone.

This study (meta-analysis) included 46 randomized trials and 3811 patients. It was published The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

The bottom line:

The most common solution your doctor will offer for insomnia is sleeping pills. Unfortunately the sleeping pills are addictive and their effect diminishes with time. Furthermore, sleeping pills don’t give you quality sleep and have a sedative effect, which may affect your performance during the day as well as driving. Acupuncture offers a superior alternative to sleeping medications. Acupuncture does not have the side effects of the sleeping pills and it is more effective in treatment of insomnia.



Not many asthma sufferers come to see me specifically for this condition. I do see many patients affected by stress, anxiety and depression. Some of them also suffer from asthma. A few of these patients told me that their asthma improved significantly following acupuncture treatment. I used to get surprised by this, as studies on acupuncture and asthma provide mixed results.

I think I found a link explaining why asthma improves when anxiety is reduced with acupuncture. If you are prone to anxiety, your chances of developing asthma are tripled. This is the conclusion of a study on 4000 adults published in Journal of Allergy this month. Chronic stress alters hormone levels, which can lead to inflamed airways. Acupuncture has been shown to regulate stress hormones; it is an effective treatment for anxiety.

This contributes to understanding the pathophysiology of asthma. But it also explains how acupuncture may help asthma sufferers. It may be the reason why some acupuncture treatment protocols work better than others; and help to design studies which could actually provide some hard evidence for the practice.

Acupuncture for Women With Concurrent Substance Use and Anxiety/Depression
In this controlled trial, women receiving acupuncture reported

  • having reduced physiological cravings for substances,
  • felt significantly less depressed, less anxious, and
  • were better able to reflect on and resolve difficulties

than women in the control group.

It was found that auricular acupuncture, as an adjunct therapy to a comprehensive psychoeducational treatment program for women with addictions, shows promise in being an effective, more viable treatment alternative to anti-anxiety drugs anxiolytics.

This study was published in Family & Community Health April/June 2007 Volume 30 Number 2 Pages 112 – 120.