Published on 05-30-2022
The blood-brain barrier is a defense mechanism in our body to protect our brain. It works to protect us from harmful substances, while allowing substances required by the brain such as water and oxygen. There are a range of potential therapeutics that may aid, for example, central nervous system disorders, however the blood-brain barrier can be an impediment to successful delivery of such agents.
Debilitating conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS are prime examples of health issues that may ultimately be best treated with heavily targeted therapeutics, requiring passage through the blood-brain barrier.
One substance of interest is known as Nerve Growth Factor, or “NGF”. Stanley Cohen and Rita Levi-Montalcini were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1986 in part for their discovery of NGF. NGF is a natural substance that appears in the brain of mammals and provides, among others, neuro-protective and neuro-restorative functions. It has been proposed as a potential treatment for a range of neurodegenerative diseases. However, besides challenges such as proper binding, dosages, and the like, the noninvasive delivery to the central nervous system in a safe and reliable fashion is an impediment. (If interested I recommend reading this exhaustive presentation of the history and potential clinical value of NGF).
In the Journal of Integrative Neuroscience, researchers from Zhejiang Chinese Medicine University recently conducted an animal study to explore the capacity of electroacupuncture to increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier.
The authors were building off many previous research studies showing the ability of both acupuncture and TCM herbal medicine to aid in stroke recovery. From those studies it is clear that acupuncture can influence the circulation within the brain (example study). In addition to the general circulatory effects, the researchers previously conducted a study specifically looking at electroacupuncture (EA) to open the blood brain barrier. In “Electroacupuncture: a new approach to open the blood-brain barrier in rats recovering from middle cerebral artery occlusion”, they concluded that “EA treatment for a certain stimulation time at GV 20 and GV 26 in middle cerebral artery occlusion rats can increase blood-brain permeability”.
In the study we are discussing today, the researchers started with the hypothesis that “EA at a specific frequency could open the blood-brain barrier and induce the entry of nerve growth factor (NGF) into the brain…”. The primary points they chose to influence circulation in the brain via EA were GV 20 and GV 26 - a brief introduction:
GV 20 :: “Hundred Convergences” - an important point for “internal wind” involving western conditions such as certain types of headaches, tinnitus, stroke and seizure disorders. In the tam healing system that my treatments are directed from it is used to effect the association area of the brain and influence conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
GV 26 :: “Water Trough” - a “command point” for restoring consciousness in the case of pointing from shock, weakness or other reasons. Also has usages with seizure disorders and psychological/brain chemistry related conditions such as manic depression.
With a variety of measures, the researchers noted two primary outcomes. First, that the entry of NGF into the brain in the rats with induced neurological deficits promoted learning and memory and inhibited cell death in the hippocampus region. And, second, that EA enhanced the blood-brain barrier permeability in the prefrontal cortex and induced uptake of NGF by the neurons in that area. They concluded that “EA could serve as a new strategy for delivering therapeutics to the central nervous system”.
They note that further studies of the exact processes involved in this increase in permeability as well as precise evaluations of the timing of EA and administration of therapeutics need to be looked at. For a low cost, non-invasive, completely safe (the EA part anyhow) procedure - this is, in my opinion, worth exploring much further.
From a practitioners perspective, awareness of processes that result from utilization of these points is important. Perhaps aspects of our treatment may work because we are facilitating the uptake of other medications the person is taking - or perhaps they don’t because of that. Perhaps acupuncture treatment should be offered hours after a particular medication, or as close as possible to the time of ingestion. Perhaps more complete treatments along with therapeutics - rather than separately or partial point usage just to facilitate permeability may offer promising results. All aspects worth exploring.
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