Acupuncture for Alzheimer’s Disease is a treatment that is heavily studied showing a wide range of benefits for aging American’s with this form of dementia. The real mystery behind Alzheimer’s Disease is that in western medicine it is unclear as to what one thing causes it. There are many risk factors & possibilities as to what may be the root cause according to the Alzheimer’s Association but, again, nothing that is pinpointed therefore making it difficult to treat. Here we will take a look at how eastern medicine & acupuncture play a role in treating Alzheimer’s patients.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s Disease is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. Symptoms can show as early as 10 to 20 years before more problematic signs appear, and usually develop slowly over time, getting worse with age and interfering with daily life. Alzheimer’s accounts for 60-80 percent of dementia cases, and is not a normal part of aging even though the vast majority of Alzheimer’s patients are 65 and older. However, there are about 200,000 Americans according to the Alzheimer’s Association under the age of 65 that have younger-onset (also known as early-onset) Alzheimer’s.
Statistics about Alzheimer’s Disease:
- 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s Disease, and by 2050 this number is predicted to rise to 14 million.
- 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, and it kills more than breast cancer & prostate cancer combined.
- Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.
Main symptoms of Alzheimer’s:
- Difficulty remembering new information – this is the most common indicator as the disease typically begins in the part of the brain which affects learning. The symptoms that follow are ones that happen as Alzheimer’s advances through the brain, and they become increasingly severe.
- Mood/behavior changes
- Confusion about events
- Time & place
- Unfounded suspicions about family/friends/caregivers
- Difficulty speaking/swallowing/walking
As we stated before, it is not fully understood what causes Alzheimer’s, but western medicine believes it is more than likely not just one thing, but several factors that potentially contribute such as age, family history, diet, and high blood pressure just to name a few. One thing is consistent in the development of Alzheimer’s, and that is the formation of plaques and tangles in the brain which kill nerve cells:
- Plaques – these are deposits of a protein
fragments called beta-amyloid that build up between the nerve cells. These have
many defense functions against microbial infections, but when they do not get cleared
away quickly they cause inflammation & create another destructive protein,
- Tangles – these are the twisted fibers known as tau that build up inside of cells. These fibers bundle together and block the communication/synapses.
Although everyone develops these to a degree as we age, those with Alzheimer’s tend to have far more and in the same pattern beginning in the hippocampus, which is responsible for the formation of memories and spreading out to other areas of the brain.
Acupuncture for Alzheimer’s Disease
It is well-known in the acupuncture world that acupuncture has positive effects on those with Alzheimer’s Disease. Acupuncture works because it is able to improve digestive health, improve circulation, cut systemic inflammatory markers, and many other factors. Each treatment is tailored to the individual patient, and they are given a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) diagnosis. This is given by evaluating the present health issues as well as a full extensive history, and other diagnostic tools of Chinese medicine that will be used by a licensed acupuncturist to determine the proper treatment plan. This is why what acupuncture does specifically for Alzheimer’s Disease is truly dependent on the patient current diagnosis & medical history.
Acupuncture points for Alzheimer’s Disease
- DU20 – Hundred Convergences – Bai Hui – located on the head, used to affect the associated area related to emotions, memory, & behavior; i.e.: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and motor control issues.
- GB20 – Wind Pool – Feng Chi – located at the base of the skull, used for all issues of the head & brain including seizures, memory, mental/neurological disorders.
- GB21 – Shoulder Well – Jian Jing – located on the shoulder, used to address phlegm related issues of the head & neck, and moves qi (energy) downward.
- EX-HN3 – Hall of Impression – Yintang – located on the forehead between the eyebrows on the “third eye.” It is used to calm the spirit (insomnia, anxiety, stress, build energy in the head, headaches, and eye & sinus issues.
- HT3 – Lesser Sea – Shao Hai – located on the inside of the elbow. It is used for depression, anxiety, nervousness, poor memory, and fuzzy thinking. It is also a good point to move the qi and blood.
- LI17 – Celestial Tripod – Tian Ding – located on the lateral side of the neck near the clavicle. It is used for Alzheimer’s, brain tumors, dyslexia, MS, & many brain issues related to circulation as well as a wide variety of psychological issues.
- SI16 – Celestial Windows – Tian Chuang – located on the lateral side of the neck level with the Adam’s Apple. It is used for Alzheimer’s, brain tumors, dyslexia, MS, & many brain issues related to circulation.
While the benefits of acupuncture for Alzheimer’s are clearly seen in eastern medicine terms, it is poorly understood in western medicine. However, there have been many studies in recent years showing its benefits along with TCM herbs, and how it affects Alzheimer’s patients clinically.
Acupuncture for Alzheimer’s Research
As we stated above, there have been many studies in the way of the effectiveness of acupuncture for Alzheimer’s Disease. In fact, there have even been several on the effects of herbal medicine for Alzheimer’s as well. Here we will go over some key studies over the last 10 years so as to explain acupuncture’s effects in western medical terms.
- Fuzhisan (FZS), a Chinese herbal medicine prescription which has been used to treat Alzheimer’s for about 15 years now, is comprised of ginseng root, Baikal skullcap root, rhizome of acorus calamus, and radix glycyrrhizae.
- This study aimed to get a better-quality re-do of a previous study done on cognitive functions of aged rats with Fuzhisan extract. The rats received FZS for 30 consecutive days, and were evaluated for cognitive improvement with the Morris water maze.
- The results showed significant improvement for impaired cognitive functions of the aged rats made by FZS. Two different tests (microPET & spectrophotometry) showed FZS promoted glucose metabolism in the whole brain, and increased production of certain proteins in the hippocampus therefore regulating impaired functions of the aged rats. These findings may suggest FZS may not only alleviate symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but may also increase production of neurotransmitters and energy supply in the brain.
- Other similar studies were done on the effectiveness of Fuzhisan for Alzheimer’s in 2011, and in 2015 both showing significantly positive results.
- This study set out to find the effects of the herbal extract Polygonum multiflorum (He Shou Wu) compared with a Chinese herbal formula patent Nao Fu Kang/Nao Li Kang and a western medicine control group in Alzheimer’s patients.
- This involved 209 Alzheimer’s Disease patients. 60 patients were treated with the herbal extract, 29 were treated with the Chinese herbal formula Nao Fu Kang, and 31 patients were in the western medicine control group. The duration of the treatment was 12 weeks, and the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) & Ability of Daily Living Scale (ADL) were assessed at the onset & completion of treatment.
- The study found great improvements in scores for MMSE & ADL in the extract group compared to the others. The overall effective rate was 93% in the extract group, 73% in the Nao Fu Kang group, and 69% in the western medicine group.
- This study used mice with Alzheimer’s Disease and looked at the effect of acupuncture points to develop new neurons in the brain.
- Treatment was provided once a day for 6 days, then a day of rest for 14 consecutive days using the following acupuncture points: CV6, CV12, CV17, ST36, & SP10. Researchers used a wide range of physical and biochemical tests on the mice to observe changes in the brain.
- After treatment was complete, researchers used the Morris water maze which showed much improvement. To show why there was so much improvement, researchers used brain tissue sampling with Golgi Straining to see if they could find cellular improvements that led to the memory functioning improvements the mice experienced.
- Researchers found that after acupuncture treatment there was a significant increase in the total number and length of apical & dendritic branches. They concluded that acupuncture improves spatial learning & memory ability of Alzheimer’s mice.
- The goal of this study was to look at the neuronal specificity of acupuncture in regards to Alzheimer’s patients. It included 21 Alzheimer’s patients, 14 patients with mild cognitive impairment, and 14 healthy controls.
- The acupuncture points needled bilaterally were LI4 and LV3, also known as “the four gates.” Researchers found that needling these points showed changes in all groups involving “activations & deactivations in cognitive-related areas, visual-related areas, the sensorimotor-related area, basal ganglia, and cerebellum.” They also noted that those with impairment compared with healthy participants showed similar activations and deactivations of related areas that were not found in healthy participants.
- This study also used sham needling to further confirm their findings. According to researchers, acupuncture proves to be a clinically & significantly valid modality (along with diet & lifestyle changes).
- Articles published up to and including July 2017 in eight databases were searched & assessed, and 13 studies fulfilled the criteria to be included in the analysis. All studies compared the effectiveness of acupuncture with that of medication.
- Mini-Mental State Examination score, Ability of Daily Living Scale score, Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale-Cognition score, Hasegawa’s Dementia Scale score, and adverse events were all assessed for the analysis.
- The analysis yielded acupuncture had positive results, and showed acupuncture alone to be better than conventional western medicines in the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease.
There are many other studies out there in regards to acupuncture for Alzheimer’s Disease including one currently being conducted as of Aug 2019. It will be showing evidence from neuroimaging to strengthen our understanding of how the brain works during acupuncture, and the underlying mechanisms of acupuncture for those in western medicine.
Acupuncture & Alzheimer’s Disease
Acupuncture could be a huge game-changer for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease. On average, someone diagnosed with Alzheimer’s lives 4 to 8 years after diagnosis, and can potentially live as long as 20 years depending on other factors. Unfortunately, there is no current cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. The positive results of acupuncture for Alzheimer’s Disease shown in the above studies as well as many others, is an exciting step forward in the treatment of Alzheimer’s.
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