30/11/2010 05:37 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Acupuncture Has Real Effect On How The Brain Perceives Pain

It's a question many health experts have debated: that is, does acupuncture have a real physical effect on the body, or does it simply work on a psychological level? In other words, is the effect of an acupuncture treatment all in the mind?

Acupuncture changes the brain's perception of pain Acupuncture changes your brain's perception of pain. Photo: Flickr, ~ggvic~

Scientists from the Department of Complementary and Integrative Medicine at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany, reckon they've discovered that acupuncture has a very real effect on the brain.

Their study, which is being presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, suggests areas of the brain that are linked to how we perceive pain are less active during an acupuncture session.

The researchers scanned the brains of 18 volunteers who were given mild electric shocks. When the volunteers were also given acupuncture, the brain scans showed a significantly lower amount of activation in the brain's pain perception areas (the contralateral supplementary motor area, somatosensory cortex, precuneus bilateral insula and ipsilateral somatomotor cortex, in case you were wondering).

But that's not all. There were also differences in the areas of the brain that influence your expectation of pain - including the anterior insula - say the experts. So it works on a psychological level too (that is, as a placebo).

Critics of acupuncture aren't so sure, however, since they claim clinical evidence that acupuncture really does reduce pain is lacking. But it could be worth a try, especially for something like back pain or period pain.

Have you ever tried acupuncture? Did it work for you?

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