Early in my training as an acupuncturist, one of the hardest concepts to internalize was that in classical East Asia, the brain really had no role in the physiology of the body. Instead, many of the functions we now attribute to the brain were under the domain of other organs. Sometimes those functions were consistent with modern biomedical understanding, and other times they had more relation with the classical ideas of the Greeks. But as a whole, when applied as a system of treatment—the model worked and still works—surprisingly well. As time passes, modern research continues to validate these “arcane” ideas.
Despite the brain's lack of a defined role, a number of acupuncture points on the head have functions that are clearly neurological functions: controlling vision, improving mental clarity, balance and coordination, regulating digestion, speech, and so on. Early research in monkeys attempted to match the points on the head to the underlying active regions of the brain—and when only about 40% of those regions actually correlated, the assumption was the ancients may have deduced more about the brain than we gave them credit for in a few places, and in other areas, their locations were wildly different. Fast forward another 20 years and the same studies were repeated on humans. It turns out that humans and monkeys have different active areas for certain functions—and when they compared the points to actual human brain activity, more than 85% of the points now correlated to the active brain regions underneath them! Clearly, they knew more than we thought they did.
Today acupuncture is widely recognized for its role in improved neurological functioning—from post-stroke and concussion recovery to reducing the symptoms and rate of progression of diseases like MS, Alzheimer’s, dementia, and more recently as a way to regulate and correct dysautonomia regardless of cause. Modern iterations of acupuncture have evolved with specific systems of scalp acupuncture for neurological disorders and others focused on improving brain function. Auricular, or ear acupuncture evolved from some of these research efforts, recognizing the rich concentration of nerves in the ear and surrounding areas that have direct neurological pathways to the innermost reaches of the brain through the cranial nerves.
Besides acupuncture—what else can you do to protect what the Chinese once called “a curious organ” or “The Sea of Marrow”, your magnificent and adaptable brain? First and foremost— food matters! I highly recommend Dr. Gundry’s book “The Longevity Paradox” to learn more about what to eat, and as importantly, when to eat to promote optimal brain health.
In addition, there are a few supplements I recommend for nerve health and additional ones to be taken as soon as possible after any head trauma to help mitigate damage. Remember, if you take any prescription medications, please talk to your pharmacist or me before adding any supplements to your regimen. You can order through our website here: