The Role of Acupuncture in Brain Injury Recovery

The brain is a remarkable organ. 50 years ago we hardly had a clue how well the brain was capable of recovering after a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Because the brain heals slower than any other organ that we have, it was originally assumed that once damaged, you were stuck with it. We now know better. We now have tools and understanding that, when applied, have the potential to restore that which was damaged.

In my early years of practice, I specialized in treating traumatic brain injury with acupuncture and nutrition. I taught seminars on it. That was 40 years ago and what we understand today about the role of acupuncture in restoring function is amazing! I was privileged to help wake people out of comas and watch individuals who were unable to walk, get up and walk, with just a few treatments. Most, however, don’t have such dramatic results, so quickly, and can take months and even years to get to that place.

So how does acupuncture work on TBI? By several mechanisms. It improves cognitive impairment (diminished mental faculties that affect memory, attention, language, perception and problem-solving functions due to neurological dysfunction). Research has shown that acupuncture helps modulate neurotransmitters (chemical messengers that transmit signals between neurons/nerve cells, in the brain), helps with the formation of new neurons, and synaptic connections, reduces brain inflammation, and enhances cerebral blood flow, and others.

Acupuncture has been shown to be neuroprotective. Because it helps reduce oxidative stress, inflammation and enhances blood flow, oxygenation, regulation of neurotransmitters and induces certain neurotrophic factors, (such as neurotrophic growth factor), it improves the ability of the nerves to connect. It improves brain cell survival, axonal growth and synaptic remodeling (nerve cells that extend projections to form new connections from brain to body part and back, where damage to those connections occurred). This synaptic remodeling is one of the exciting aspects of how acupuncture supports brain repair. In addition, Acupuncture has been shown to promote neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to reorganize and adapt following injury.

Acupuncture improves microcirculation to the brain, bringing the nutrients essential for healing. However, the nutrients must be present in the diet, and in concentration in supplements for them to be useful. The most critical nutrients are saturated fats (yes, they are essential to proper brain healing) as well as Omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins (especially whole food B Complex), minerals (especially zinc, magnesium and iron), protein, and some complex carbs.  Avoid seed oils, soy oil, hydrogenated/partially hydrogenated, canola, vegetable and other bad oils. Avoid sugar and stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol.

 Acupuncture, and also acupuncture and physical therapy together, are dynamic tools in helping restore brain function after traumatic brain injury, including stroke.

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©2024 Holly A. Carling, O.M.D., L.Ac., Ph.D.

Dr. Holly Carling

Dr. Holly Carling

Dr. Holly Carling is a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, Licensed Acupuncturist, Doctor of Naturopathy, Clinical Nutritionist and Master Herbologist with nearly four decades of experience. Dr. Carling is a “Health Detective,” she looks beyond your symptom picture and investigates WHY you are experiencing your symptoms in the first place. Dr. Carling considers herself a “professional student” – she has attended more than 600 post-secondary education courses related to health and healing. Dr. Carling gives lectures here in the U.S. and internationally and has been noted as the “Doctor’s Doctor”. When other healthcare practitioners hit a roadblock when treating their patients nutritionally, Dr. Carling is who they call. Dr. Carling is currently accepting new patients and offers natural health care services and whole food nutritional supplements in her Coeur d’ Alene clinic.

Medical/Health Disclaimer:

The information provided in this article or podcast should not be construed as personal medical advice or instruction. No action should be taken based solely on the contents of this article or podcast. Readers/listeners should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being. The information and opinions provided here are believed to be accurate and sound, based on the best judgment available to the author, but readers/listeners who fail to consult appropriate health authorities assume the risk of any injuries.

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