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Neurodegenerative diseases

Diagnosis of neurogenerative diseases

Over the past few years, there has been more attention given to neurodegenerative diseases, especially those caused by trauma in contact sports —
rightfully so, considering accidental injuries was the 3rd leading cause of death according to the CDC in their 2014 report 1.

From a recent article 2 in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers are finding new demarcations between the mortality rate of the general population and professional athletes, which was previously thought to be the same. The new comparison group was professional replacement players, who are presumed to have much less exposure to contact than their seasoned counterparts. However, the difference in mortality rates was marginal.

There was, however, a notable numerical difference in neurodegenerative disorders, in that 7 deaths were categorized as neurodegenerative, and these occurred only in the long-term players. All of these 7 deaths were categorized as due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a prevalence rate far higher than the 4.3 cases per 100 000 people in the general population (and that statistic is based on the oldest age group, >70 years).

Treatment of Neurodegenerative Diseases and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

A review of studies 3 from universities and hospitals in Taiwan, from 2014, show acupuncture affects the proliferation of stem cells and can benefit neurological conditions in animals. The A common refrain from acupuncture skeptics is that there is little to no difference in the effects of non-specific and specific acupuncture points. Based on a 2010 study using electroacupuncture (EA), the evidence shows otherwise.

Moldenhauer et al. (47) indicated that CD133+CD34cell counts in peripheral blood were increased twofold by 48 h following acupuncture performed at acupoints, which are for the treatment of spinal cord injury. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9) levels were also reduced. However, subjects who received acupuncture at acupoints for the treatment of sleeping disorders (i.e., control counterpoints) showed no changes in CD133+ cell numbers, which suggests that acupuncture performed at the right location can mobilize human CD133+ CD34cells.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a debilitating disease in which the protective myelin sheath surrounding nerves is eroded, disrupting communication between the brain and rest of the body. In a review 4 of articles on MS and acupuncture, acupuncture in combination with pharmacological treatment was shown to improve quality of life issues, such as reduced spasticity, pain, fatigue, and increased balance. However, due to the small sample size and lack of control groups in some cases, it can not be asserted that there is conclusive proof of acupuncture’s efficacy in treating MS, but there is enough evidence to support it’s further study.

A case study 5 in which a young patient suffered from a TBI demonstrates how an integrative approach of acupuncture, along with physical and occupational therapy greatly improved his recovery. The 22-year-old patient was in a coma for 3 weeks after being in a snowboarding accident. Approximately 3.5 months after surgery, he began receiving regular acupuncture treatments between 1 and 2 times a week for a period of 4 years. The accident left him with impaired motor control, aphasia (difficulty speaking), poor vision and tremors.

The most notable improvements were going from a wheelchair — to a walker — to walking with the assistance of a cane.

In an interview with the patient and his mother, his mother noted that at onset of treatment with acupuncture “He could barely lift his arm and now he’s swimming!”

As with the case in many acupuncture treatments, the effects are cumulative. “The patient reported improved performance 71% of the time from visit to visit. At no point did the patient report a decrease in performance between visits, and only 29% of the time did the patient report no change in performance between visits”. The patient reaffirmed what other studies have shown, that treatment of TBI shows greater progress with the use of multiple modalities when engaged in for at least three months.

Addendum: Medscape recently published a study “Concussion: A History of Science and Medicine, 1870–2005”


1 CDC. “Leading Causes of Death in Males, 2014 (Current Listing).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 June 2017,

2 DeKosky, MD Steven T. “Long-Term Mortality Among NFL Professional Football Players.” JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, 1 Feb. 2018,

3 Ho, T. J., Chan, T. M., Ho, L. I., Lai, C. Y., Lin, C. H., Macdonald, I., . . . Chen, Y. H. (n.d.). The possible role of stem cells in acupuncture treatment for neurodegenerative diseases: a literature review of basic studies. 11 Mar. 2014,

4 Karpatkin, H. I., et al. “Acupuncture and Multiple Sclerosis: A Review of the Evidence.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: ECAM, Hindawi Publishing Corporation, 18 June 2014,

5 Wolf, J., Sparks, L., Deng, Y., & Langland, J. (2015, November 1). Restoration of Function With Acupuncture Following Severe Traumatic Brain Injury: A Case Report. Retrieved February 24, 2018, from