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Viruses, Neurodegeneration, and Acupuncture/Chinese Herbal Medicine

Some viruses, like SARS-CoV-2 or influenza viruses cause massive inflammatory injury to the body's tissues/organs, most notably the nervous system and the brain. Ongoing research is starting to connect the dots between how these viruses can contribute to chronic diseases and/or accelerate already existing dementia:

" 'The brains of patients suffering from neurodegenerative diseases sometimes contain certain viruses. They are suspected to cause inflammation or to have a toxic effect, thus accelerating neurodegeneration. However, viral proteins could also act differently: They could increase intercellular spreading of protein aggregates already ongoing in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's,' Vorberg says. 'Of course, this needs further studies with neurotropic viruses. Clearly, the impact of viral infections on neurodegenerative diseases deserves in-depth investigation.' " (Science Direct, 2021)

Light-illustration with a black face shape surrounded by glowing orange halo and firey light or energy encircling the head figure.
Photo by Merlin Lightpainting from Pexels

Looking at research into how acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine work to manage acute inflammatory injury as well as prevent long-term cerebrovascular damage, we can begin to understand why and how these modalities help with infection-induced neuroinflammatory disease.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture has a number of well-understood cardiovascular, endocrine, immune, and neurological impacts. Acupuncture is now better understood to initiate local effects which get communicated via the "meridian network" (Li et al., 2019) of the nervous system, endocrine system, and immune systems, all which handle various signals generated by needle stimulation at key points around the body. Acupuncture, enhanced by gentle microcurrent electro-stimulation, regulates inflammation in the central and peripheral nervous systems as well as enhance and regulate circulation, both locally, but centrally, improving cerebrovascular circulation (Suzuki et al., 2020).


A scientific figure attempting to display the various physiological mechanisms of acupuncture on a local and non-local level, invoving various systems of the physiology.
Li, N., Li, M., Chen, B., & Guo, Y. (2019). A New Perspective of Acupuncture: The Interaction among Three Networks Leads to Neutralization. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2019, 1–10.

Acupuncture's pain modifying effects are also well understood down to complex sequences and specific pathways in the nervous system (Zhao, 2008). Regulating pain, while obviously clinically helpful, has secondary benefits which have implications for beneficial changes in other centrally-managed systems, namely the immune system, the endocrine system, and the digestive system, not to mention mental health (Martucci & Mackey, 2018). Without getting lost in the details, essentially, acupuncture is a way to encourage regulation of the entire body via stimulation of the peripheral & central nervous system, inducing corrective and "healing" effects.


Acupuncture stimulates activity in the brain to encourage increase cerebral circulation, anti-inflammatory response, and neuroplasticity, all of which theoretically support recovery from acute infection.

Chinese Herbal Medicine

Chinese herbal medicines have been used to treat neurological symptoms and psychiatric conditions for thousands of years, with references to using herbs for neurologic symptoms as far back as 200 C.E. in the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (Brand & Zhao, 2017). Senkyunolide A and Z-Ligustilide are anti-inflammatory compounds that provide the basis for the clinical benefits of Chuan Xiong (Ligusticum rhizome), a chief herb used to treat cerebrovascular and neuroinflammatory conditions (Yue et al., 2017).


In future blog posts, we will explore how complex combinations of herbal formulas create synergistic effects to achieve their desired clinical effects and how these herbs have been studied in formulas used for clinical trials.


References

Brand, E. J., & Zhao, Z. (2017). Cannabis in Chinese Medicine: Are Some Traditional Indications Referenced in Ancient Literature Related to Cannabinoids? Frontiers in Pharmacology, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2017.00108

DZNE - German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases. (2021, October 19). Viral infections could promote neurodegeneration. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2021 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/10/211019120145.htm


Li, N., Li, M., Chen, B., & Guo, Y. (2019). A New Perspective of Acupuncture: The Interaction among Three Networks Leads to Neutralization. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2019, 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/2326867


Luo, Z., Zeng, A., Chen, Y., He, S., He, S., Jin, X., ... & Lu, Q. (2021). Ligustilide inhibited Angiotensin II induced A7r5 cell autophagy via Akt/mTOR signaling pathway. European Journal of Pharmacology, 905, 174184.


Martucci, K. T., Mackey, S. C. (2018). Neuroimaging of pain: Human evidence and clinical relevance of central nervous system processes and modulation. Anesthesiology, 128, 1241–1254. https://doi.org/10.1097/ALN.0000000000002137


Or, T. C., Yang, C. L., Law, A. H., Li, J. C., & Lau, A. S. (2011). Isolation and identification of anti-inflammatory constituents from Ligusticum chuanxiong and their underlying mechanisms of action on microglia. Neuropharmacology, 60(6), 823-831.


Suzuki, T., Waki, H., Imai, K., & Hisajima, T. (2020). Electroacupuncture of the Ophthalmic Branch of the Trigeminal Nerve: Effects on Prefrontal Cortex Blood Flow. Medical Acupuncture, 7. https://doi.org/10.1089/acu.2019.1406


Yue, SJ., Xin, LT., Fan, YC. et al. Herb pair Danggui-Honghua: mechanisms underlying blood stasis syndrome by system pharmacology approach. Sci Rep 7, 40318 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/srep40318

Zhao, Z.-Q. (2008). Neural mechanism underlying acupuncture analgesia. Progress in Neurobiology, 85(4), 355–375. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pneurobio.2008.05.004

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