Atheroma 2019

Stimulated by Cui et al 2019.[1]

Photo by Omer Salom on Unsplash.

The whole point of this blog originally was to highlight papers from our own journal Acupuncture in Medicine. This may only be the second time I have done so, and for the first time I have bitten off a laboratory study.

One reason for choosing this one is that I met the last author at a conference in Beijing, which he organised. Whilst there I visited one of his labs in BUCM (Beijing University of Chinese Medicine). He is also famous in the BMAS London office for supplying me with some special acupuncture needles that Allyson uses instead of drawing pins. They are 0.8mm in diameter (over 3 times the width of our standard needles) and I cannot bring myself to actually use them on patients. Prof Zhao Baixiao told me they are very good in difficult cases of back pain!

0.8mm diameter needles!

The other reason for choosing this study is the slightly unusual nature of the research question – moxibustion at CV4 to treat atheroma. Really? I hear you exclaim. Yes, I had the same reaction on reading the title.

I’m afraid our laboratory papers these days are not for the casual reader – there are often a number of things in the title alone that I have to look up, and this paper is no exception.

Apolipoprotein E (ApoE) is a fat binding protein, and ApoE knockout mice (ApoE-/-) have a relatively severe dyslipidaemia and a much-accelerated rate of development of atherosclerosis (AS).

This study tested 20 minutes of daily moxibustion at CV4 (that is 10mm below a mouse umbilicus) for 6 days a week over 12 weeks, so that’s 72 sessions. The control group had exactly the same setup but the moxa stick was not lit.

Now my good friend and professor, TL (Thomas Lundeberg), often refers to heat applied to the ventral surface of the abdomen, but I do not recall him describing any mechanisms. Since he has studied sensory stimulation techniques for his entire career, I guess it has something to do with thermal sensation on the ventral surface mediating central effects. Anyway, I continue to be surprised by the potential of sensory stimulation.

In this case the heat applied to the lower abdomen of the mice mitigated the fact that they had a higher propensity to develop atheroma in their aortic roots and thoracic aortas.

It seems like an extraordinary result, but 72 sessions is a lot of lying back with heat on your abdomen!

Could this be an alternative to statins?

Holding a moxa stick, or any other heat application over the abdomen every night for 20 minutes.

Warning: these are highly speculative suggestions!


1         Cui Y, Liu J, Huang C, et al. Moxibustion at CV4 alleviates atherosclerotic lesions through activation of the LXRα/ABCA1 pathway in apolipoprotein-E-deficient mice. Acupunct Med Published Online First: 29 May 2019. doi:10.1136/acupmed-2016-011317

Declaration of interests MC