Acupuncture improves low BDNF levels in cancer survivors with insomnia

Acupuncture can increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in cancer survivors with insomnia and low baseline BDNF, according to a team of researchers from the USA and Canada. A randomised clinical trial compared acupuncture with cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) in 160 cancer survivors, over an eight-week period. The acupuncture protocol consisted of needling standardised acupuncture points classically used to treat insomnia (Shenmen HE-7, Sanyinjiao SP-6, Baihui DU-20, Shenting DU-24, auricular Shenmen and Sympathetic) as well as supplementary points to treat comorbid symptoms (such as psychological distress, fatigue and pain). Needles remained in place for 30 minutes, and participants received a total of 10 acupuncture treatments over eight weeks. Mean serum BDNF did not significantly increase in the acupuncture or CBT-I groups. However, when analysis was restricted to patients with low baseline BDNF, the acupuncture group demonstrated a significant (7.2 ng/mL) increase in mean serum BDNF, whereas the CBT-I group demonstrated a non-significant (2.9 ng/mL) increase. Although decreased BDNF has previously been associated with poor sleep, serum BDNF was not significantly correlated with sleep outcomes in this study.

Effects of acupuncture versus cognitive behavioral therapy on brain-derived neurotrophic factor in cancer survivors with insomnia: an exploratory analysis, Acupunct Med. 2021 Dec;39(6):637-645.