Acupuncture predates recorded history and is rooted in Taoist tradition, which goes back over 8,000 years. In this time the concepts of Yin and Yang were created and became the backbone of Chinese medicine and acupuncture. Acupuncture became suppressed in china in 1911, when western medicine was introduced into china. During the time Acupuncture was used mainly among the “folk people” and was eventually brought back into mainstream China by communist leader Mao Zedong in 1950. It was then that hospitals in China began to incorporate a the use western medicine and acupuncture and Chinese medicine into their healthcare system.
How it works:
Though much about acupuncture and how it works is unknown, the successful clinical trials over the past thousands of years have proven it to be effective. Acupuncture has been shown to be very effective in treating chronic pain. It helps 55-85% of the cases while morphine, in comparison, helps 70% of cases. The fact that acupuncture can be compared to such a strong drug as having a similar rate of success speaks for itself. It works! And acupuncture, unlike morphine, has very few side effects.
When a needle is inserted into an acupuncture point, an achy, warm or heavy quality is often felt. These sensations are the feelings of Qi arriving at the acupuncture point. In Chinese Medicine, Qi is the vital energy that flows through the meridians much the blood flows through the vessels. The activities of the bodies organs, defense system, circulation and vitality all depend on the free flow and function of Qi.
The meridians that run through the body connect all the organs in the body and are which the Qi flows through. Since all the organs are connected, acupuncture moves Qi through the meridians and balances the bodies internal function to maintains the balance of yin and yang.
Disease is due to the invasion of exterior pathogens into the meridians. These diseases can spread through the meridians and if it goes untreated, it can eventually penetrate the organs. When these exterior pathogens invade, it often can cause the Qi to stagnate and not flow properly. Imagine a stream that is being blocked by a pile of debris, when a hole is made in this the stream will flow and eventually knock down the debris. Inserting acupuncture needles acts in a similar way to get the Qi and blood flowing normally. (2)
How Acupuncture Works from a Western Standpoint:
It is theorized that the meridians lie in the superficial fascia of the connective tissue and that the Qi is circulating here. The Qi is a bioelectric energy that is associated with the connective tissue’s structure. The fluids surrounding the fibers contain a vast array of chemicals, ionically charged particles, molecules and atoms. When the needle is inserted it creates the potential for electrical change. The generation of the small electrical currents nourishes the connective tissue fibers. (5)
Research has show that acupuncture increases the microcirculation and vasomotions throughout the body which increases oxygenation of the tissues and can help to flush toxins, waste products and other accumulated particles and chemicals from the tissues to improve overall function. Because of the nature of connective tissue, it is extremely plausible that these effects could take place not only locally, but at a distance from the place of needle insertion. (8)
One Study suggests that pain relief from acupuncture is due to the fact that acupuncture stimulates the nerve fibers in the muscles and then sends impulses to the spinal chord, midbrain and hypothalamus-pituitary. These centers then release endorphins and monamines, which block the pain impulses. (8)
In “Acupuncture Analgesia – Basic Research” written by Bruce Pomeranz at the University of Toronto backs the above description of how acupuncture works. He said that when needles are inserted close to the site of pain or in a trigger point, they are maximizing the segmental circuits operating within the spinal cord (cell 7) and also bringing other cells into the other two centers (cells 11 and 14). When needles are placed far away they only activate cell 11 and 14. Cells 11 and 14 produce analgesia throughout the body while cell 7 produces analgesia locally. (9)
the body while cell 7 produces analgesia locally. (9)
The Morphogenetic Singularity Theory on the Origin of acupuncture points and meridians:
There is a very interesting theory proposed by Charles Shang of the Emory University School of Medicine on the relationship between the meridians system and embryogenesis. He says that meridians contain under differentiated epithelial cells connected by gap junctions which transduce signals and play a central role in mediating acupuncture effects.
Shang explains that morphogenetic singularity theory published in the 1980’s applied the singularity theory of mathematics to explain the origin, distribution and nonspecific activation phenomena of the meridian system. The fate of a larger region is frequently controlled by a small group of cells which is termed an organizing center. Organizing centers are the high electric conductance points on the body surface. The high conductance phenomenon is further supported by the finding of high density of gap junctions at the sites of organizing centers. Both acupuncture points and organizing centers have high electric conductance, current density, high density of gap junction, and can be activated by nonspecific stimuli. Acupuncture points, which also have high electrical conductance and high density of gap junctions originate from organizing centers.
Shang concludes that based on the morphogenetic singularity theory, the meridian system originates from a network of organizing centers and the evolutionary origin of the meridian system is likely to have preceded all the other physiological systems, including the nervous, circulatory, and immune systems. Its genetic blueprint might have served as a template from which the newer systems evolved. Consequently it overlaps and interacts with other systems but is not simply part of them. (7,9)
The Balancing Effect of Acupuncture
This study done by Alavi et al (1996) and reviewed by Z. H Cho in their article entitled “Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain in the Investigation of Acupuncture” four of the five patients in the study had a marked asymmetry in blood flow in the thalamus prior to acupuncture treatment. Following the acupuncture treatment in which all five of the patients reported pain relief, it was observed that the asymmetry was greatly reduced.
Hammerschlag and Lao review two separate studies by Nishijo et al (1997) and Tayama (1984) in an article entitled “Future Directions for Research on the Physiology of Acupuncture”. They observe that when one looks at these trials from the point of view of the individual it becomes apparent that those individuals whose pretreatment heart rates were in the lowest third of the normal test group had their rates increased by acupuncture, whereas those with initial values in the highest third experienced a decrease.
They go on to note that indications of the normalizing or balancing effect of acupoint stimulation have also been detected in immune system responses. They cite the case in which the levels of IgA (the main class of salivary immunoglobulins) increased after 30 minutes of acupuncture and at 24 hours post-treatment in healthy individuals whose initial levels were low and decreased in those whose initial levels were high.
Ultimately we may find that acupuncture acts as an elegant bridge between the various physical sciences and energetic medicine. As Hammerschlag and Lao so eloquently state: “It may also become clearer that acupuncture triggers homeostatic regulation by acting on an integrative system that is separate from but interfaces with the known autonomic and humoral systems.” (9)
Acupuncture Benefit pinpointed – Investors Business Daily
Acupuncture releases the natural pain-killing molecule adenosine in deep tissue that needles stimulate, according to a team at the Univ. of Rochester Medical Center. The molecule has anti-inflammatory properties and helps regulate sleep as well. Researchers also found they could boost acupuncture’s benefits by applying the cancer drug deoxycoformycin, which nearly tripled the accumulation of adenosine in muscles and more than tripled the amount of time acupuncture was effective.
1. Denmai, Shudo, Japanese Classical Acupuncture, Introduction to Meridian Therapy, Seattle: Eastland Press 1990
2. Dharmananda, Subhuti, Ph.D., “An Introduction to Acupuncture and how it Works”, Portland, OR: Institute for Traditional Medicine, 1996
3. Kaptchuk, Ted J., O.M.D., The Web That Has No Weaver, Chicago: Congdon and Weed 1983
4. Maciocia, Giovanni, The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, Edinburgh: Churchill, Livingstone 1989
5. Matsumoto, Kiiko and Stephen Birch, Hara Diagnosis: Reflections on the Sea, Brookline, MA: Paradigm Publications 1988
6. Ross, Jeremy, Acupuncture Point Combinations, Edinburgh: Churchill, Livingstone 1995
7. Shang, C., “Electrophysiology of growth control and acupuncture” Life Sci. 2001 Feb 9;68(12):1333-42,
8. Stux, Gabriel, Bruce Pomeranz, Basics of Acupuncture, Berlin: Springer-Verlag 1995
9. Stux, Gabriel, Richard Hammerschlag (Eds.), Clinical Acupuncture, Scientific Basis, Berlin: Springer-Verlag 2001