How Does Acupuncture Work?

17421436_sThe director of The Acupuncture Clinic  in Napier, Hawkes Bay, is a former lecturer in acupuncture. Heiko Lade  explains to us,  how does acupuncture work. There are two ways to look at it, one is from a western medical perspective and the other is from a traditional viewpoint. Traditional theories of acupuncture and the modern scientific view of the body over lap in many ways which is being confirmed by modern research.

There are numerous  ancient  Chinese medicine theories  that preceded modern medicine discoveries by centuries.  For instance, ancient Chinese doctors stressed the importance of treating migraines to prevent  strokes in later life.

This idea has only recently been confirmed in modern medicine when the correlation between strokes and migraines was established. The  physician Li Shi Zhen, anatomically described the adrenal glands and their function more than 400 years before Western medicine made the discovery.

How it works – from a traditional viewpoint

The body has a series of acupuncture meridians or channels that flow through the body like a network of railway tracks. These meridians connect with all the major organs as well as with each other. On these railway tracks (meridians), there are railway stations (acupuncture points). Each acupuncture point has a special purpose; to treat a particular problem.

Imagine if a railway station was blocked for some reason. People wouldn’t be able to reach the station, nor pass through the station to their destination. Slowly, business would be disrupted. If the tracks were repaired and the trains began running again, order would resume. It’s the same with acupuncture points, if there is a blockage at one of the points, the problem is seen further along the meridian. This is why an acupuncture point in the hand or foot can treat a headache, because the channel flows to the head.

Often, there are numerous blockages at many acupuncture points. Some acupuncture points lie deeply in the body and others closer to the surface. Over the centuries, the Chinese have accumulated diagnostic theories associated with the meridians that belong to specific organs. For example, headaches might be attributed to the liver and other times to the spleen; different points will be selected for different people. Acupuncture also balances yin and yang.

How it works – from a modern perspective

Over the last 30 years, research has demonstrated that various acupuncture activities are effective, but it doesn’t explain how acupuncture works. French researchers, more than 10 years ago, were able to demonstrate that the traditional acupuncture meridians did actually exist where the old text books said they were. They did this after injecting patients with a radio-active dye and doing a special X-Ray. Other researchers have demonstrated that at acupuncture points, with certain machines they could measure a different electrical conductivity. By stimulating certain acupuncture points, endorphins have been shown to be released. This is believed to explain the pain relieving and analgesic benefits of acupuncture; but many people seek acupuncture for problems other than pain relief, for example, itchy skin.

Probably the most exciting finding to come out of research into acupuncture is the release of, and increased number of free floating stem cells in the blood stream. It has also been demonstrated that moxibustion, a technique using a heated herbal stick near acupuncture points, can actually cause stem cell proliferation. This is believed to explain the rejuvenation and regeneration effects that occur with acupuncture and moxibustion treatment.

Is there more to acupuncture than just needles?

In China, acupuncture is categorised as being part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) of which the other chief component is Chinese herbal medicine.

Chinese herbal medicine has evolved over the centuries from a trial and error process. Many doctors were famous because they experimented on themselves. They often drank herbs to see how the herbs affected them and wrote down what happened. There are nearly two thousand years of recorded literature documenting the effects of herbs on patients. Chinese herbal medicines are, for example, categorised as hot and cold, or as herbs that strengthen the body by providing nourishment, or as herbs that disperse and eliminate toxins.

In addition, an acupuncture treatment can include tui na,  moxibustioncuppinggua sha and electro-acupuncture treatment.

In New Zealand, qualified acupuncturists are assessed by the New Zealand Register of Acupuncturists Inc (NZRA). Members have completed an equivalent of 4 years full time extensive training, including hundreds of hours of supervised clinical training. Part of their training includes moxibustion, cupping, gua shi and electro-acupuncture. These are important adjuncts to an acupuncture treatment, particularly for treating musculo-skeletal disorders, sports injuries and pain conditions.

For more information about the latest research on acupuncture, see my other articles.