Here you find an introduction to the traditional and biochemical perspectives on acupuncture.
An introduction to Traditional Acupuncture
Health is regarded as a balanced flow of energy.
Traditional acupuncture is a treatment method of traditional Chinese medicine, an extensive theoretical framework for understanding health and illness. Chinese medicine works from the understanding that in health, we have a balanced flow of energy (known in Chinese medicine as ‘qi’) throughout our system. Ill health (for example pain or unhappiness) occurs when there is disruption in the flow of energy within our bodies.
Acupuncture aims to benefit the symptoms and underlying causes of ill health.
Once a practitioner has made a diagnosis, and composed a treatment plan individual to the patients needs, fine, sterile needles are inserted into the body at specific locations to help the re-balancing of a person’s energy. The aim of treatment is to benefit the underlying cause of ill health as well as presenting symptoms.
Our bodies, mind, emotion and spirit are intimately linked.
Chinese medicine regards people as an integrated whole, recognizing that what happens to a person physically can effect a person’s emotions and what someone is feeling can alter their physical state. Therefore, traditional acupuncture is designed to be of benefit to people physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
Biochemical explanations of acupuncture and energy
Research has so far revealed several biochemical modes of action for acupuncture.
In 2009, the journal 'Acupuncture in Medicine' discussed the current biochemical understanding of how acupuncture works. Here are some of the ways in which acupuncture has been shown to effect the state of a patient:
- the stimulation of the sensory nervous system leading to the release of neurological molecules including opoid like proteins with pain killing properties,
- the inhibition of pain receptors, thus reducing a person's capacity to feel pain,,
- the release of neuromessengers such as serotonin, which effect mood,
- the increase of blood supply local to the site of needle insertion.
In 2005, Lewith, White and Pariente conducted a meta-analysis of research into the effects of acupuncture on brain activity using imaging techniques such as CAT, PET and fMRI scanners. They found valid research showing that points with classically attributed functions for the eye, the auditory system and speech, stimulated corresponding areas of the brain.
In his research into the neurological correspondences of classical acupuncture points, Cheng (2011) found that the nerve supply of the internal organs in the trunk, corresponded to the location and the reported function of the classical points near to the spine. However, the neurological relationship between other points on the extremities was not so readily observed.
During his mid- twentieth century research, the Nobel Prize winning physiologist, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi (1893-1986) investigated the role of energy in biology. He explored the potential correspondence between the ancient concept of qi (symbolized by the Chinese character as a cloudlike vapour) and clouds of free, mobile and de-localized electrons. He also observed the extent to which biomedicine already measures energy within the body: electrical energy in the heart, brain and muscle, chemical energy, sound waves and the biomagnetic fields produced by the heart, detectable around the body. He and his team explored the semi-conductive receptors on cell surfaces (integrins) and their role in connecting the interior of the cell with surrounding tissue and extra-celluar matrix, observing the potential for the network to conduct energy thoughout an organism.
Research will continue
There is increasing biochemical understanding of the action and effects of acupuncture and the nature of 'qi'. However, contemporary scientific disciplines have a way to go before we reach evidenced agreement about the nature of qi and how acupuncture works. Alongside research into the action of acupuncture, research into the efficacy of acupuncture as a treatment modality continues and links to an extensive list of condition specific research fact sheets, can be found on the 'research' page of this site.
Acupuncture in Medicine (2009) Western Medical Acupuncture: A Definition Accessed: September 2012
Cheng, K.J. (2011) Neuroanatomical characteristics of acupuncture points: relationship between their anatomical locations and traditional clinical indications Acupuncture in Medicine Accessed: September 2012
Lewith, G., White, P.J., Pariente, J. (2005) Investigating acupuncture using brain imaging techniques: the current state of play Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Accessed: October 2012
Szent-Gyorgyi, A. (1941) Towards a New Biochemistry Cited in Mayor, D. and Micozzi, M.S. (2011) Energy Medicine East and West Churchill and Livingstone, London