Acupuncture Facts - Restoring Health With Small
Needles In Surface of The Skin
centuries cultures around the world have been intrigued by the fascinating
art of restoring health by inserting small, seemingly innocuous
needles in the surface of the skin. Chinese explanations of how
acupuncture works are rooted in Chinese medical philosophy and theory.
Eastern concepts about the cause of disease do not have specific
counterparts in Western science. Terms such as yin/yang and Qi (pronounced
chee) do not have exact English equivalents. Western scientists
are uncomfortable, at best, with concepts like, "balancing
energy", that the Eastern theorists and practitioners use to
describe a healthy mind/body relationship.
Western scientists want to know exactly what is happening when
an acupuncture treatment seems to get results. They want to be able
to describe the process in the scientific jargon with they are most
familiar. Westerners believe they can understand how a process operates
when it can be broken down into elements that can be named and measured
while being reproduced in the laboratory. Quantifying these dynamics
in terms of electrical current, chemical compounds, and substances
whose size, shape, and temperature can be described are essential
for acceptance in the Western scientific community.
For three thousand years or more, acupuncture has been used to treat
pain. Less than forty years ago, with the revival of Traditional
Chinese Medicine in China, acupuncture was brought into modern operating
rooms to control pain, during and after surgery. Western Physicians
learned of acupuncture's dramatic effectiveness when in 1972; James
Reston had gone to Beijing at the invitation of the Chinese government.
During his first visit, he had to undergo an emergency appendectomy.
His Chinese doctors used acupuncture for his postoperative pain,
and Reston recovered quickly. Upon his return delegations of Western
doctors went to observe for themselves the "miracle" that
traditional practitioners had been working there since 1000 BC
a few years later, in 1976, the actual mechanism by which morphine
and aspirin "kill" pain was discovered. Scientists isolated
a group of substances called endorphins that are released by the
pituitary gland in the front part of the brain. Receptor sites in
the brain respond to these endorphins by blocking pain sensations.
Substances such as aspirin and morphine, as well as, processes like
acupuncture stimulate the natural production of endorphins.
Our bodies manufacture endorphins under various conditions, for
example, when we experience severe physical trauma or intense emotional
distress. Individuals injured in motor vehicle accidents often report
that they experienced no pain until after the immediate danger was
past. In such instances, the body produces endorphins, numbing the
pain until people can act to save themselves and get medical attention,
which generally includes receiving "something for the pain".
Endorphins are chemical messengers of a type known as neuro-transmitters,
which communicate between nerve cells. These cells, called neurons,
are not connected physically to one another. Nerve impulses are
actually electrical charges that travel from one end of the elongated
neuron to the other; coming to a complete stop at the end of the
neuron in a structure called the axon. At the end of the axon is
physical gap called a synapse. Nerve impulses cannot jump across
the synapse to the next nerve cell without the help of chemical
transmitters that are merely messengers that move the impulse across
the gap. Neurotransmitters move at very high speeds and interact
with specific receptors at the next nerve cell, passing information
to them. This process occurs rapidly and constantly throughout the
entire nervous system.
SCIENCE AND ACUPUNCTURE
After the breakthrough discovery of endorphins in 1976, a Canadian
Physician named Bruce Pomeranz with a Ph.D. in neurobiology conducted
a series of experiments that provided the first physical evidence
that acupuncture stimulates endorphin release. His work demonstrated
that pain relief from acupuncture was mediated through endorphins.
He theorized that acupuncture killed pain by stimulating the release
Subsequent experiments were directed at measuring pain intensity
and how well acupuncture could control it. These experiments demonstrated
that pain sedation actually occurred in a time release fashion as
endorphins with varying molecular structures were produced and released.
These were named alpha, beta, and gamma endorphins. The pain relieving
effects of the alpha and beta-endorphins are short lived, peaking
at about twenty minutes. The gamma endorphins, however, may not
reach their peak effectiveness for as long as four hours.
Chinese scientists are convinced that endorphin release is central
to acupuncture pain relief because they have measured elevations
of endorphins through radio wave analysis of the entire brain. They
are not convinced that endorphin release is the only mechanism involved.
In recent years, numerous other substances whose release is stimulated
by acupuncture have been identified and isolated. Some of these
substances include serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine,
acetycholine, glycine, gamma-aminobutyrill (GABA), and glutamate.
belief that other neurotransmitters may be involved in needling
effects is supported by evidence concerning some significant differences
between morphine and acupuncture use. Morphine and other opiates
depress respiratory functions; acupuncture does not. Acupuncture
relieves constipation, bronchospasms, and gastrointestinal spasms;
opiates have the opposite effect. Constriction of the eye's pupil
is a characteristic effect of morphine-like substances; no such
constriction occurs during acupuncture. Needling points promotes
the release of corticosteroid from the adrenal cortex; opiates depress
Dr. Yoshiaki Omura of Manhatten College in New York City thinks
that acupuncture may release a large molecule from the pituitary
called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). The level of this substance
stimulated by acupuncture may explain the prolonged pain relief
provided for joint and motor disorders, both acute and chronic.
Furthermore, increased serum serotonin levels may account for the
relaxed, sleepy sensation that often follows an acupuncture treatment.
Numerous other hypotheses have emerged to explain the diversified
effects of acupuncture in non-pain related disorders. The FENG and
SHIZEN Hypothesis attempts to relate the diverse effects of acupuncture
to target cells in the brain, which are stimulated by acupuncture.
The PNS theory asserts that energy channels (called meridians)
parallel the distribution of nerves throughout the body and that
the stimulation provided by the acupuncture needles has a normalizing
effect within the channel, as well as, a spillover effect on the
nerve supply to the associated area.
Like anything else, there is a wide range of ways that you can use
acupuncture. You should know that acupuncture is not right for everyone
and not all techniques are right for everyone. The acupuncturist
will determine what is best for you and your ailments. You will
find that this type of therapy can help you with stomachaches, headaches,
arthritis, infertility, back pains, and certain diseases or conditions.
You will find that it can help you with just about any type of pain
and your pain can be improved or eliminated by the use of acupuncture.
DIVERSE STYLES OF ACUPUNCTURE
When considering any form of acupuncture, many consider it to be
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Although most popular in the
world overall and certainly within the United States, TCM acupuncture
is not the only technique that can help you improve the impaired
flow of energy it is designed to correct. Regardless of the particular
style of acupuncture employed needles only slightly thicker than
hairs are inserted into the body in multiple spots, called meridians,
in order to improve the energy flow of the body, called qi (chee).
acupuncturists have a slightly varied technique. When it comes to
getting Japanese acupuncture, you will find that it can be less
intrusive and rigorous, but you may also find it to be more pleasing
and appealing. They often use thinner or shorter needles. Japanese
acupuncture also uses fewer needles in general.
Another technique is Korean hand acupuncture. This is a good type
for those who have issues with sitting or lying for long periods.
It is also a good way to begin acupuncture if the methods are at
first a bit scary to you. Korean hand acupuncture not only targets
problems with the hands and fingers, such as arthritis, but you
will find that there are points on your hands that will affect the
entire body. Learning these many points is an art and a science.
Korean hand acupuncturists are highly skilled professionals.
Another highly effective form of acupuncture that can be performed
for those who cannot tolerate needles being placed at all points
on the body is called auricular acupuncture. With this form of acupuncture
the needles are placed at various locations in and around the ears.
This has been proven to be very effective in drug and alcohol rehabilitation
A YING/YANG CONCLUSION
In the final analysis no completely satisfactory explanation of
the effectiveness of needling has been agreed upon. Obviously, it
works. Just as obviously a multifaceted, multidisciplinary approach
is needed to unravel the mysteries of acupuncture to the satisfaction
of the rational minds in medicine. We must remain aware of how the
various parts of the body are connected, how they communicate, and
how distress in one area affects the other areas. Further research
must continue in body chemistry, the electrical functioning of the
nerve cells, and the nervous system as a whole. When considering
acupuncture, we must conceive of the body as a system of complex
interdependencies, which is precisely the view point that Traditional
Chinese medicine has emphasized for thousands of years.
Richard A. DiCenso