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What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture has been used as a healing modality for over 3,000 years. Although what is called acupuncture comprises several different therapies (known collectively as Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM), the best-known application is the delicate insertion of extremely fine needles at specific locations on the body. These points have been shown to be effective in the treatment of various health problems. In the past three decades, electromagnetic research has confirmed the existence and locations of these points. The benefits of acupuncture have become widely recognized and integrated with mainstream healthcare. Acupuncture takes into consideration the person as a whole. The aim is to not only eliminate the symptoms, but also to treat the underlying cause, increase function, and improve vitality.

Acupuncture protects against illness by enhancing the functioning of the body's overall immune, circulatory, respiratory, digestive and elimination systems. It is beneficial in treating existing conditions and injuries, protecting against illness recurrence and new illness, and strengthening overall health.

What is Its Basis?

Traditional acupuncture is based on ancient Chinese theories of the flow of Qi (chee), which can be loosely translated as energy. Qi flows in meridians (or channels) all through the body and over all of its surface area. The meridians are like are rivers of energy flowing throughout the body, distributed much like nerves and blood vessels. They are often likened to a an interconnected highway system. Each organ - the heart, the liver, the pancreas, the lungs - is tied to its own meridian. Through this meridian network the internal organs are associated to specific areas and parts of the physiology, including the bones, muscles, joints, and other organs.

In Chinese medicine, the condition of the health of the entire body and its relationship with the external environment manifest as the condition of health the person experiences. If the physiology is balanced internally and is in harmony with the environment externally, then Qi flows easily throughout the meridians and is able to nourish the tissues and organs. If one of the channels is blocked, the Qi is disrupted and cannot flow easily and smoothly. And when Qi cannot flow properly or even must move backward, the body's innate balance is disrupted and illness results.

Acupuncture points are very particular locations on the meridians where Qi is accessible and concentrated. Acupuncture adjusts the flow of Qi in the body, leading it to areas where it is needed and draining it from areas where it is stuck or in excess. In this way, acupuncture restores balance to the body. When balance is restored, health returns.

Acupuncture and Modern Science

To the human body, acupuncture needles are a physical stimulus. In Western science, a stimulus is defined as a detectable change in either the external environment or within the body itself. When the body detects change, it produces a response. Although acupuncture is not yet fully understood by Western science, with modern technology scientists can now actually begin to "see" the body's response to acupuncture. For example, by using an MRI, researchers have shown that when an acupuncture needle is inserted at specific acupuncture points on the body, corresponding changes occur in the brain.

Research shows that acupuncture points stimulate the central nervous system to release pain-relieving chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. Acupuncture also stimulates the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, which control parts of the nervous and endocrine systems, many of the body's essential hormones, and functions such as sleep, temperature regulation, and appetite. Research suggests that acupuncture may also alter brain chemistry by affecting the release of neurotransmitters, biochemical substances that stimulate or inhibit nerve impulses, and neurohormones, chemical substances that impact the activity of our body's organ systems.

Acupuncture can be seen as a bridge that is able to affect and integrate different systems of the body, such as the nervous, endocrine, pituitary, circulatory, reproductive, and digestive systems. Because of these broad effects, acupuncture can create profound changes in the self-regulating and self-healing systems of the body.

Interesting article: Acupuncture's Molecular Effects Pinned Down.

Summary and Links

Chinese medicine has been around for thousands of years and has provided us with a unique and holistic approach to help prevent and treat disease. Western science and Traditional Chinese Medicine ultimately rely on the body's natural healing ability to maintain health and protect against disease. Both have the same goal of helping a person stay healthy. Western science tends to use medication and surgery as needed. Acupuncturists tend to use gentle needling and herbs. A combination of both systems creates an ideal environment of health and healing.

For more information on acupuncture and TCM: