Acupuncture is a centuries old therapeutic healing technique that involves penetrating the skin with hair thin filiform metallic needles along specific channels & points known as "acu-points". A mainstay of Eastern healthcare, it is a safe, excellent treatment option for everyday issues to complex conditions by activating the body's own innate healing response without the unwanted side effects of medication.
How does acupuncture work?
Although largely misunderstood in the West due to historic cultural and language barriers, the practice of acupuncture has steadily gained traction within the mainstream medical community with over 10 million treatments administered annually in the US alone.
While much is still unknown about its exact mechanism of action, acupuncture has nevertheless undergone hundreds of clinical trials proving its efficacy. Modern technologies like ultrasound, MRI, & thermal imaging has allowed us to attribute its seemingly amazing results to more than simply "the placebo effect".
The understanding we have of how acupuncture works today is more complete than it has ever been before. The question is no longer "Does it work?" but "How does it work?"! From mild issues to chronic conditions, acupuncture works by virtue of the following benefits:
Improves circulation of blood cells & lymph
Using color doppler imaging (CDI), acupuncture has shown to affect blood flow of the peripheral, mesenteric, & retrobulbar arteries as well as enhance the regulatory mechanisms of the heart.
The human body is roughly 70% water, & like any healthy body of water, its contents must be in a constant state of flow. Stagnant ponds & lakes breed harmful bacteria, & stagnant blood/lymph breeds infection, metabolic dysfunction, & pain. Blood nourishes our muscles & organs, while lymph cleanses them. Lymph has essentially the same composition as plasma except while plasma flows within blood vessels, lymph flows within lymphatic vessels & the interstitial spaces (the spaces between cells).
Our lymphatic system (our immune system) is essentially the sewage system of the body. Unlike blood, the lymphatic system does not have a circulatory pump equivalent to the heart. Rather, it's propelled as a secondary affect of arterial blood flow. It can also be moved by manual body therapies like massage, body brushing, cupping, Gua Sha, & acupuncture.
Takayama, Shin. Watanabe, Masashi. "Evaluation of the Effects of Acupuncture on Blood Flow in Humans with Ultrasound Color Doppler Imaging” Evidence Based Complimentary & Alternative Med, 2012. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3388479/> PMCID: PMC3388479
Ballegard, S. Muteki, T. “Modulatory effect of acupuncture on the cardiovascular system: a cross-over study” Acupuncture Electrotherapeutics Research. Vol 18, Cognizant Communication Corp, 1993. <https://doi.org/10.3727/036012993816357548 > PMID: 7902640
The inflammatory process is incredibly complex & while we know it involves the major cells of the immune system (neutrophils, basophils, mast cells, T-cells, B-cells, etc.), much like the cellular events involved with acupuncture, researchers often simply do not know how it works & it's becoming obvious that a multidisciplinary approach is necessary. The fact is that many of the drugs developed for use in the treatment of inflammatory conditions (NSAIDS, acetaminophen, corticosteroids) pre-date our current understanding of inflammation & a large number of patients with severe chronic inflammatory diseases fail to respond to conventional therapies. This results in a huge clinical & socio-economic burden for society as we know it & the use of Traditional Chinese Medicine is becoming an ever more valuable tool for all healthcare professionals today.
The five cardinal signs of inflammation include redness (rubor), swelling (tumour), heat (calor), pain (dolor), loss of function (function laesa) of various organs/senses, & is also commonly measured using the C-reactive protein (CRP) biomarker. Inflammation is the body's natural response to protect itself against harm. In cases of an acute injury or infection like a wound or pneumonia, our immune system responds by dispatching an army of white blood cells to surround & protect the area, this results in visible redness/swelling/etc -- this type of inflammation is essential to healing. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is extremely harmful & fast becoming recognized as a primary link with most modern medical conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis/psoriasis & other joint/skin issues, allergies, COPD, autoimmune conditions & nervous system dysfunction resulting in anxiety, depression, insomnia, & mental issues.
Chronic inflammation is the body's response to long term stressors including emotional stress, a sedentary lifestyle, exposure to various irritants & toxic chemicals, lack of sleep, obesity, poor nutrition comprised of processed foods & refined sugars, smoking, etc. It is the body attacking itself to save itself. One example would be in the case of atherosclerosis -- a poor diet leads to the buildup of fatty, cholesterol-rich plaque within the arteries; the body perceives this plaque as abnormal & attempts to wall it off from flowing blood, often this wall ruptures & the contents mix with the blood forming a clot -- this is responsible for the majority of heart attacks & most strokes.
Acupuncture has shown to increase the anti-inflammatory cytokine interleukin-10, & also indirectly reduces inflammation by calming the body's stress response, helping recalibrate/normalize hormone levels, thereby decreasing the release of cortisol/norepinephrine into the system & allowing more energy for other critical physiological processes like digestion.
Punchard, Neville. Whelan, Cliff. “The Journal of Inflammation.” 2004. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1074343/> PMCID: PMC1074343
Ondrejkovicova, Alena. Petrovics, Gabriel. “Biomedical Effects of Acupuncture” Intl Journal of Complimentary & Alternative Medicine, 2015. <http://medcraveonline.com/IJCAM/IJCAM-02-00048.pdf>
Parrish, Todd. Schaeffer, Alissa. “Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of Real and Sham Acupuncture” HHS Public Access, 2005. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2782729/> PMCID: PMC2782729
Chen, Tang. Zhang, Wen Wen. “Acupuncture for Pain Management: Molecular Mechanisms of Action” 2020. <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32420752/> PMID: 32420752
Promotes cellular regeneration & tissue repair
Cell renewal is an extremely important component of overall health. Just as we must shed our baby teeth for adult teeth, we must constantly shed old cells in order to allow for new growth. What's more, different parts of the body have vastly different cellular turnover rates -- our skin epidermis renews itself every 10-30 days, our red blood cells every 4 months, our liver cells every 6 months to a year, & our fat cells every 8 years. The only cells in the body which cannot regenerate & we are born with a finite supply are those of the lens (eyes), the female gametes (eggs), & axons of the central nervous system CNS (brain & spinal cord).
Releases muscle tension
Muscle tension section to be completed.
Naturally releases endorphins & pain-relieving endogenous opioids
Endorphins section to be completed.
Helps build up immunity
Constitution, herbs, lymph, adrenals?
Relieves stress by regulating the nervous system
Nervous system section to be completed.