Practitioners of this ancient medical practice have experienced clinical success with a variety of health issues. Today, acupuncture is receiving wide acceptance as a respected, valid and effective form of health care.
When most people think about acupuncture, they are familiar with its use for pain control. But acupuncture has a proven track record of treating and addressing a variety of endocrine, circulatory and systemic conditions.
Acupuncture and modern medicine, when used together, have the potential to support, strengthen and nurture the body towards health and well-being.
What is known about the physiological effects of acupuncture
Over the last few decades, research has been conducted seeking to explain how acupuncture works and what it can and cannot treat.
The 1997 National Institute of Health (NIH) Consensus on Acupuncture reports that “studies have demonstrated that acupuncture can cause multiple biological response, mediated mainly by sensory neurons, to many structures within the central nervous systems. This can lead to activation of pathways, affecting various physiological systems in the brain, as well as in the periphery.”
The NIH Consensus also suggests that acupuncture “may activate the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, resulting in a broad spectrum of systemic effects. Alteration in the secretion of neurotransmitters and neurohomones, and changes in the regulation of blood flow, both centrally and peripherally, have been documented. There is also evidence of alterations in immune functions produced by acupuncture.
Below are current theories on the mechanism of acupuncture:
1. Neurotransmitter Theory – Acupuncture affects higher brain areas, stimulating the secretion of betaendorphines and enkephalins in the brain and spinal cord. The release of neurotransmitters influences the immune system and the antinociceptive system.
2. Autonomic Nervous System Theory – Acupuncture stimulates the release of norepinephine, acetylcholine and several types of oplaids, affecting changes in their turnover rate, nomalizing the autonomic nervous system, and reducing pain.
3. Gate Control Theory – Acupuncture activates nonnociceptive receptors that inhiit the transmission of nociceptive signals in the dorsal horn, “gating out” painful stimuli.
4. Vascular-intersititial Theory – Acupuncture manipulates the electrical system of the body by creating or enhancing closed-circuit transport in tissues. This facilitates healing by allowing the transfer of material and electrical energy between normal and injured tissues.
5. Blood Chemistry Theory – Acupuncture affects the blood concentrations of triglycerides, cholesterol, and phospholipids, suggesting that acupuncture can both raise and diminish peripheral blood components, thereby regulating the body toward homeostasis.
According to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 51% of medical doctors understand the efficacy and value of acupuncture, and medical doctors refer patients to acupuncturists more than any other alternative care provider.
The NIH Consensus on Acupuncture further states that clinical experience, supported by research data, suggests acupuncture may be a reasonable option for a number of clinical conditions.
Evidence also points to positive clinical trials that “include addiction, stroke rehabilitation, carpal tunnel syndrome, ostecarthritis, and headaches.” The Consensus also mentions that acupuncture treatment may be helpful for other conditions such as ashma, postoperative pain, myofascial pain and low back pain.
This ancient health care system is proving itself as an effective modality for a wide variety of problems
So much so that the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) awarded 8 grants that directly relate to acupuncture. Chinese herbal medicine and Traditional Chinese medical research, totalling more than $9.5 million dollars.
“One of the advantages of acupuncture is that the incidence of adverse effects is substantially lower than that of many drugs or other accepted medical procedures used for the same conditions. As an example, musculoskeletal conditions, such as fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, and tennis elbow, or epicondylities, are conditions for which acupuncture may be beneficial. These painful conditions are often treated with, among other things, anti-inflammatory medications (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc. or with steroid injections. Both medical interventions have a potential for deleterious side effects, but are still widely used and are considered acceptable treatments. The evidence supporting these therapies is no better than that for acupuncture.”