The Science of Acupuncture
By Dr. Mercola
Acupuncture is an ancient holistic health care system still widely practiced in China. It falls under the wider umbrella, known in the West as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which also includes the use of herbs and other therapies. Diagnostic systems also include tongue and pulse diagnosis.
Contrary to allopathic, symptom-based medicine, TCM and acupuncture aims to eliminate the root cause of your problem, which is said to originate in a dysfunction in your body’s energetic meridian system.
Western vs. Eastern Mindset
Meridian-based energy therapies like acupuncture are quite useful for treating a number of health problems; pain in particular. In China, acupuncture may even be used in lieu of anesthetic drugs during surgery, as demonstrated in the BBC documentary above.
As unbelievable as it seems, a young woman actually undergoes open heart surgery with acupuncture instead of general anesthesia.
There are several advantages to using acupuncture during surgical procedures, the Chinese surgeon explains. For starters, it doesn’t have the health risks of general anesthesia. Recovery is also much quicker, and the cost is about one-third.
While most westerners would balk at undergoing invasive surgery with nothing but a few needles keeping pain at bay, each year, millions of Americans do turn to acupuncture to relieve chronic pain, high blood pressure, nausea, and much more.
Acupuncture is considered an alternative to conventional forms of medicine in the West and is actually one of the oldest healing practices in the world. In China, Japan, Korea, and other Asian countries, acupuncture has been used forthousands of years, and its staying power isn’t merely a matter of superstition or coincidence.
In modern-day China, some hospitals offer acupuncture and allopathic medicine side-by-side, allowing patients to choose. They can also opt for a combination of both. For example, if an adverse drug effect occurs, the patient can opt for a reduced dose in combination with acupuncture.
Basic Principles of Acupuncture
TCM views the body as a cohesive one—a complex system where everything within it is inter-connected—where each part affects all other parts. They teach that lack of balance within this biological system is the precursor to all illness. The body exhibits symptoms when suffering from inner disease, and if it’s not re-balanced these symptoms may lead to acute or chronic illnesses of all kinds.
There are 14 major energy channels called meridians that flow through your body. An energy called chi circulates along the meridians to all parts of your body, including the internal organs and every cell. This chi is the vital force that literally keeps us alive. Vibrant health is a result of balanced, unimpeded flow of energy through the body.
According to TCM, illness and pain is the byproduct of energy blockages somewhere along one or more meridians. Each acupuncture point along the meridian acts like a pass-through or gate. Energy can get “bottle-necked” in these points, slowing down the flow; sometimes to the point of standstill. This is the precursor to pain and illness.
By inserting a thin needle into the congested or “clogged” area, it opens the gate and allows the energy to flow again. With the life-energy flowing smoothly, the body can now re-regulate the flow of energy, repair itself, and maintain its own optimal level of health.
Herbs and other therapies such as guacha, cupping, and moxibustion—the burning of herbs on or over the skin—can be used to support the healing.
History of Acupuncture
The science and art of acupuncture is well documented and spans across centuries, all the way back to the Stone Age. Records of its use have been found in many parts of the world, not just the Orient, as most commonly thought.
The Chinese medical compendium, the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, is the oldest written record about acupuncture. It is thought to be the oldest medical book in the world, heralding from Emperor Huang Di who reigned between 2,696—2,598 B.C.
However, signs of acupuncture being used are found all over the ancient world. There’s evidence of its practice in ancient Egypt, Persia, India, Sri Lanka, parts of Europe, and South America. Even our North American Indians have used it.
The Eskimos, for example, are said to still use sharpened stones for treating illness. Written evidence of the use of acupuncture in Egypt and Saudi Arabia also exists. The Ebers papyrus of 1,550 B.C. describes a physical system of channels and vessels that is closely matched to the Chinese system of meridians.
Even older evidence than the examples above exist. In 1991, a 5,000-year-old mummified man was found along the Otz valley between Austria and Italy. Remarkably well preserved, a complex system of tattoos were discovered on his body, and verified to be directly on, or within six millimeters of, traditional acupuncture points and meridians.
Evidence Showing What Acupuncture ‘Does’
Some research suggests that acupuncture stimulates your central nervous system to release natural chemicals that alter bodily systems, pain, and other biological processes. In 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted an extensive review and analysis of clinical trials involving acupuncture. According to this report,1 acupuncture impacts the body on multiple levels, including:
- Stimulating the conduction of electromagnetic signals, which may release immune system cells or pain-killing chemicals
- Activation of your body’s natural opioid system, which may help reduce pain or induce sleep
- Stimulation of your hypothalamus and pituitary gland, which modulate numerous body systems
- Change in the secretion of neurotransmitters and neurohormones, which may positively influence brain chemistry
In the featured video, a team of researchers, along with an acupuncturist, conduct an experiment that has never been done before. Using high tech MRI imaging, they were able to visually demonstrate that acupuncture has a very real effect on the brain.
Acupuncture, it turns out, does something completely unexpected—itdeactivates certain parts of the brain, particularly in the limbic system,decreasing neuronal activity, opposed to having an activating impact. Their experiment also clearly showed that superficial sham needling did NOT have this effect. The limbic system is associated with our experience of pain, adding further evidence that something very unique happens during acupuncture—it quite literally alters your experience of pain by shutting down these deeper brain regions.
Acupuncture Proven Effective for Pain and Osteoarthritis
One of the most common uses of acupuncture is for the treatment of chronic pain. One analysis2 of the most robust studies available concluded that acupuncture has a clear effect in reducing chronic pain, more so than standard drug-based pain treatment. Study participants receiving acupuncture reported an average 50 percent reduction in pain, compared to a 28 percent pain reduction for standard pain treatment without acupuncture. Another large, well-designed study3,4 assessing whether acupuncture might work for osteoarthritis—a debilitating condition affecting more than 20 million Americans—also produced remarkably positive results.
This landmark study is also discussed in the video above. A total of 570 patients diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the knee were enrolled for this 26-week long trial. It was the longest and largest randomized, controlled phase III clinical trial of acupuncture ever conducted. None of the participants had tried acupuncture before, and none had had knee surgery in the previous six months. Nor had they used steroid injections. The participants were randomly assigned to receive one of three treatments: acupuncture, sham acupuncture, or self-help strategies recommended by the Arthritis Foundation (the latter served as a control group).
Significant differences in response was seen by week eight and 14, and at the end of the trial, the group receiving real acupuncture had a 40 percent decrease in pain and a nearly 40 percent improvement in function compared to baseline assessments—a 33 percent difference in improvement over the sham group. According to Stephen E. Straus, M.D., Director of National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), which is a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH):5
“For the first time, a clinical trial with sufficient rigor, size, and duration has shown that acupuncture reduces the pain and functional impairment of osteoarthritis of the knee. These results also indicate that acupuncture can serve as an effective addition to a standard regimen of care and improve quality of life for knee osteoarthritis sufferers. NCCAM has been building a portfolio of basic and clinical research that is now revealing the power and promise of applying stringent research methods to ancient practices like acupuncture.”
Other Science-Backed Uses for Acupuncture
However, chronic pain is only one of 30+ proven uses for this natural treatment. Chinese doctors assert that acupuncture can be used to treat virtually ANY illness, but for those looking for scientific validation, the World Health Organization’s analysis concluded that acupuncture is an effective treatment for the following diseases and conditions.
According to the WHO’s analysis: “Some of these studies have provided incontrovertible scientific evidence that acupuncture is more successful than placebo treatments in certain conditions.” The report again confirmed its benefits for pain, saying:“The proportion of chronic pain relieved by acupuncture is generally in the range 55–85 percent, which compares favorably with that of potent drugs (morphine helps in 70 percent of cases) and far outweighs the placebo effect (30–35 percent).”
|Adverse reactions to radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy
|Allergic rhinitis (including hay fever)
|Depression (including depressive neurosis and depression following stroke)
|Dysentery, acute bacillary
|Epigastralgia, acute (in peptic ulcer, acute and chronic gastritis, and gastrospasm)
|Facial pain (including craniomandibular disorders)
|Induction of labor
|Low back pain
|Malposition of fetus
|Nausea and vomiting
|Pain in dentistry (including dental pain and temporomandibular dysfunction)
|Periarthritis of shoulder
More Potential Uses for Acupuncture
While further research is needed, acupuncture has also demonstrated therapeutic effects in the treatment of the following health problems, according to the WHO’s report.
|Abdominal pain (in acute gastroenteritis or due to gastrointestinal spasm)
|Alcohol dependence and detoxification
|Cholecystitis, chronic, with acute exacerbation
|Competition stress syndrome
|Craniocerebral injury, closed
|Diabetes mellitus, non-insulin-dependent
|Epidemic haemorrhagic fever
|Epistaxis, simple (without generalized or local disease)
|Eye pain due to subconjunctival injection
|Female urethral syndrome
|Fibromyalgia and fasciitis
|Hepatitis B virus carrier status
|Herpes zoster (human (alpha) herpesvirus 3)
|Male sexual dysfunction, non-organic
|Opium, cocaine and heroin dependence
|Pain due to endoscopic examination
|Pain in thromboangiitis obliterans
|Polycystic ovary syndrome (Stein-Leventhal syndrome)
|Postextubation in children
|Radicular and pseudoradicular pain syndrome
|Raynaud syndrome, primary
|Recurrent lower urinary-tract infection
|Reflex sympathetic dystrophy
|Retention of urine, traumatic
|Sore throat (including tonsillitis)
|Spine pain, acute
|Temporomandibular joint dysfunction
|Ulcerative colitis, chronic
|Whooping cough (pertussis)
Effortless Healing – One Step at a Time – NOW AVAILABLE!
My newest book, Effortless Healing is now available! I’ve organized this book into a guide that will help you avoid the many pitfalls of the conventional approach to health. Rather than relying on expensive and potentially dangerous drugs, I will help you effortlessly make small shifts in what you eat and how you live to achieve your health goals. I promise, Effortless Healing isn’t a book that will overwhelm you. On top of that, ordering the book today entitles you to 3 exclusive bonuses:
A sneak peek of my new book! You won’t need to wait for the book to arrive to get started. Begin reading my new book right away with your free sneak preview!
My most popular video interviews, all in one place. I’ve compiled 18 of my BEST expert interviews for you to watch and listen to at your leisure, and in the comfort of your own home or office.
Receive 15% off your next Mercola.com order. Depending on your order, your savings from this one bonus alone could more than cover the cost of your book!
All My Profits from This Book Will Be Donated
That’s right. When you order a copy of my new book Effortless Healing, you’ll be making a much-deserved donation to the key organizations that work quietly and efficiently behind the scenes to make the world a healthier place for you, your family, and your community.
Among them, you’ll be benefiting and supporting the actions of:
- National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) – A non-profit organization that seeks to prevent vaccine injuries and deaths through public education and defending your right of informed choice.
- Organic Consumers Association (OCA) – A grassroots public interest organization campaigning for health, justice, and sustainability, and addressing food safety, GMOs, the industrial agricultural complex, children’s health, and more. The ONLY U.S. organization focused exclusively on the interests that you and I share!
- Consumers for Dental Choice – Children, the unborn, and employees in the dental field are particularly vulnerable to mercury. But so is everyone with a mouthful of amalgam fillings (which are 50% mercury) at risk. Consumers for Dental Choice is working to phase out amalgam use and to promote access to mercury-free alternatives.
- Fluoride Action Network (FAN) – An international coalition aimed at ending water fluoridation and alerting you to fluoride’s environmental and health risks. FAN keeps you informed about fluoride toxicity, and monitors government actions that may expose you to fluoride.
Are you ready to get started? The timing has never been better. Order your copy of Effortless Healing today, collect your free gifts, and let your journey begin!