Acupuncture and Science Intertwined

Acupuncture is thousands of years old, and is one of the five pillars of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). (Image: Vivian Chen via flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0)
Acupuncture is thousands of years old, and is one of the five pillars of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). (Image: Vivian Chen via flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0)

Acupuncture is thousands of years old, and is one of the five pillars of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Needles are inserted into points on the human body to alleviate illnesses and pain.

Philosophical and theoretical bases of acupuncture were formulated 2,000 years ago within the framework of TCM. Central to these is the image of the body’s vital force, also called life energy, “qi” in Chinese, on which everything in one’s life is based.

Life energy is always in flux. That includes the functions of our internal organs and body rhythms, such as breathing, digestion, the immune system, and the workings of our muscles.

Similar to how rivers course through a landscape, energy meridians traverse the body and supply it with vital energy. Along these meridians lie acupuncture points that can be used to influence and regulate the body’s energy flow.

Similar to how rivers course through a landscape, energy meridians traverse the body and supply it with vital energy. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Similar to how rivers course through a landscape, energy meridians traverse the body and supply it with vital energy. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

A healthy person’s energy (qi) flows harmoniously, is strong, and is unimpeded. According to Chinese medicine, illnesses arise when these energy paths are impeded either through an overabundance or a blockage.

Acupuncture research has made some advances. However, to date, the efficacy of acupuncture is only explained by the presence of adenosine, a compound responsible for many bodily functions, at the points of needle insertion. Acupuncture has an immediate effect on the immune system and on pain perception.

Studies have since verified adenosine’s positive effects of lowering blood pressure and heart rate. Adenosine also promotes sleep, decreases inflammation, and can disrupt undesirable nerve impulses that trigger pain.

Acupuncture works differently in different individuals. U.S. researchers at the University of Rochester, N.Y., found a possible explanation for individual variation. Their laboratory experiments isolated a protein called A1 that appears to play a decisive role in the effects of acupuncture. If the body lacks this protein, acupuncture efficacy is weak.

Studies have since verified adenosine’s positive effects of lowering blood pressure and heart rate. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Studies have since verified adenosine’s positive effects of lowering blood pressure and heart rate. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Nevertheless, needling works harmoniously, promoting an unhampered energy flow. The West, though not quite convinced of acupuncture’s health-promoting results, increasingly recognizes the practice.

Many renowned physicians in ancient China possessed acupuncture skills, but they had one thing in common: According to ancient writings, they were Buddhist or Taoist cultivators.

These individuals were endowed with great wisdom and had supernatural faculties that enabled them to diagnose and treat illnesses.

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