Central to the discipline of acupuncture is the concept of chi (also commonly spelled “qi” or “ki”) which is a fundamental concept rooted in traditional Chinese culture. Simply defined, chi is that life force or spiritual energy which is part of every living thing that exists. Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture are parts of an ancient system of techniques used to facilitate the flow of chi as a means of enhancing vitality and/or addressing health issues.

Basic Theory of Acupunture

Acupuncture involves the stimulation of specific points on the body along pathways called “meridians” which are channels acting as highways carrying chi energy to various regions of the body. Acupuncture points are points along the meridians which associate with corresponding organs and/or health states. Acupuncture is a method for the manipulation of these points through the use of thin needles in order to aid the flow of the body’s vital energy (chi) for the purpose of dealing with specific conditions and diseases.

We all know that blood runs through our blood vessels to deliver nutrients and oxygen to the tissue and remove toxic material to ensure the optimal function and health of each organ. We can actually see the blood vessels through areas of our body covered by thin skin such as wrists and forearms. Alongside blood vessels, run meridians which act as highways carrying chi to different parts of the body. We neither see meridians nor the energy flowing inside them.

In Chinese medicine disease happens if the flow of chi is disturbed or blocked. By inserting thin acupuncture needles into specific acupuncture points, blockage of energy can be released to resume the flow of the vital force to the target organ ensuring it’s optimal function. For example, if there is a blockage inside the meridians supplying chi to the lungs, the person can manifest the sign of imbalance in the form of asthma or cough. By inserting acupuncture needles into the corresponding points, the blockage will be removed and the flow of energy to the organ (lungs in this example) will be resumed, ensuring optimal function and remedying the imbalance manifesting as cough or asthma.

Scientific communities are becoming increasingly fascinated by the effectiveness of Chinese medicine and specifically acupuncture and this in turn has led to a number of empirical efforts to better understand acupuncture. Of the more notable topics of focus for such research have been the meridian pathways and the validity of the notion that they carry chi or life energy throughout the body. A number of studies have used radioactive tracers, such as technetium99 (commonly used in thyroid scans), to trace the meridians by injecting into both acupuncture points along meridians and non-acupuncture points (point also not corresponding to blood vessel locations). Following the injections, the areas are then photographed using scintigraphy (gamma camera) to determine the path taken by t99. The results repeatedly show that the t99 that was injected into acupuncture points followed a path that was consistent with the paths and locations along the meridians as defined in the acupuncture meridian chart. On the other hand, when t99 was injected into non-acupuncture non-vessel points, it did not spread and stayed local.

Biopsies of acupuncture points have shown higher concentrations of nerves and blood vessels as compared to non-acupuncture points.

In other studies, scientists have recorded levels of endogenous opioid biochemical compounds (endorphins) which are natural compounds produced by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus. Endorphins have long been known to have mood enhancing, pain modulating and immune enhancing qualities. Endorphins also play a role in the regulation of the body’s “fight or flight” response and its long term effects on health. Measurements of endorphins present inside the spinal fluid before and after acupuncture treatments indicate that acupuncture has a certain triggering effect on the production of endorphins. By lowering the body’s internal stress level, acupuncture can play a role in mitigating imbalance that may lead to pathology such as cancer.

Many of the therapeutic effects of acupuncture are exerted via endorphin production. Endorphin levels are shown to remain high for 24-48 hours after treatment. Each acupuncture treatment can add to the lasting effect of the previous treatment session. For this reason, multiple treatments are usually recommended for the purpose of stabilizing the endorphin levels and the resulting effects on well-being.

Acupuncture is a great treatment for pain management, balancing hormonal levels, adjunct therapy for infertility, stress management, insomnia and hypertension.

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