I wrote this short article about my experiences answer a simple question for a local magazine. Hope you like it.
How does acupuncture work? As an acupuncturist, I’ve answered that question for many years in the classroom, in my office, and even at parties so I speak from experience when I say that the question is not nearly as straightforward as it sounds. If you were to ask a hundred different acupuncturists and the scientists who study acupuncture that same question, you would get at least twenty unique answers. Some of these experts would talk about endorphins, others about activity in the brain, and still others would use terms like qi and the harmony of yin and yang. How could it be that there are so many different answers to the same basic question?
The main reason for these differences is that acupuncture actually works in many different ways. In some circumstances, acupuncture causes the body to produce endorphins. At other times, it affects specific centers of the brain. In addition, it can modulate the immune and endocrine systems. In the traditional system of Chinese Medicine, acupuncture affects other qualities of the body too such as yin, yang, qi and the meridians. All of these ideas can be considered correct descriptions of how acupuncture works. If it seems confusing, think about what would happen if you asked a surgeon the general question of how surgery works. A cardiac surgeon performing open heart surgery would discuss the operation as it concerns the heart while a neurosurgeon and a plastic surgeon each preforming their own surgeries would focus on something else. In the end, their answers might sound quite different.
When I answer the question of how acupuncture works, I try to skip over the technical scientific details and the unfamiliar Chinese terms. Instead I say that acupuncture works by stimulating the innate healing mechanisms of a person’s body, mind and spirit. With this broad explanation, there should be no surprise that there are many perspectives about how acupuncture works. It is because acupuncture does nothing in itself. It merely attempts to enhance what is already there and what is already there is the rich and profound variety of the human body and mind.
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Cho ZH, Chung SC, Jones JP et al. New findings of the correlation between acupoints and coreesponding brain cortices using functional MRI. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 1998 Mar vol 95:2670-2673.