The Science and Staying Power of Acupuncture

The internet’s democratizing nature has proven fertile ground for wellness trends to grow and spread. 

But some had staying power long before high-speed connectivity. Millenia of staying power, even. 

Like acupuncture, which is a 2,500 Chinese tradition. The first discovered mention of acupuncture being used for medical purposes comes from The Yellow Emperor in the Han Dynasty, and his Classic of Internal Medicine. (All the way back in 206 BCE.)

Acupuncture: A form of alternative medicine in which thin needles are inserted into the body at various points to either alleviate pain or treat conditions.

Because it doesn’t fit snugly into the Western canon of medicine, its benefits are often doubted or discredited as circumstantial or psychosomatic. 

So why is it still around after all this time? How does it actually work? And who would still be recommending it if it didn’t have legs?

Acupuncture’s Pitch [subhead]

The purpose of acupuncture is to balance the energies in the body. This is where Western medical doctors frequently stop listening — you can’t test for energy distribution in a lab, after all.

But the idea is this: The Chinese idea of health is based on the correct balance of “yin”, “yang”, and the body’s life force, “qi”. 

If illness occurs in the body, it is because one or more of those three energies isn’t appropriately placed or levelled.

Qi flows through the body in 12 circuits (or meridians), which can be accessed through about 2,000 points in the body. 

If you can determine where energies are lacking, or blocked, or excessive, then inserting needles into the right combination of circuit points should right the wrong and restore the sufferer to mental and physical health. 

Science Tries to Explain Philosophy [subhead]

Not all Western doctors are turned off by the idea of intangible energy forces controlling the body’s wellness responses. Wasn’t everything an intangible force until it was isolated and examined?

Some areas of neuroscience have identified the 350 access points as stimulation nexus. 

These nexus are places where nerves, connective tissue, and muscle manipulation can be explained — by increased blood flow, for example, or the release of painkillers or other chemicals occurring naturally in the body.

Acupuncture seeks to send those chemicals to the right place, depending on the ailment: the muscles, spinal cord, or brain. 

The prevailing belief is that the human body has everything it needs, and can make anything it needs to right itself. Acupuncture simply activates those tools using the wisdom of the practitioner. 

What Can Acupuncture Affect? [subhead]

An exhaustive list of acupuncture’s proposed benefits would be impossible. But some of the more common complaints that acupuncture regulars are seeking to remedy are:

  • Nausea (especially as caused by cancer chemotherapy, pregnancy, and anesthesia)
  • Addiction
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Lower back pain
  • Headaches
  • Asthma
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic aches and pains
  • Anxiety/depression
  • Insomnia
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Bronchitis
  • Impotence
  • Allergies

And so much more. 

(Although, studies have shown that people experience that the easing of their ailments tends to increase in line with their expectations. Meaning, if they think acupuncture will work, it “works better”.)

What It Actually Looks Like [subhead]

If you visit a licensed acupuncturist, expect a session to last from an hour to an hour and a half (with maybe 30 minutes involving the actual needles). 

Depending on your desired results, you may be required to return for 6-8 more visits. Although, it’s difficult to pin down exactly how many visits any patient may need. Some people respond right away, some after several sessions, and presumably, some never.

For the most part, off-shoots like acupressure notwithstanding, you can expect to be laying on a table. 

The acupuncturist will gently insert needles into the pressure points they’ve selected as having the highest chance of restoring your qi balance.

What Can We All Agree On [subhead]

There seem to be at least two conclusions that homeopathic wellness fans and Western scientists can agree on:

  1. When practiced correctly, the worst acupuncture can do is nothing. There isn’t much evidence to support acupuncture harming its participants by striking the wrong nexus. 
  2. It’s most effective in easing back, neck, and shoulder pain, chronic headaches, and arthritis. 

While acupuncture has been denigrated in “credible” medicine for many years, doctors are more interested than ever in harnessing its power to treat pain because of the opioid crisis. 

If there was a way to avoid exposing patients to morphine, codeine, Percocet, Vicodin, and more highly addictive pain medications, a lot less would be spent on addiction therapy and Big Pharma would certainly take a hit.

So while an acupuncturist shouldn’t be used in place of lab testing and conventional diagnostics, it has at least two millenia under its belt tempering chronic pain promoting balance and wellness within the body.

After all, the human body is an incredible machine. 

Would it be such a surprise to find that it already contains the means to heal itself in its millions of caverns, joints, bacteria, chemicals, and hormones?

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Dr. Pedram Shojai

NY Times Best Selling author and film maker. Taoist Abbot and Qigong master. Husband and dad. I’m here to help you find your way and be healthy and happy. I don’t want to be your guru…just someone who’ll help point the way. If you’re looking for a real person who’s done the work, I’m your guy. I can light the path and walk along it with you but can’t walk for you.