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General Information about Acupuncture:
Recognition of Oriental Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine from the National Institute of Health (NIH) Acupuncture is one of the oldest, most commonly used medical procedures in the world. Originating in China more than 2,000years ago, acupuncture began to become better known in the United States in 1971, when New York Times reporter James Reston wrote about how doctors in China used needles to ease his abdominal pain after surgery. Research shows that acupuncture is beneficial in treating a variety of health conditions. In the past two decades, acupuncture has grown in popularity in the United States. A Harvard University study published in 1998 estimated that Americans made more than five million visits per year to acupuncture practitioners. The report from a Consensus Development Conference on Acupuncture held at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1997 stated that acupuncture is being "widely" practiced—by thousands of physicians, dentists, acupuncturists, and other practitioners—for relief or prevention of pain and for various other health conditions. NIH has funded a variety of research projects on acupuncture. These grants have been awarded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM, NCCAM's predecessor) and other NIH Institutes and Centers. This fact sheet provides general information about acupuncture, research summaries, a glossary that defines terms underlined in the text, and a resource section.
Traditional Chinese medicine theorizes that there are more than 2,000 acupuncture points on the human body, and that these connect with 12 main and 8 secondary pathways called meridians. Chinese medicine practitioners believe these meridians conduct energy, or "Qi"(pronounced "chee"), throughout the body. Qi is believed to regulate spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical balance and to be influenced by the opposing forces of Yin and Yang. According to traditional Chinese medicine, when Yin and Yang are balanced, they work together with the natural flow of Qi to help the body achieve and maintain health. Acupuncture is believed to balance yin and yang, keep the normal flow of "Qi" unblocked, and maintain or restore health to the body and mind. Traditional Chinese medicine practices (including acupuncture, herbs, diet, massage, and meditative physical exercise) all are intended to improve the flow of Qi. Western scientists have found meridians hard to identify because meridians do not directly correspond to nerve or blood circulation pathways. Some researchers believe that meridians are located throughout the body's connective tissue; others do not believe that Qi exists at all. Such differences of opinion have made acupuncture an area of scientific controversy.
Mechanisms of Action:
Several processes have been proposed to explain acupuncture's effects, primarily those on pain. Acupuncture points are believed to stimulate the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) to release chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. These chemicals either change the experience of pain or release other chemicals, such as hormones, that influence the body's self-regulating systems. The biochemical changes may stimulate the body's natural healing abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being. There are three main mechanisms: 1. Conduction of electromagnetic signals: Western scientists have found evidence that acupuncture points are strategic conductors of electromagnetic signals. Stimulating points along these pathways through acupuncture enables electromagnetic signals to be relayed at a greater rate than under normal conditions. These signals may start the flow of painkilling biochemicals, such as endorphins, and of immune system cells to specific sites in the body that are injured or vulnerable to disease. 2. Activation of opioid systems: Research has found that several types of opioids may be released into the central nervous system during acupuncture treatment, thereby reducing pain. 3. Changes in brain chemistry, sensation, and involuntary body functions: Studies have shown that acupuncture may alter brain chemistry by changing the release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones. Acupuncture also has been documented to affect the parts of the central nervous system related to sensation and involuntary body functions, such as immune reactions and processes whereby a person's blood pressure, blood flow, and body temperature are regulated. Pre-clinical studies have documented acupuncture's effects, but they have not been able to fully explain how acupuncture works within the framework of the Western system of medicine.
Helpful Links: List of diseases curable by Acupuncture treatment compiled by W.H.O. FACTS about acupuncture(PDF) The top 5 reasons people see an acupuncturist (PDF) NIH Consensus statements about Acupuncture.