Acupuncture is a very effective system of medicine which can, in expert hands, yield results which as almost miraculous. A common event in an acupuncturist's clinic is for a patient come in with a severe pain in his arm or neck. The acupuncturist cleans the skin with a little alcohol, inserts a needle at the appropriate acupuncture point, twirls it around and within a few seconds the pain is gone!
This example characterizes one of he best known effects of acupuncture that of relieving pain - its analgesic effect. Acupuncture is one of the quickest and most effective methods of relieving pain virtually irrespective of its cause. This remarkable property of acupuncture has been exploited to provide analgesia for many types of operations. Acupuncture is used not only for minor operations like draining abscesses and extraction of teeth, but also for major operations like brain surgery. Even open-heart surgery has been carried out painlessly with the help of just one acupuncture needle inserted in the upper arm.
In China over a million operations have been carried out using only acupuncture analgesia. Thousands of women all over the world have been spared the agonies of labour pains by the use of acupuncture. A couple of needles inserted in the ankle and in points below the knee provide enough analgesia for a painless delivery. This aspect of acupuncture has received a great deal of publicity in recent years.
The sensation of pain is carried to the thalamus, which is the area of the brain, which perceives pain, by extremely thin nerve fibres. Because these fibres are thin, the pain impulses travel relatively slowly to the brain as compared to conduction through thicker nerve fibres.
The first plausible theory to explain how acupuncture relieves pain, which appeared in modern scientific journals, was called the gate control theory. Acupuncture it was said generated nerve impulses, which travelled fast through large thick nerve fibres to the thalamus. The numerous impulses arriving at high speed from the acupuncture point caused overcrowding at the thalamus and thus blocked the perception of impulses, which were arriving later via the thin fibres. This overcrowding of stimuli at the thalamus caused the gate to close and so prevented the person from feeling pain.
This explanation however did not provide a complete answer as it was seen in animal experiments that even when the large nerves were cut, acupuncture was still able to relieve pain. As a result more research has taken place to clarify the other mechanisms through which Acupuncture relieves pain. This research discovered that after acupuncture, there was an elevation of endorphins and encephalins in the fluid of the brain.
Endorphins and encephalins are morphine like substances, which block the ability of the brain to perceive pain. They belong to an important group of substances called neuro-transmitters, which are secreted by nerve cells in all parts of the body to communicate with other nerve cells. There are many hundreds of neuro-transmitters secreted by nerve cells in the brain which are the subject of intense research in institutes all over the world. Some important neuro-transmitters are acetylcholine, serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, glycine, glutamic acid, and various types of endorphins, encephalins and prosta glandins. Each neuro-transmitter acts on specific areas of the brain creating different effects. Some of these cause-increased awareness while others depress the brain causing tranquility and sleep.
The research conducted so far has led to the conclusion that acupuncture is able to relieve pain through multiple mechanisms, some of which still need to be researched further.
Every cell in the human body especially those in delicate organs like the brain and heart, require an optimum and constant environment to function, irrespective of the external environment of the body. Most cells can only tolerate very small variations in temperature, acidity and concentration of various substances around it. The kidneys, the liver, the endocrine glands and the skin are the important organs, which maintain the infernal environment of the body.
Acupuncture exerts a strong homeostatic effect that is it restores the body's internal environment to its normal state. The term homeostasis arises from two words: homeo which means same and status meaning state. Acupuncture normalizes the rate of breathing, the pulse rate, the blood pressure, the rate of formation of urine, the metabolic rate, sweating, the temperature of the body, the ionic balance of the blood and many other vital parameters. These functions are controlled by the bran through the secretion of various hormones.
This homeostatic property of acupuncture also makes it a remarkably safe form of treatment with no side effects. The net effect of treatment is to restore the body to normal and maintain it in that state. Once the normal state is reached further treatment only maintains the equilibrium, unlike modern medicine where an overdose of medication can cause unpleasant and often dangerous side effects.
This safety lies in the fact that the same set of acupuncture points are used to treat diametrically opposite conditions like high blood pressure and low blood pressure, or diarrhoea and constipation. Thus in a patient with high blood pressure, acupuncture will restore the blood pressure to normal. Further treatment will maintain the normal blood pressure there is no possibility that an excess of treatment would cause low blood pressure.
This homeostatic effect is used to treat many diseases including hormonal imbalances and hypertension. Acupuncture is very effective in restoring the body's hormonal balance to normal through its homeostatic effect. All the hormones in the body are interrelated and an increase or decrease in any one hormone creates a series of cascading effects on other hormones throughout the body. Any rational treatment must aim at restoring the entire hormonal balance rather than correcting a deficiency or excess of any one hormone. These are examples of the homeostatic or normalizing action of acupuncture.
An imbalance in the ratios of different neuro-transmitters leads to many diseases like hypertension, Parkinsonism, depression, anxiety and insomnia. High blood pressure can be caused by an imbalance in the ratio of alpha, beta and gamma endorphins, which are types of neuro-transmitters, in the brain. In most patients with high blood pressure, conventional physicians are unable to find any reason or cause for the blood pressure to be high. These patients have been arbitrarily classified as having "essential hypertension" (which means the doctor does not know the cause).
Most patients with essential hypertension respond well to acupuncture which restores the balance of various neuro-transmitters in the brain. Endorphins, which are similar to morphine, have a relaxing and calming effect on the body that brings down the blood pressure. Many patients feel drowsy and relaxed during acupuncture and may even fall into a deep sleep. When they wake up, they feel completely refreshed and their blood pressure has fallen towards the normal level.
This soothing effect is one of the reasons why acupuncture is so effective in the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, addictions and mental disorders. Since acupuncture normalizes the secretion of various neuro-transmitters, it is able to regulate me physiological and psychological functioning of the brain.
Acupuncture acts on the substancia nigra (an area of the brain) increasing the secretion of dopamine towards the normal levels in conditions like Parkinsonism and depression, there is a reduction of dopamine levels in the substancia nigra which acupuncture is to correct. This correction with acupuncture leads to a general improvement in the patient's condition. The conventional Western medical treatment of these ailments is haphazard and irrational. The drugs, which are traditionally administered, cause a general increase in the levels of dopamine and other neuro-transmitters in the brain. This increase is often incompatible with the actual needs of an individual, which can sometimes lead to an aggravation of the original problem.
Acupuncture improves and stimulates the body's immunity by increasing the number of white blood cells, anti-bodies and gamma globulin in the blood, which fight any infections. Where antibiotics have to be used the need for prolonged antibiotic therapy can be considerably reduced by the concurrent use of acupuncture. In chronic infections, such as sinusitis, osteomyelitis, and chronic bronchitis antibiotics are rarely useful, and acupuncture used alone is very effective in curing the infection. In and chronic sinusitis, for example, fibrosis around the sinuses prevents antibiotics from penetrating adequately into the sinus. Acupuncture for ten to fourteen days can clear up the infection, promote drainage of the sinuses and help the fibrosis to resolve.
Acupuncture promotes a quick recovery after an attack of paralysis and is the most effective form of treatment for paralytic strokes and facial paralysis. The results of acupuncture treatment are excellent if therapy is started early. Very often the treatment is given in the first few hours after the onset of the stroke, a complete recovery may even be possible in a matter of days. If therapy is started in the first week after the stroke a virtually complete recovery can be expected in almost all patients within six to eight weeks.
In addition to helping a patient recover from a stroke, acupuncture and moxibuxtion can help to prevent a stroke as well treat stroke in evolution. Many other neurological disorders like epilepsy; weakness of muscles, deafness and even some forms of blindness can be treated with acupuncture with spectacular results! (Look at the computerized perimetry charts in the Introduction).
Western scientists have not yet been able to completely understand how acupuncture creates its multiple effects. It is clear however that acupuncture does work. Its efficacy and safety have been known and studied for over five thousand years. It is possible to fool all he people some of the time, but it is hard to fool entire nations for centuries
Modern medicine, despite its scientific basis, is still an experimental and empirical science. Many of yesterday's wonder drugs are today's is horror stories. Over 80% of the drugs used twenty years ago are ineffective or obsolete today, as commercial pressures to recover investments and the greed to make money send unproven and inadequately tested drugs to the market place.
Western medical scientists have long been sceptical about acupuncture, because they could not understand how it works. In last fifteen to twenty years, considerable evidence has emerged on the scientific principles and mechanisms through which acupuncture works. However there is still no complete theory, which expect the multiple effects of acupuncture. Research is still in progress and in the years to come, we expect to have a better understanding as to how acupuncture works.
In the final analysis, from the patient's point of view, it is not so important to understand why or how acupuncture works, as to know that it does work and it works well. It is a safe, effective and time tested method of treatment which in expert hands yields miraculous results. More importantly acupuncture is able to cure several ailments faster and more effectively than any other system of medicine.