Oriental Medicine is a whole system of medicine that integrates many therapies and is applied by practitioners to treat illness and diseases. This field in medicine functions to promote the body’s ability to heal itself. Of these therapies, acupuncture and Chinese herbology are the most popular in the United States (Nestler 63). The most significant milestone in the history of acupuncture occurred during the period of Huang Di -The Yellow Emperor (2697-2597) of China. A
pproximately 1000 BC, during the Shang Dynasty, hieroglyphs showed evidence of acupuncture and moxibustion. Slark states that moxibustion is derived from the healing benefits of fire and heat. Hot compresses were created from stones and burning sand wrapped in skin and bark. Acupoints are believed to have been identified through observing how pain is relieved by pressure. Bronze needles were excavated from ruins, but the bian stones remained the main form of needle (63). During the Warren States Era (421-221 B.C.) metal needles replaced the bian stones. Four gold needles and five silver needles were found in an ancient tomb dating back to 113B.C. The Miraculous Pivot names nine types of acupuncture needles. The Historical Records notes many physicians practicing Acupuncture during this time.
Another milestone for this period was the compilation of the Nan Jing (Book of Difficult Questions).The Nan Jing discusses five element theory, hara diagnosis, eight extra meridians, and other important topics. From 260-265 A.D., the famous physician Huang Fu Mi, organized all of the ancient literature into his classic text -Systematic Classics of Acupuncture and Moxibustion. The text is twelve volumes and describes 349 Acupuncture points. It is organized according to the theory of: Zang Fu, Qi and blood, channels and colllaterals, acupuncture points, and clinical application. This book is noted to be one of the most influential text in the history of Chinese Medicine.
Acupuncture experienced great development during the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) Dynasties. Upon request from the Tang Government (627-649A.D.), the famous physician Zhen Quan revised the important acupuncture texts and charts. Another famous physician of the time, Sun Simio, wrote Prescription with a Thousand Gold for Emergencies (650-692). This text includes data on Acupuncture from various scholars. During this period acupuncture became a special branch of medicine and practitioners were named acupuncturists. Acupuncture schools appeared, and Acupuncture education became part of the Imperial Medical Bureau. But from the Qing Dynasty to the Opium Wars (1644-1840), herbal medicine became the main tool of physicians and acupuncture was suppressed.
The Qi is believed to flow through pathways (meridians) in your body. These meridians and the energy flow are accessible through more than 350 acupuncture points. Illness results from an imbalance of the forces. By inserting needles into these points in various combinations, acupuncture practitioners believe that the energy flow will rebalance. Cupping is another method used to stimulate the acupuncture points. Suction is applied to the points to cause stimulation. A metal, wood or glass jar is used to create a partial vacuum. The suction produces blood congestion at the point, thus causing stimulation (Chen 87). Acupuncture may stimulate self-regulatory processes independent of the treatment objective, points, means or methods used; this would account for acupuncture’s reported benefits in so many disparate pathologic conditions.
A study by Moffet states that Acupuncture produces its effects through regulating the nervous system, thus aiding the activity of pain-killing biochemicals such as endorphins and immune system cells at specific sites in the body. In addition, studies have shown that acupuncture may alter brain chemistry by changing the release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones and, thus, affecting the parts of the central nervous system related to sensation and involuntary body functions, such as immune reactions and processes that regulate a person’s blood pressure, blood flow, and body temperature (1).
Acupuncture claims to be able to treat a number of illnesses, especially those involving pain. Acupuncture is known for it anesthesia like effects and can be a big help in reducing the need for large doses of anesthesia. A study by Chernyak, hypothesizes that electro-acupuncture initiated 30 min before the induction reduces anesthetic requirement more than acupuncture initiated after the induction (387). Actually, almost all conditions that most people complain about have a possibility for a cure with this mode of treatment.
The diseases or disorders for which acupuncture therapy has been tested in controlled clinical trials reported in the recent literature can be classified into four categories. There are diseases, symptoms or conditions for which acupuncture has been proved. There are ones that has been shown to help but needs further studies. There are some with therapeutic effects, but for which acupuncture is worth trying because treatment by conventional and other therapies is difficult.
And there are some conditions for which acupuncture may be tried provided the practitioner has special modern medical knowledge and adequate monitoring equipment According to the World Health Organization, the National Institutes for Health, and clinical experience, acupuncture is useful in the treatment of: chronic and acute pain, neurological disorders, upper respiratory disorders, digestive disorders, urinary and reproductive disorders, immune function, addictions, eye and ear disorders, depression, anxiety ; insomnia, and other more numerous types of conditions (Traditional Chinese Medicine).
There is no definite answer as to acupuncture being able to cure a number of illnesses. This leads many people to question acupuncture’s purported abilities to treat different ailments. Many of the theories regarding acupuncture deal with Qi, or energy patterns. These hypothetical energy patterns have not been demonstrated nor have they been studied to a great extent in Western medicine. This leaves the theoretical foundation of acupuncture very much in question. Dr Mann, one of the most recognized acupuncturist, stated in his book about reinventing acupuncture: “Acupuncture, I think, essentially in no man’s land, between the land of the mind and the land of the body (10).
A doctor will be thanked by many patients who have received his expertise in acupuncture, but will only be able to demonstrate little objectively. Acupuncture still needs many researches and studies to come to a solid answer for the many contradictions it holds today. Yes, in a growing world of many invented pharmaceuticals to rely on, people are looking for better alternatives in medicine for a possible cure. But many experts still argue amongst themselves as to what the real deal of acupuncture is.
However, let’s imagine such an intergration in a US hospital, where patients have the option of receiving alternative therapies to augment their allopathic treatment. How useful would this be to so many lying in hospital beds who are suffering from post-operative pain, undergoing cancer treatment, detoxifying off alcohol or drugs, or simply having trouble going to sleep in an inherently bustling environment? It is beginning to become a reality, albeit in select areas of the country. Many Western Doctors feel threatened at the notion that medicine can be practiced by those who do not have an MD after their name and, likewise, there are a small pocket of CAM practitioners who are also exclusionists and believe alternative medicine is the only alternative.
But by at large, acupuncturists believe in choosing the treatment that is best for their patient, not what is best for their ego or for their pocket. Many are looking forward to the day when there is true collaboration within the healthcare system in this country and to the day acupuncture doctors get to be a part of it.
While there are many experts in the medical field who believe acupuncture is an effective way to treat certain conditions, there is still no true consensus. Some define the benefits of acupuncture within the realm of traditional Chinese theories. Others understand and attribute acupuncture’s benefits to certain scientific and biological changes they bring about in the body as mentioned.
Alternatively, some question the ability of acupuncture to have any impact at all. Some scientists say they have proof that acupuncture works in its own right. The skeptics should give it a chance and seek proof for themselves. Whether you are an ardent believer in alternative medicine, a skeptic, or just simply baffled by the range of opinions, just give acupuncture a try as long as it doesn’t harm you. What do you know? Maybe further studies can lead us to new doors for the betterment of health care system.
Chen, C. “Acupuncture, Electrostimulation, and Reflex Therapy in Dermatology”. Dermatologic Therapy. 16 (2003): 87-92.
Cheryak, G. “The Timing of Acupuncture Stimulation Does Not Influence Anesthetic Requirement”. Anesthetic Pharmacology. 100 (2005): 387-392.
Mann,F. Reinventing Acupuncture: A New Concept of Ancient Medicine. Oxford: butterworth-Heinemann, 2000.
Moffet, M. “How Might Acupuncture Work? A Systematic Review of Physiologic Rationales from clinical Trials.” Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 6 (2006): 1-8.
Nestler, G. “Traditional Chinese medicine”. Medical Clinics of North America 86 (2002): 63-73.
Slark, H. “Three Months in China.” Acupuncture in Medicine 18 (2000): 61-64.
Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Health Information Organization. “ Acupuncture Research: World Health Organization. 22 April 2009 <http://tcm.health-info.org/WHO-treatment-list.htm>