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Understanding This Ancient Medicine

It is often funny to me that Acupuncture is often considered a 'new alternative' medicine. In reality, Acupuncture is an Asian medicine that is over 5,000 years old. In general terms, Acupuncture is the insertion of very fine needles in the skin in order to create balance within the body.

Acupuncture is often used in conjunction with Moxibustion, which is heat used to warm the body produced by burning specific herbs. In addition, a noninvasive method of massage therapy, called Acupressure, can also be effective.

Lisa Lawless
By Lisa S. Lawless, Ph.D.
Psychotherapist & Sexuality Expert

CEO & Founder of
Holistic Wisdom, Inc. & NAASAS

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There are many diseases and ailments that can be treated successfully by Acupuncture. From weight loss to Attention Deficit Disorder, Acupuncture provides balance to the body. If you are one that is concerned about the needles... let me say as one who has had Acupuncture regularly that it really does not hurt. The needles are so fine that only on occasion do I actually feel them being inserted, and that is only a temporary pinch.

Safety Concerns

For those concerned about the safety of Acupuncture you should be aware that certified Acupuncturists in the US, as required by law, use disposable needles after having swabbed the skin with rubbing alcohol, so the risk of infection is rare. If you are not sure, just make sure that you ask that needles are sterile, disposable and used only once.

Make sure that you see only a "licensed acupuncturist", or L.Ac. or is at least a "Diplomate of Acupuncture" Dipl. Ac. who is board-certified by the NCCAOM.

The Basic Principles Of Acupuncture-

The basis of Acupuncture is that the body has an energy force running throughout it. This energy force is known as Chi (also spelled Qi, and roughly pronounced "Chee"). The Chi consists of the spiritual, emotional, mental and the physical aspects of life. A person's health is influenced by the flow of Chi in the body, and is comprised of two parts, Yin and Yang. These are opposite forces, that when balanced, work together. Any upset in the balance will result in problems such as disruptions in nature, or disease in humans. Yin is associated with feminine attributes, which are: passive, dark, cold, moist, that which is the opposite of Yang. Yang is associated with masculine attributes which are: light, active, warm, dry, that which is the opposite of Yin.

The beauty of Yin and Yang is that nothing is completely one or the other. An example is perfectly shown in humans- A person is the combination of their mother (Yin) and father (Yang). They contain qualities of both. Whether or not you believe in this Taoist philosophy, one thing is indisputable: Acupuncture works.

If the flow of Chi in the body is insufficient, unbalanced or interrupted, Yin and Yang become unbalanced, and illness may occur. Chi travels throughout the body along "Meridians" or special pathways. The Meridians, (or Channels), are the same on both sides of the body (paired). There are fourteen main meridians running vertically up and down the surface of the body. Out of these, there are twelve organ Meridians in each half of the body (remember they are in pairs).

The acupuncture points are specific locations where the Meridians come to the surface of the skin, and are easily accessible by "needling," Moxibustion, and Acupressure. The connections between them ensure that there is an even circulation of Chi; a balance between Yin and Yang.

Energy constantly flows up and down these pathways. When pathways become obstructed, deficient, excessive, or just unbalanced, Yin and Yang are said to be thrown out of balance. This causes illness. Acupuncture is said to restore the balance.

How does Acupuncture work?

Scientists have no real answer to this; as you know many of the workings of the body are still a mystery. There are a few prevailing theories.

The Augmentation of Immunity Theory-
By some unknown process, Acupuncture raises levels of triglycerides, specific hormones, prostaglandins, white blood counts, gamma globulins, opsonins, and overall anti-body levels.

The Endorphin Theory-
Acupuncture stimulates the secretions of endorphins in the body (specifically Enkaphalins). The "Neurotransmitter" Theory states that certain neurotransmitter levels (such as Seratonin and Noradrenaline) are affected by Acupuncture.

The Circulatory Theory-
Acupuncture has the effect of constricting or dilating blood vessels. This may be caused by the body's release of Vasodilaters (such as Histamine), in response to Acupuncture.

The Gate Control Theory-
According to this theory, the perception of pain is controlled by a part of the nervous system which regulates the impulse, which will later be interpreted as pain. This part of the nervous system is called the "Gate." If the gate is hit with too many impulses, it becomes overwhelmed, and it closes. This prevents some of the impulses from getting through. The first gates to close would be the ones that are the smallest. The nerve fibers that carry the impulses of pain are rather small nerve fibers called "C" fibers. These are the gates that close during Acupuncture.

There are many Acupuncturists in the U.S. today. Acupuncturists are licensed independently in most states while some states require you to be a Medical Doctor to practice Acupuncture. If you do decide to receive the therapeutic effects of Acupuncture, I not only recommend finding out their credentials, but make sure that they are compatible with your personality. Like a doctor or therapist, you should feel as though you have a good rapport and have trust with your Acupuncturist.

Scientific Evidence

Evidence from neuroimaging studies Acupuncture appears to have distinct effects on cortical activity, as demonstrated by MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and PET (positron emission tomography).

The Cochrane Collaboration, a group of evidence-based medicine (EBM) reviewers, reviewed the use of P6 for nausea and vomiting, and found it to be effective for reducing post-operative nausea, but not vomiting.

One randomized controlled trial studied a classical TCM treatment for breech birth (i.e., buttocks-first orientation of the baby, which is much riskier than head-first). The study showed that moxibustion at acupoint BL 67 (aka UB 67), located at the tip of the fifth toe, was more effective than placebo at reducing the incidence of breech birth.



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