How does acupuncture work? Major medical research institutions are spending millions of dollars to answer that question. Most explanations you will read on the internet and in other popular media give the traditional Chinese view. This explanation states that acupuncture works by regulating the flow of what the Chinese called “Qi” in specific channels (meridians) along the body. Although this is exactly what acupuncture does, in order to make that more understandable we need to look a bit deeper.
We are all very familiar with the cardiovascular circulatory system where the heart pumps blood throughout our bodies via a network of blood vessels. Similarly we understand that the brain is connected to the rest of the body via the nervous system, through which information flows to and from every square inch of our body. The discoveries of these systems were considered major milestones in the history of medical science. But did you know that initially these ideas were ridiculed and their proponents ostracized? It took many years of research and struggle before these ideas were commonly accepted. Such is the history of many scientific achievements.
Several thousand years ago Chinese physicians hypothesized the existence of a system of channels in the body through which flows a substance more subtle than blood or nerve impulses. This substance they called Qi (pronounced chee). This concept is still relatively new to the West and has yet to be investigated fully. Nevertheless, this idea has also been viewed with extreme skepticism and even ridiculed by the conventional medical establishment. In part this may be because the word “Qi” sounds funny when compared to the Latin words that typically characterize western medicine. Or, it may also be because the research that has been done has not been able to find a specific anatomical structure associated with this system. However, given our current knowledge of the immense complexity of the human body, the notion that there may be another yet undiscovered circulatory system should not seem that far-fetched. So why haven’t we found it? We may just be looking in the wrong place.
Despite the lack of a visible structure, in the 1950’s research was conducted in Germany that determined that there are electro-conductive pathways on the human body that correspond almost exactly to the channel pathways recognized by Chinese medicine. This research, conducted by Dr. H. Voll, found that the conductive potential of these pathways could be measured by conventional instruments and that this measurement system could be used to determine whether the flow of current was abnormal. He determined that where the conductivity was either too high or too low there typically was either pain along the acupuncture channel or altered function of an organ system that corresponded with the channel. This is explained by the statement in Chinese medicine: “Where there is pain, there is no free flow.” Moreover, he found that by treating acupuncture points along the pathway, the flow of current could be regulated, lessening pain and improving organ function. This led him to hypothesize that the channels described in the acupuncture system were in fact these same electro-conductive pathways he had found. In true scientific fashion, Dr. Voll and others performed many experiments that led them to conclude there is a yet undiscovered electrical circulatory system in the human body.
It is still unclear as to how the insertion of a needle works to promote this change in electrical conductivity along the channel. Our understanding of this will probably increase as conventional medicine incorporates more electro-diagnostic technologies like EKG’s and MRI’s. However, it will probably take many years for conventional medicine to conclude that we are electrical beings and treat accordingly. In the meantime, acupuncture is a safe and effective way to restore health by balancing this fundamental system of your body.