by Erik Durneika, 2015 All-USA Coca-Cola Bronze Scholar
Acupuncture as a practice fulfills the definition of ancient—old but definitely not obsolete. In the Western world, it is a fairly new approach to healing the human body. Many people wake up daily to aches and pains that make their lives difficult. For this reason, alternative medicine has become a common route for potential pain relief—or simply for general bodily maintenance.
Practices in modern acupuncture can be traced to ancient China. Archaeological artifacts, including early acupuncture needles composed of stone and bone, date back to around 6,000 BCE. The diagnosis and treatment stages used in the acupuncture process were first published in The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, during the Han Dynasty of China. This type of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) was later transported by scholars and merchants to the Korean Peninsula and the Japanese Islands. Since the 1970s, Western medical doctors and scientists have gained an interest in acupuncture along with its various integrative uses.
Eastern and Western Explanations of Acupuncture
Acupuncture is the practice of inserting fine, stainless steel needles into specific points in the body to relieve pain associated with a physiological condition. In Eastern medical theory, this practice of needle insertion into gateways is thought to balance, unblock, or stimulate stagnated energy (qi) in bodily pathways, also known as meridians. Such channels connect to a specific organ or organ-group that controls a certain bodily function. Dr. Sara Shiu, a medical doctor from China as well as a licensed acupuncture physician and owner of International Health Clinic, said: “Acupuncture is a complex healing science and art. It requires an experienced individual who can clearly identify about 2,000 points of the human body.”
On the other hand, scientific studies by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and World Health Organization (WHO) show that the brain and spine, along with the vertebral column’s nerve roots, are important factors in Western explanations of acupuncture mechanisms. Not only has acupuncture been shown to positively stimulate neurotransmitters, hormone secretion, and blood flow, but it is also thought to produce analgesic opioid peptides—amino acid sequences that are naturally produced by the central nervous system (CNS) and bodily glands—that attach to receptors in the brain.
Effectiveness of Acupuncture and Its Integrative Uses
According to the WHO, scientific research efforts have revealed that acupuncture has three main functions, including: triggering analgesic properties, protecting against infection, and regulating bodily functions. Studies by the WHO and NIH show this form of alternative medicine to be beneficial in cases of chronic and acute conditions such as reactions to radiotherapy/chemotherapy, allergies, low white blood cell count, fibromyalgia, headache, high/low blood pressure, nausea, sciatica, knee/back pain, stroke, and arthritis (osteoarthritis, gouty arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis).
In the case of rheumatoid arthritis—an autoimmune disorder where one’s immune system attacks healthy tissue, usually in joint areas and, in severe cases, organs—acupuncture has been shown to relieve pain. While such treatment cannot reverse damage, controlled studies by the WHO have shown that acupuncture is beneficial in managing and slowing the progression of arthritic pain. This Eastern practice of medicine combined with Western medications can help relieve postoperative pain, ranging from dental surgery to tonsil removal and joint replacements. It can treat possible constipation and reduce the risk of infections.
As for many, acupuncture is a common path of alternative medicine due to its low amount of adverse affects and relatively cheap cost. Medical cases have shown that the right combination of Western treatments and medications along with the help of alternative medicine effectively treats a broad range of medical conditions. Dr. Shiu advises that “it is imperative to combine and balance Eastern and Western methods of treatment—different yet complementary practices in medicine.”