Mr. Bill M, Perth:

I know acupuncture can help various problems successfully. Could you tell me how acupuncture works?

Dr. Xu:

In explaining the mechanisms behind acupuncture, it is necessary to first have an understanding of Meridian Theory, as this is the basis for acupuncture.


The meridian system, in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), is seen as a system of the body, in the same way that western medicine recognises, for example, the nervous system, the digestive system or the cardiovascular system etc.


The TCM view is that all the bodily tissues and organs are closely related, connected by a subtle and complete pathway of information known as the meridians. This pathway is invisible, functional rather than material, and is the medium which links all our bodily functions together. Within this system the provider of information or 'messenger' is known as qi (pronounced 'chee'). The 'qi' moves throughout the meridian system in the same way that blood moves through our vessels, providing each organ and tissue with information and energy to keep it healthy and in balance - yin and yang in harmony.


When this system is influenced by certain internal or external factors and this balance of yin and yang is broken, what ensues is termed 'disease' and can affect the related organs and tissues.


Along this pathway are several specific points, like service stations on the motorway or stops on a rail route. These are known as 'acupuncture points' and can reflect the state of the organs of the body. These points, when stimulated, are able to influence the qi and the functions of the body, thus restoring the balance of yin and yang, eliminating disease, and returning us back to health.


Most commonly, we use very fine stainless steel needles of different lengths to stimulate the acupuncture points. In certain cases we use a variety of Chinese herbs, set alight and placed close to the point to create a pleasant warming effect. In cases where the above are not suitable we may also use direct pressure, known as acupressure.


Through its stimulation of certain receivers in the muscles and nerves, acupuncture has been shown to have a direct effect on the activities of neurons in the central nervous system. In turn, several neuro-transmitters such as seratonin, acetycholine, somatostatin and certain MFI's are affected. This goes some way towards explaining why acupuncture is so effective as an analgesic. Animal research has also illustrated that acupuncture can influence the microscopic and chemical constituents of blood, such as enzymes. In relation to the autonomic nervous system, acupuncture has also been shown to have a beneficial effect on the functions of the organs and urinary and digestive systems. Finally, there is much evidence to show that acupuncture has a direct influence on the function of white blood cells and production of antibodies, and therefore our immune system as a whole.


To date, few complete or long-term scientific studies have been carried out to fully assess the benefits of acupuncture. As a result, the most compelling evidence available for its effectiveness is its long history of clinical success. Unfortunately, because of this lack of detailed scientific evidence, it is difficult to provide a complete explanation of how it actually works. We hope that with the continuing advancement of modern science and improvement of scientific research skills that very soon this ancient system of healing can be understood in full.