The high costs and severe side effects of conventional medicines are encouraging people to look for alternative treatment methods these days. It has been noticed in some of the cases that the conventional medicines have harmed people more than helping them. This can also be partially attributed to the doctors' carelessness. As a result, the popularity of complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) and practices is going up very fast. In the recent past acupuncture has also gained a lot of popularity and is coming out as one of the most famous CAM practices not only in America but around the world.
Traditional Philosophy of Acupuncture
While explaining the philosophy of acupuncture, old Chinese literatures introduce the concept of balance of two forms of energy called Yin and Yang in the human body. Acupuncture believes that human body has 365 points and these points are connected through 12 channels known as meridians underneath, which are in turn connected to the internal organs. 'qi' flows through these channels and along with the flow of blood and bodily fluids makes up to the two forms of energy i.e. Yin and Yang and the right proportion of these forms of energy keeps the human body healthy. Acupuncture considers any problem with the human organs to be an imbalance of these forms of energy and treats it by pricking needles at certain associated points on the body in order to stimulate them and to help the two forms of energy strike a balance.
Modern Scientific Viewpoints
Early studies on acupuncture in America were not successful. People were sceptic about the effectiveness of acupuncture as a cure for all diseases. They attributed the benefits of acupuncture to the expectations of the patients, something similar to the placebo effect. A few people also had the argument that the Chinese literatures supporting acupuncture were too good to believe as they showed only the positive points and nothing negative about it.
The study on acupuncture gained momentum once again when in 1971 a journalist reported, in The New York Times, his own experience with acupuncture, which treated him of a postoperative abdominal condition. Subsequent to that a number of controlled clinical experiments were done to imitate the real acupuncture for several diseases and its placebo, and the results clearly indicated that acupuncture was actually found useful in the cases of a number of medical conditions compared to when no acupuncture or a placebo was used.
Although, many experiments were conducted with an aim to understand the mechanism of acupuncture, no straightforward explanation of the effect exists till date. Researchers have mostly experimented acupuncture in the cases of patients suffering from pain and have come up with a number of theories and explanations on its effects. Some of the most popular theories are described here:
Neuro-hormonal theory was introduced in 1980's and is the most popular theory explaining the mechanism of acupuncture. The theory states that acupuncture generates endogenous opiates (endorphins, enkephalins and dynorphins) and other neurotransmitters - serotonin and noradrenalin, which are extremely powerful in relieving the patient of pain.
The Nerve Reflex theory was proposed in 1950's. It states that the skin (cutaneous) surface and internal organs (viscera) are closely connected by viscera-cutaneous and cutaneous-viscera reflexes and abnormalities in internal organs become visible on the skin. According to this theory, a disease can not only be diagnosed by observing these changes but it can also be treated by way of acupuncture on certain associated points on the skin surface.
The Gate Control theory was introduced in 1960's. This theory was introduced in the field of neuroscience independently and later on was proposed as one of the possible mechanisms of how acupuncture works. This theory suggests that the perception of pain can be controlled by introducing inhibition in the pain pathways. These pathways can be gated on or off by physiological, psychological or pathological means. The process of acupuncture, according to this theory, stimulates the pain inhibitory nerves thereby blocking pain.