Major medical research institutions are spending millions of dollars to understand how acupuncture works. Most explanations you will read on the internet and in popular media relate the western translation of 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, we have to look deeper for an explanation understandable in the language of western biological science.
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.
The Mystery of QI
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, until recently this concept was ridiculed or flatly rejected by most of 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. Recent research has demonstrated that the connective tissue of our body is both a generator and conductor of subtle electrical signals, and is the most dense along the proposed acupuncture channel pathways. Could this be the mysterious path of Qi?
An Electro-conductive Pathway
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.
Conclusion: It Works
It is still unclear as to how the insertion of a needle works to promote healing in the body. One proposed theory is that the insertion of an acupuncture needle creates a little injury that is conveyed to the brain. This may signal the body to bring its healing forces into play at the site of injury. Our understanding of this system will increase as new electro-diagnostic technologies are developed, just like EKG’s and MRI’s increased our knowledge in other areas. It will probably take many years though before our electrical nature becomes the basis for conventional diagnosis and treatment. In the meantime, acupuncture is a safe and effective way to restore health by balancing this fundamental system of your body.