There are more than a couple explanations as to how acupuncture works. First, I have to say that a definitive mechanism of acupuncture has not been scientifically proven. But placing needles at precise locations on the body does something, oh yes it does. One visit to Lake Highlands Acupuncture will prove that. So, let's look at some of the things we know about it.

We'll start with the basics. The human body uses a tremendous amount of its resources and physiological responses to maintain a state of homeostasis. Homeostasis is a state of balance in the body of such things as temperature, blood pressure and composition, and digestive pH. These things don't stay at exactly static levels but rather hover around a middle point. For example, your body temperature is lower first thing in the morning and changes throughout the day, but the body works to keep the temperature within a healthy, normal range of a couple degrees. There are many more examples of homeostatic changes here.

Your body uses a variety of resources to maintain this homeostasis. Energy, calories in the form of glucose or glycogen, is burned to raise your temperature. Blood pressure increases require either increased volume of blood or constriction of the blood vessels. It's pretty complex stuff. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the primary resources the body uses for its physiological functions include qi (pronounced "chee"), blood, body fluids, and essence. These are known as the four vital substances. A very basic understanding of TCM is that such interventions as acupuncture or herbal supplementation have the intended result of the most efficient use of the vital substances possible. If the vital substances are used efficiently, the body is functioning correctly.

Now, this is purpose, not action. This doesn't tell you how it works, just what it's supposed to do. How does it work? Let's start with TCM theory. TCM is a holistic medicine, seeing the body as a whole rather than as merely a collection of individual organs doing their separate things. The body is interconnected by a series of meridians, or channels, most of which connect the body top to bottom and bottom to top. Through these channels, the vital substances, and most especially qi, flow. Qi is energy, but it takes many forms. The electrical impulses traveling along your nerves are a form of qi. The muscular contractions moving food from your mouth, into your stomach and intestines, and out of the bowels are also a form of qi. When qi flows freely, there is health. When qi is blocked for some reason, there is disease, such as pain, constipation, weakness. Acupuncture is performed by placing needles at the specific locations of the body where these channels of qi flow closest to the skin, thereby affecting the flow of qi in that channel.

So that's the theory. Since neither meridians nor qi have been scientifically proven to exist, let's check out what has been proven to happen. Medscape has an interesting article on acupuncture mechanism, stating in part,

"An interesting study demonstrating the map of a meridian pathway involved the injection of Technitium99, a radioactive tracer, into both true and sham acupoints.6 The scan of the injection sites showed random diffusion of the tracer around the sham point but rapid progression of the tracer along the meridian at a rate that was inconsistent with either lymphatic/vascular flow or nerve conduction. Another study demonstrated that needling a point on the lower leg traditionally associated with the eye activated the occipital cortex of the brain as detected by functional magnetic resonance imaging.7"

Two things here are of note. First, real acupuncture points are different than sham (or fake) acupuncture points, and in fact the real points showed progression of the tracer substance along the meridian, despite the fact no physical structure corresponding to such a meridian has been found. Second, needling a point in the leg has an effect on the brain. An important feature of acupuncture is that various parts of the body can be treated by actually sticking the needles somewhere else. Why? Because the whole body is interconnected.

Another beneficial effect of acupuncture is the regulation of the autonomic nervous system. There are two main aspects to this system, the sympathetic nervous system (involved in our "fight or flight" responses to dangerous situations) and the parasympathetic nervous system (involved in resting, relaxing, healing, and digesting). Studies on acupuncture often focus on the effectiveness of treatments for specific conditions, such as headaches, PMS, or allergies. If these studies also take note of signs of autonomic nervous activity, such as temperature, pulse rate, or blood pressure, it is consistently shown that acupuncture promotes parasympathetic activity. What does this mean for you? In our busy, stressful lives with kids screaming, traffic jams, and difficult schedules, our sympathetic nervous systems are hyperactive, so our bodies are too often in the "fight or flight" state in which our blood pressure and heart rates increase, pupils dilate, and digestive function decreases. It is also the state in which resources are not directed toward healing.

Do you feel stressed? If you can feel it, there's a good chance your sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive. So give us a call! A treatment at Lake Highlands Acupuncture will focus on your specific health concerns, whether or not they include stress. But the happy side effect is that, regardless, your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems will be brought into greater balance, allowing your body the chance to rest, relax, heal, and enjoy life.