In my private acupuncture practice in Corte Madera, CA, I’m frequently asked:
“How does acupuncture work?” It’s certainly a fair question.
My best honest answer is: some aspects of the mechanisms of acupuncture can be scientifically explained but there are others we don’t yet understand. Records do show that for the past 4,000 years,1 acupuncture has been successfully used to maintain and restore health.
Contemporary medical research in this area shows definitively that:
- Acupuncture regulates the immune system, for example, by balancing the production of lymphocytes.
- Acupuncture reduces inflammation.
- Acupuncture boosts nutrients in the blood, which help cells repair and heal.2,3
In 1979 the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) determined that acupuncture is an effective treatment for a variety of conditions. The WHO and NIH based their rigorously researched decision on the review of a large number of clinical trials.
Acupuncture was determined to be effective for these 28 medical problems:
- Adverse reactions to radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy
- Allergic rhinitis (including hay fever)
- Biliary colic
- Depression (including depressive neurosis and depression following stroke)
- Dysentery, acute bacillary
- Dysmenorrhea, primary
- Epigastralgia, acute (in peptic ulcer, acute and chronic gastritis, and gastrospasm)
- Facial pain (including craniomandibular disorders)
- Hypertension, essential
- Hypotension, primary
- Induction of labor
- Knee pain
- Low back pain
- Malposition of fetus, correction of
- Morning sickness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Neck pain
- Pain in dentistry (including dental pain and temporomandibular dysfunction)
- Periarthritis of shoulder
- Postoperative pain
- Renal colic
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Tennis elbow4
To address the request about needing need to know more about how it works in order to trust acupuncture, I share the following definition of the mechanism of action of Tylenol (acetaminophen).
Mechanism of Action.
The exact mechanism by which acetaminophen produces its analgesic and antipyretic effects remains undefined. The primary mechanism of action is believed to be inhibition of cyclooxygenase (COX), with a predominant effect on COX-2.
Intravenous Acetaminophen Use in Infants and Children – Medscape
Medscape is saying: “We don’t know.” Although Tylenol is a mainstay used often in conventional medicine, we still don’t even know how Tylenol works. Despite this, everyday Tylenol saves countless lives of small children who develop sky-high fevers. It also monumentally speeds recovery after surgeries and injuries, especially in patients who cannot tolerate pain medications that contain opioids. I use it and I keep it in my own medicine cabinet at home.
Because we do not know the exact mechanism of action that is used in Tylenol, should we not use it to safely and effectively control fevers or pain? I think not. There are countless conventional medicine treatments which we cannot fully explain yet, but we know them to be successful and that they improve quality of life.
It is the same for acupuncture. My 19 years of private practice pales in comparison to the 4,000-year history of acupuncture treatment success. However, I personally and professionally know that acupuncture can be used successfully to treat a range of conditions. Acupuncture can definitely help make people’s lives better, happier, and healthier.
1 Cady, RK, Farmer, K. (2015). Acupuncture in the treatment of headache: A traditional explanation of an ancient art. Headache Currents. 55: 457-464.
2 McDonald, JL, Cripps, AW, Smith, PK. (2015). Mediators, receptors, and signaling pathways in the anti-inflammatory and antihyperalgesic effects of acupuncture. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Vol. 2015, Article ID 975632, 10 pages.
3 Xiao, QS, Ma, MY, Zhang, XS, Deng, MH, Yang Yan, Z. (2015). Effect of Acupuncture on Prognosis and Immune Function of Sepsis Patients. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. Jul; 35(7):783-786.