Modern Research on Acupuncture
Over the last few decades, research had been conducted seeking to explain how acupuncture works and what it can and cannot treat.
The 1997 National Institute of Health (NIH) Consensus n Acupuncture reports that "studies have demonstrated that acupuncture can cause multiple biological responses, mediated mainly by sensory neurons, to many structures within the central nervous system. This can lead to activation of pathways, affecting various physiological systems in the brain, as well as in the periphery.
The NIH Consensus also suggests that acupuncture may activate the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, resulting in a broad spectrum of systemic effects. Alteration in the secretion of neurotransmitters and eurohormones, and changes in the regulation of blood flow, both centrally and peripherally, have been documented. There is also evidence of alterations of immune functions produced by acupuncture.
Current theories on the mechanisms of acupuncture:
1. Neurotransmitter Theory: Acupuncture affects higher brain areas, stimulating the secretion of beta-endorphins and enkephalins in the brain and spinal cord. The release of neurotransmitters influences the immune system and the antinociceptive systems.
2. Autonomic Nervous System Theory: Acupuncture stimulates the release of norepinephrine, acetyllcholine and several types of opioids, affecting changes in their turnover rate, normalizing the autonomic nervous system, and reducing pain.
3. Gate Control Theory: Acupuncture activates non-nociceptive receptors that inhibit the transmission of nociceptive signals in the dorsal horn, painful stimuli.
4. Vascular-interstitial Theory: Acupuncture manipulates the electrical system of the body by creating or enhancing closed-circuit transport in tissues. This facilitates healing by allowing the transfer of material and electrical energy between normal and injured tissues.
5. Blood Chemistry Theory: Acupuncture affects the blood concentrations of triglycerides, cholesterol, and phospholipids, suggesting that acupuncture can both raise and diminish peripheral blood components thereby regulating the body toward homeostasis.
According to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 51% of medical doctors understand the efficacy and value of acupuncture, and medical doctors refer patients to acupuncturists more than any other alternative care provider.
The NIH Consensus on Acupuncture further states that clinical experience, supported by research data, suggests acupuncture may be a reasonable option for a number of clinical conditions.
Evidence also points to positive clinical trials that include addiction, stroke rehabilitation, carpel tunnel syndrome, osteoarthritis, and headaches. The Consensus also mentions that acupuncture treatments may be helpful for other conditions such as asthma, postoperative pain, myofascial pain, and low back pain.
One of the advantages of acupuncture is that the incidence of adverse effects is substantially lower than that of many drugs or other accepted medical procedures used for the same conditions. As an example, musculoskeletal conditions, such as fybromyalgia, myofascial pain, and tennis elbow, or epicondylitis, are conditions for which acupuncture may be beneficial. These painful conditions are often treated with, among other things, anti-inflammatory medications (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.) or with steroid injections. Both medical interventions have a potential for deleterious side effects, but are still widely used and are considered acceptable treatments. The evidence supporting these therapies is no better than that for acupuncture.