How does acupuncture work? This is a question puzzling not only layman, but also professionals. As an acupuncturist, we know well how to select points and manipulate to generate corresponding effects, but no words could be used to describe the feeling to acupuncture. That’s like we know spring can turn trees green, but why?
But we must have a basic elucidation on it. I believe “balance” would be the best entry point. We know balance is everywhere: darkness and brightness, men and women, mountain and sea, generation and degeneration, birth and death, hot and cold…This is a basic philosophy all around the world. Inside our body there are also balance everywhere. I will give some example here.
“Energy balance” is a very popular and “fashionable” word in recent years. The main reason is the sharp increase of diabetes and obesity- and they are diet and diet produced energy related. We need foods everyday, but how many people know exactly how many foods and how much calorie we need, and how can we get an accurate intake? We enjoy Sandwich and Hamburg and then we take until our stomach says “no”. In modern developed and most developing areas you can get foods everywhere. It is thus too much intake becoming a mainstream in our daily life. At the same time, physical inactivity also gets more “popular”. In case having leisure time people are fond of sitting in front of computer or TV, being a “sofa potato”. Energy comes from foods and is consumed by daily activities. More intake of foods means “increased input energy”, physical inactivity means “decreased output energy”. You can easy see the obvious unbalance inside the energy system, this is so-called “energy unbalance”.
Water-mineral balance is another important balance inside body. Water is crucial to any creatures. Our body is consist of 95% water, but it is not pure water. Inside water there are a lot of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, etc. This is a very exquisite buffer system, resisting bacteria invading, acid-base changes, etc. So the balance between water and mineral is the basic requirement for normal body functions. In case water is proportionally “more” or “less” than minerals, some severe events will occur. Some researchers even use water-mineral balance to explain any disorders.
Besides, oxidants and antioxidants, acid and base, blood glucose and insulin…we can see balance is ubiquitous phenomenon all around our body.
In Chinese medical classics you can also see “balance” everywhere. In the oldest existing book Huang Di Nei Jing a saying is “you will be healthy if Yin-yang are at balance”. In traditional Chinese medicine balance is broadly used to explain physical and pathological procedures.
From the above examples we can see that “balance” is not just a word in Chinese medicine, but also in western medicine. Ok, we have found the joint point for both medicine systems, then it will be much easier to explain the mechanism of effects of acupuncture.
Now we know that we need balance every moment. In case we lose the balance, we will get sick. But it it obvious “balance” is relative but “unbalance” is absolute since balance is dynamic, not static. It is very easy to lose balance, then how is reactions from our body? Our body has very good “balancing ability”: when water is not enough, it send information to “water intake center” immediately, and you then have thirsty feeling and drink water, and then you get balance again, so usually we are at good balance. Unfortunately not any time that our body can adjust the “unbalance” itself. When severe unbalance happened and could not be fixed by body itself, what’s the next then?
Sickness. Yes, sickness follows severe unbalance which could not be fixed by body itself. Then the only thing we could do is getting assistance from outside.
Running? Swimming? Taking some medicines? Yes, all of them are good ways for “restoring the balance system”, but…when you have tried all those ways and despaired to find no way works, then what can you do?
Yes, acupuncture works now! Compared to any other ways, acupuncture is the best way for restoring system. As we see, running and swimming have no specific effects, cannot work on certain unbalance need to be fixed; medicines are not aiming at “balance”, but “destroying”- destroying bacteria, destroying tumor, destroying any mistakes they feel. We cannot say that’s not a good way, but obviously medicines and acupuncture have different ideas: medicines aiming at “reducing” wrong information but acupuncture aiming at “reinforcing” right information as well as “reducing” wrong information. Obviously acupuncture has even better strategy. That’s why acupuncture sometimes even works much quicker than medicines because it has double adjustments.
Acupuncture realizes its functions through point selection and manipulation. Acupoints locate in certain lines called “meridians”, which correspond to inner organ systems. So when a certain organ has problems, we can select points in its corresponding meridian to adjust the unbalance. Organ dysfunctions may manifest “Yin” higher than “Yang” or “Yang” higher than “Yin”, requiring different adjusting way- that’s why we need to take different manipulations to generate “reinforcing” or “reducing” effects, or both.