In Understanding Acupuncture, Part 1 I explained that acupuncture is based on the same scientific standards Western medicine is established on. It is not a belief system or primitive medical practice founded on esoteric or metaphysical concepts. The mechanisms of acupuncture are based on the concepts of nerves, vessels, and blood circulation and not on Energy circulating in so called Meridians. So how does it actually work?

The basic view of health and disease in ancient Chinese medicine in essence was not different from the modern Western scientific view today. When physiological/biological balance and homeostasis are maintained the body should be healthy and disease not present. If this intricate balance is disturbed disease can manifest.

The body maintains this delicate balance by constantly communicating with all cells. Given that there are an estimated 100-200 trillion cells in the body, this is a lot of communication.

The way the body communicates all this information, delivers required nutrients, and cleans up waste products is via the circulatory and nervous systems. Blood vessels, nerves, and lymphatic vessels provide the infrastructure to send the necessary commands, nutrients, and waste from place to place to ensure that the body functions well and stays healthy. It is similar to the communication grid of a city. Roads and other communication systems provide a way for information and goods to be send from one place to the other so the whole city can prosper and function well. Acupuncture points are critical junctures, fine-tuning and directing this flow in tissues or areas of the body an acupuncture point connects to.

How is this achieved? The grid of the circulatory and nervous systems is called the neurovascular system. The deep lying structures of this communication network branch off into smaller and smaller extensions the closer they get towards the skin or organs. These blood vessels, nerves, and lymphatic vessels usually run in bundles and form critical junctures, or nodes, where they supply the skin. These nodes of fine neurovascular tissue constitute acupuncture points. Inserting a fine needle into such a node and evoking an either stimulating or inhibiting signal influences the flow of information in an either activating or sedating way (e.g. stimulating or reducing the release of a certain messenger chemical). Because physiological imbalance is usually caused by an excess or lack of certain chemicals balance can therefore be regained.

Through early postmortem dissections starting 2697 BCE, (Wang 1926), the ancient Chinese became very advanced in understanding the complexity of the various systems comprising the human body and had an astonishing comprehension on how disease is formed and health maintained. The original terminology of this ancient medical system, still used today, is clearly something no scientist can relate to unless they are trained in Chinese medicine as well. But for anyone with a full understanding of both medical systems, it is fascinating to see how thoroughly the ancient Chinese understood fairly complex physiological processes and disease in the human body hundreds (if not thousands) of years before any European civilization.

Their truly holistic view of health is stated in the Nei Jing, a Chinese medical classic written between 475-221 BCE. It says that “the key to health is for each person to maintain a balance with their environment, including weather conditions, seasonal changes, emotional and physical stress. Health requires a constancy in daily activity patterns, moderation in eating and drinking habits, not being reckless, not worrying to the point of fatigue, not being consumed by grief, remaining calm and unperturbed, and not overachieving” (D. Kendall, 2002).

This refreshing viewpoint represents a cornerstone of health and well-being that will hold true as long as humans exist. Still firmly interlaced in Chinese culture today an awareness of this simple but fundamental principle is regrettably and increasingly lacking in Western societies. The speed and stress of modern life are taking toll on health in our communities. Fortunately, this ancient medical wisdom can be shared and reintroduced through like-minded practitioners and help nourish societies back to prosperity and health.

I welcome your thoughts and comments.