Acupuncture research both basic and clinical, has greatly expanded in the last decade. Modern biomedical techniques, including those of molecular biology and medical imaging, have revealed increasingly detailed, physiological correlation of the effects of acupuncture. Modern research has demonstrated acupuncture’s effects on the nervous system, endocrine and immune systems, cardiovascular system and gastrointestinal system.
One of the most accepted theories is that acupuncture stimulates areas in the forebrain and midbrain causing the release of endorphins, serotonin, enkephalins, adenosine, gamma-amino-butyric acid (gaba, a major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain), norepinephrine and dopamine, all of which have an effect on the central and peripheral nervous system. Acupuncture analgesia is initiated by the stimulation of small diameter nerves in muscles which send impulses to the spinal cord; activating three neural centers, spinal cord, midbrain and pituitary to release endorphins and monoamines.
Acupuncture in TCM involves placing fine filiform needles at specific points on the body to treat a variety of health problems. Insertion of needles on the meridian pathways can unblock stasis and stimulate vascular and neurological systems thereby increasing circulation and promoting healing. The free flow of energy or ‘qi’ reduces pain and inflammation and benefits the process of homeostasis.
The U.S. National Institute of Health concluded its panel report with the endorsement “…there is sufficient evidence of acupuncture’s value to expand its use into conventional medicine and to encourage further studies of its physiology and clinical value.” (Jama 280: 1518-24)