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Although westerners often think of this traditional Chinese treatment modality as a “new” form of alternative medicine, acupuncture is so ancient in China that its origins are unclear. According to Huangfu Mi (c. 215-282 AD), author of The Systematic Classic of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, needling therapy was first used during China’s Bronze Age, over five thousand years ago. He attributes its invention to either Fu Xi or Huang Di (the Yellow Emperor), two legendary figures of the Five Emperors Period (c. 3000-2070 BC). Modern scholars generally believe that acupuncture is much older, originating more than ten thousand years ago during China’s Neolithic Age (c. 8000-3500 BC).
In actuality, acupuncture may not be as ancient as has generally been assumed. A reconsideration of all extant documents and recent archaeological finds indicates that acupuncture may date back a mere 2100 to 2300 years, first appearing during China’s Warring States Period (475-221 BC) and rapidly maturing during the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-24 AD).
Questioning the generally accepted origins theory.
The currently accepted theory concerning the Neolithic origins of acupuncture is based on two premises. The first holds that bian shi, specialized sharp-edged stone tools that appeared during China’s Neolithic Age, were used for an early form of needling therapy, prior to the invention of metal smelting. It is known that bian shi stone tools were utilized for a number of early medical procedures, starting during the Neolithic Age and continuing through the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-24 AD). A number of descriptions of bian shi stone therapy appear in one of China’s earliest medical works, The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic of Medicine (Huang Di Neijing, hereafter referred to as the Neijing) (c. 104-32 BC). It has been thought that these Neolithic stone medical instruments were precursors of the metal acupuncture needles that came into use during China’s Iron Age.
However, historical documents and new archaeological evidence clearly indicate that bian shi stone tools were flat and knife-like in form, used primarily to incise abscesses to discharge pus, or to draw blood (1). They were applied as surgical scalpels to cut, rather than as needles to puncture, and had nothing to do with needling therapy. According to the Code of Hammurabi, the ancient inhabitants of Mesopotamia used similarly shaped bronze knives to incise abscesses over 4000 years ago.
Prehistoric Chinese people possessed needles made of various materials, ranging from crude thorns and quills to bone, bamboo, pottery, and stone. But just as the history of the knife is not the history of surgery, so the invention of needles and that of acupuncture are two entirely different things. Needles have historically been among the most commonly used tools of daily life for constructing garments all over the world. Medically, needles are used to suture incisions just as making up clothes with darners, hollow syringe needles (as differentiated from a solid needle used in acupuncture) are applied to inject fluids into the body or draw them from it, but pricking a solid needle into the body to treat illness seems very strange and enigmatical. In English, “to give somebody the needle” means to displease or irritate someone. Most people prefer not to be punctured with needles, and associate needling with pain and injury. Many plants and animals have evolved thorns or quills as powerful weapons for protection or attack. Needles were even used for punishment in ancient China. By trial and error, healers throughout the world have found treatments for pain and other diseases independently, for instances, herbs, roots, wraps, rubs, blood-letting and surgery, but acupuncture alone is unique to Chinese. Considering the unique Chinese origin of acupuncture, it is reasonable to assume that the invention of acupuncture was not related to the availability of either sewing needles or bian shi stone scalpels during China’s Neolithic Age.
The second premise supporting the theory of the Neolithic origins of acupuncture holds that acupuncture evolved as a natural outgrowth of daily life in prehistoric times. It is thought that through a process of fortuitous accident and repeated empirical experience, it was discovered that needling various points on the body could effectively treat various conditions. However, this assumption is lacking in both basic historical evidence and a logical foundation.
It is known that ancient people were aware of situations in which physical problems were relieved following unrelated injury. Such a case was reported by Zhang Zihe (c. 1156-1228 AD), one of the four eminent physicians of the Jin and Yuan Dynasties (1115-1368 AD) and a specialist in blood-letting therapy: “Bachelor Zhao Zhongwen developed an acute eye problem during his participation in the imperial examination. His eyes became red and swollen, accompanied by blurred vision and severe pain. The pain was so unbearable that he contemplated death. One day, Zhao was in teahouse with a friend. Suddenly, a stovepipe fell and hit him on the forehead, causing a wound about 3-4 cun in length and letting copious amounts of dark purple blood. When the bleeding stopped, a miracle had occurred. Zhao’s eyes stopped hurting; he could see the road and was able to go home by himself. The next day he could make out the ridge of his roof. Within several days, he was completely recovered. This case was cured with no intentional treatment but only accidental trauma (2).”
If acupuncture did, in fact, gradually develop as the result of such fortuitous accidents, China’s four thousand years of recorded history should include numerous similar accounts concerning the discovery of the acupoints and their properties. But my extensive search of the immense Chinese medical canon and other literature has yielded only this single case. Actually, this story offers at most an example of blood-letting therapy, which differs in some essential regards from acupuncture. The point of blood-letting therapy is to remove a certain amount of blood. But when puncturing the body with solid needles, nothing is added to or subtracted from the body.
Blood-letting therapy is universal. Throughout recorded history, people around the world have had similar experiences with the beneficial results of accidental injury, and have developed healing methods based on the principle that injuring and inducing bleeding in one part of the body can relieve problems in another area. The ancient Greeks and Romans developed venesection and cupping based on the discovery that bleeding is beneficial in cases such as fever, headache, and disordered menstruation. Europeans during the Middle Ages used blood-letting as a panacea for the prevention and treatment of disease. Detailed directions were given concerning the most favorable days and hours for blood-letting, the correct veins to be tapped, the amount of blood to be taken, and the number of bleedings. Blood was usually taken by opening a vein with a lancet, but sometimes by blood-sucking leeches or with the use of cupping vessels. Blood-letting using leeches is still practiced in some areas of Europe and the Middle East. However, nowhere did these blood-letting methods develop into a detailed and comprehensive system comparable to that of acupuncture. If acupuncture did indeed arise from repeated empirical experience of accidental injury, it should have developed all over the world, rather than just in China.
Both historical evidence and logic indicate that there is no causal relation between the development of materials and techniques for making needles and the invention of acupuncture. It is also clear that repeated experience of fortuitous accidental injury was not a primary factor in the development of acupuncture. Therefore, the generally accepted theory concerning the Neolithic origins of acupuncture, based as it is upon such faulty premises, must be incorrect. It is now necessary to reconsider when acupuncture did, in fact, first appear and subsequently mature.
Reconsidering the evidence
If acupuncture did indeed originate during China’s Neolithic Age, references to it should appear throughout China’s earliest written records and archaeological relics. However, this is not the case.
Early cultures believed the world to be filled with the supernatural, and developed various methods of divination. During China’s Shang Dynasty (c. 1500-1000 BC), divination was practiced by burning animal bones and tortoise shells with moxa or other materials. Oracular pronouncements were then inscribed on the bone or shell, based on the resulting crackles. These inscriptions have survived as the earliest examples of written Chinese characters. Among the hundreds of thousands of inscribed oracle bones and shells found to date, 323 contain predictions concerning over twenty different diseases and disorders. However, none of these inscriptions mention acupuncture, or any other form of treatment for that matter.
Rites of the Zhou Dynasty (Zhou Li), written during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), records in detail the official rituals and regulations of the Zhou Dynasty (c. 1000-256 BC), including those concerning medicine. Royal doctors at that time were divided into four categories: dieticians, who were responsible for the rulers’ food and drink; doctors of internal medicine, who treated diseases and disorders with grains and herbs; surgeons, or yang yi, who treated problems such as abscesses, open sores, wounds, and fractures using zhuyou (incantation), medication, and debridement (using stone or metal knives to scrape and remove pus and necrotic tissue); and veterinarians, who treated animals. But this document as well contains no references to acupuncture.
Neijing (c. 104-32 BC) is the first known work concerning acupuncture. The classic consists of two parts: Suwen – Simple Questions, and Lingshu – the Spiritual Pivot, also known as The Classic of Acupuncture (Zhen Jing). Both are concerned primarily with the theory and practice of acupuncture and moxibustion. Although authorship of the Neijing is attributed to Huang Di, the legendary Yellow Emperor (c. 2650 BC), most scholars consider that this master work, which contains excerpts from more than twenty pre-existing medical treatises, was actually compiled between 104 BC and 32 BC, during the latter part of the Western Han dynasty (206 BC-24 AD). The comprehensive and highly developed nature of the medical system presented in the Neijing has led scholars to believe that needling therapy has an extremely long history, probably reaching back to prehistoric times. The original versions of the ancient texts used in the compilation of the Neijing have been lost, and with them the opportunity to further illuminate the question of when acupuncture actually first appeared. However, startling new archaeological evidence, unearthed in China in the early 1970s and 1980s, reveals the true state of Chinese medicine prior to the Neijing, and challenges existing assumptions concerning the Neolithic origins of acupuncture.
In late 1973, fourteen medical documents, known as the Ancient Medical Relics of Mawangdui, were excavated from Grave No. 3 at Mawangdui, Changsha, Hunan Province. Ten of the documents were hand-copied on silk, and four were written on bamboo slips. The exact age of the Ancient Medical Relics of Mawangdui has not been determined. However, a wooden tablet found in the grave states that the deceased was the son of Prime Minister Li Chang of the state of Changsha, and that he was buried on February 24, 168 BC. The unsystematic and empirical nature of the material contained in the documents indicates that they were written well before their interment in 168 BC, probably around the middle of the Warring States Period (475-221 BC). In any event, it is certain that these medical documents pre-date the Neijing (compiled c. 104-32 BC), making them the oldest known medical documents in existence. These documents were probably lost sometime during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 AD), since no mention of them has been found from this time until their rediscovery in 1973.
Another valuable medical find, The Book of the Meridians (Mai Shu), was excavated from two ancient tombs at Zhangjiashan in Jiangling County, Hubei Province in 1983. These ancient texts, written on bamboo slips and quite well preserved, were probably buried between 187 and 179 BC, around the same time as the Mawangdui relics. There are five documents in all, three of which (The Classic of Moxibustion with Eleven Yin-Yang Meridians, Methods of Pulse Examination and Bian Stone, and Indications of Death on the Yin-Yang Meridians) are identical to the texts found at Mawangdui.
There is abundant evidence to show that the authors of the Neijing used the earlier medical texts from Mawangdui and Zhangjiashan as primary references, further indicating the antiquity of these relics. For example, Chapter 10 of the Lingshu section of the Neijing contains a discussion of the meridians and their disorders that is very similar, in both form and content, to that found in the Classic of Moxibustion with Eleven Yin-Yang Meridians, one of the documents found at both Mawangdui and Zhangjiashan.
Of course, the Neijing did not simply reproduce these earlier documents, but rather refined and developed them, and introduced new therapeutic methods. The earlier Classic of Moxibustion with Eleven Yin-Yang Meridians is limited to moxibustion, while Chapter 10 of the Lingshu section of the Neijing mentions needling therapy, or acupuncture, for the first time. Although the medical texts preceding the Neijing discuss a wide variety of healing techniques, including herbal medicine, moxibustion, fomentation, medicinal bathing, bian stone therapy, massage, daoyin (physical exercises), xingqi (breathing exercises), zhuyou (incantation), and even surgery, these earlier documents contain no mention of acupuncture.
If needling therapy did indeed originate much earlier than the Neijing (c. 104-32 BC), the medical documents unearthed from Mawangdui and Zhangjiashan, very probably used as primary references by the Neijing’s authors, should also contain extensive discussions of acupuncture. However, they do not. This clearly indicates that acupuncture was not yet in use at the time that the Mawangdui and Zhangjiashan documents were compiled. Of course, it is not possible to draw a detailed picture of the state of acupuncture early in the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-24 AD) based solely on the medical relics from Mawangdui and Zhangjiashan. But the fact that these documents were considered valuable enough to be buried with the deceased indicates that they do reflect general medical practice at the time.
The Historical Records (Shi Ji) (c. 104-91 BC) by Sima Qian contains evidence that acupuncture was first used approximately one hundred years prior to the compilation of the Neijing (c. 104-32 BC). The Historical Records, China’s first comprehensive history, consists of a series of biographies reaching from the time of the legendary Yellow Emperor (c. 2650 BC) to Emperor Wudi (156-87 BC) of the Western Han Dynasty. Among these are biographies of China’s two earliest medical practitioners, Bian Que and Cang Gong. Bian Que’s given name was Qin Yueren. It is known that he lived from 407-310 BC, during the late Warring States Period (475-221 BC), and was a contemporary of Hippocrates (c. 460-377 BC), the father of Western medicine. Bian Que’s life was surrounded by an aura of mystery which makes it difficult to separate fact from legend. His name means Wayfaring Magpie – a bird which symbolizes good fortune. It is said that an old man gave Bian Que a number of esoteric medical texts and an herbal prescription, and then disappeared. Bian Que took the medicine according to the mysterious visitor’s instructions. Thirty days later, he could see through walls. Thereafter, whenever he diagnosed disease, he could clearly see the internal organs of his patients’ bodies. Like the centaur Chiron, son of Apollo, who is sometimes regarded as the god of surgery in the West, Bian Que is considered to be a supernatural figure, and the god of healing. A stone relief, unearthed from a tomb dating back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), depicts him with a human head on a bird’s body (3). The Historical Records states that Bian Que successfully resuscitated the prince of the State of Guo using a combination of acupuncture, fomentation, and herbal medicine. Bian Que is thus considered to be the founder of acupuncture, and to have made the first recorded use of acupuncture during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC).
More solid evidence connects the birth of acupuncture with the famous ancient physician Chunyu Yi (c. 215-140 BC), popularly known as Cang Gong. Cang Gong’s life and work are described in detail in the Historical Records. The Historical Records state that in 180 BC, Cang Gong’s teacher gave him a number of precious medical texts that had escaped the book-burnings of the last days of the Great Qin Empire (221-207 BC). At that time, adherents of all opposing schools of thought were executed or exiled, and almost all books not conforming to the rigid Legalist doctrines that dominated the Qin Dynasty were burned. Although medical texts escaped the disaster, their owners still feared persecution. The banned books that Cang Gong received might have included a number whose titles appear in the Ancient Medical Relics of Mawangdui, such as the Classic of Moxibustion with Eleven Yin-Yang Meridians, Classic of Moxibustion with Eleven Foot-Arm Meridians, Method of Pulse Examination and Bian Stone, Therapeutic Methods for 52 Diseases, Miscellaneous Forbidden Methods, and The Book of Sex.
Cang Gong’s biography in the Historical Records discusses twenty-five of his cases, dating from approximately 186 BC to 154 BC. These cases studies, the earliest in recorded Chinese history, give a clear picture of how disease was treated over 2100 years ago. Of the twenty-five cases, ten were diagnosed as incurable and the patients died as predicted. Of the fifteen that were cured, eleven were treated with herbal medicine, two with moxibustion in combination with herbal medicine, one with needling, and one with needling in combination with pouring cold water on the patient’s head. It can be seen from this material that Cang Gong used herbal medicine as his primary treatment, and acupuncture and moxibustion only secondarily. His use of moxibustion adheres strictly to the doctrines recorded in the medial relics from Mawangdui and Zhangjiashan. Although only two of Cang Gong’s moxibustion cases are recorded in the Historical Records, it is known that he was expert in its use, and that he wrote a book called Cang Gong’s Moxibustion. Unfortunately, this book has been lost. In comparison with his wide-ranging utilization of herbal medicine and moxibustion, Cang Gong applied needling therapy very sparingly. Neither of Cang Gong’s two recorded acupuncture cases mentions specific acupoints or how the needles were manipulated, indicating that needling therapy at the time was still in its initial stage.
Although acupuncture was not in common use during Cang Gong’s day, his two recorded acupuncture patients were cured with only one treatment, indicating the efficacy of the nascent therapy. The rapid development of acupuncture was soon to follow. By the time the Neijing was compiled (c. 104-32 BC), approximately one hundred years after the time of Cang Gong, acupuncture had supplanted herbs and moxibustion as the treatment of choice. Only thirteen herbal prescriptions are recorded in the Neijing, compared with hundreds utilizing acupuncture.
Archaeological excavations of Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-24 AD) tombs have yielded a number of important medical relics related to acupuncture, in addition to the Neijing and Historical Records. In July of 1968, nine metal needles were excavated at Mancheng, Hebei Province from the tomb of Prince Liu Sheng (?-113 BC) of Zhongshan, elder brother of Emperor Wu Di (156-87 BC) of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-24 AD). Four of the needles are gold and quite well preserved, while five are silver and decayed to the extent that it was not possible to restore them completely. The number and shapes of the excavated needles indicate that they may have been an exhibit of the nine types of acupuncture needles described in the Neijing. This possibility is supported by the fact that a number of additional medical instruments were found in the tomb. These included a bronze yigong (practitioner’s basin) used for decocting medicinal herbs or making pills, a bronze sieve used to filter herbal decoctions, and a silver utensil used to pour medicine (4). Although many prehistoric bone needles have been unearthed, the fact that they have eyes indicates that they were used for sewing. Some scholars have inferred that prehistoric Chinese people may have used bone needles found with no eyes or with points on both ends for medical purposes. However, I believe that it is rash to draw such a conclusion based solely on relics that have lain buried for thousands of years. Rather, it is likely that the eyes of these needles have simply decayed over the millennia.
A thorough reevaluation of all extant literature, as well as documents and archaeological relics unearthed since the 1960s, confirms that acupuncture is not as ancient as has generally been assumed, and that it did not, in fact, appear and gradually develop during China’s Neolithic Age (c. 8000-3500 BC). Rather, this great invention arose quite suddenly and rapidly developed approximately two millennia ago. All evidence indicates that acupuncture first appeared during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), during the time of Bian Que, developed during the early Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-24 AD), during the time of Cang Gong, and had fully matured by the latter part of the Western Han Dynasty, at the time of the compilation of the Neijing (c. 104-32 BC).
The Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-24 AD) provided fertile ground for the rapid growth and maturation of acupuncture as a comprehensive medical system. The previous centuries had seen the blossoming of Chinese culture during the intellectual give-and-take of the Spring and Autumn (770-476 BC) and Warring States (475-221 BC) periods. The subsequent territorial unification of China by the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC) laid a foundation for the cultural integration of the diverse states. Taken in the context of China’s four thousand years of recorded history, the Western Han Dynasty was a period of intensive social and cultural advancement. Acupuncture is unique. Its invention of acupuncture in China at this time was the result of the development and unique convergence of several aspects of Chinese culture during this time, including natural science, social structure and human relations, and most importantly, holistic philosophy.
1. Acupuncture: An extraordinary therapeutic method over two millennia old
Acupuncture treats diseases by the insertion of fine needles into the body. In July of 1971, Dr. Henry A. Kissinger made a secret trip to China to prepare for President Nixon’s historical visit. Among his entourage was James Reston, a journalist from the New York Times. While in China, Reston suffered an attack of acute appendicitis and underwent an appendectomy at the Beijing Union Medical College, established by the Rockefeller Foundation of New York in 1916. During the second night after the operation, Reston started to experience considerable discomfort in his abdomen.
With his approval, an acupuncturist at the hospital inserted and manipulated three long thin needles, one into the outer part of his right elbow and one below each knee. There was noticeable relaxation of the abdominal pressure and distension within an hour, with no recurrence of the problem thereafter. James Reston included a detailed description of his experiences with acupuncture in his dispatches from Beijing. This was the first such report to reach the English-speaking citizens of the United States, at least the vast majority who had no daily contact with Asians.
By contrast, acupuncture has been known and practiced in China for over 2300 years. Qin Yueren, the earliest recorded Chinese practitioner, is considered to be the founder of acupuncture. A biography of Qin Yueren is included in the Records of the Grand Historian (Shi Ji), the masterwork of the eminent Chinese historian Sima Qian (135 – ? BC). It is known that Qin Yueren lived around 407-310 BC, and was a contemporary of Hippocrates (c. 460-377 BC), the father of Western medicine.
Qin Yueren traveled widely throughout the feudal states that compromised China during his time, treating men and women, old and young alike. As a result, he was given the auspicious appellation Bian Que, which means Wayfaring Magpie – a bird that flies here and there dispensing good fortune. Several carved stones, unearthed from a tomb dating back to the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 AD), portray him with a human head and a bird’s body.
On one occasion, while passing through the State of Guo (present-day Shan County in Henan Province), Bian Que learned that the Prince of Guo had died and his subjects were preparing to inter him. After careful examination, Bian Que believed that the prince had merely experienced a type of deep coma known as deathlike reversal. He successfully resuscitated the patient by needling an acupoint on the vertex of his head, and become known for bringing the dead back to life. This was the first recorded use of acupuncture in China.
Acupuncture is extraordinary. Needles have historically been among the most common tools of daily life, used for constructing garments all over the world. Just as needles are used to sew clothes, they are also utilized medically to suture incisions. While hollow syringes are used to inject fluids into the body or to draw them out, pricking the body with a solid acupuncture needle to treat illness seems quite incomprehensible. Most people prefer not to be punctured with needles, and associate needling with pain and injury. No wonder, to “needle” a person means to displease or to irritate in English. By trial and error, healers throughout the world have independently discovered similar treatments for pain and disease, including herbs, roots, wraps, rubs, blood-letting, massage, meditation, or surgery. But the invention of acupuncture is unique to China.
Why did the ancient Chinese begin to treat disease by puncturing the body with bare needles? A generally accepted answer to this question is that acupuncture evolved as a natural outgrowth of daily life in the Neolithic Age (c. 8000-3500 BC), through a process of fortuitous accident and repeated empirical experience. According to this theory, people noticed cases in which physical problems were relieved following an unrelated injury. This led to the discovery of the principle that injury to a certain part of the body can alleviate or even cure a pre-existing disease or disorder in a different part of the body.
It is thought that with this discovery, Neolithic Chinese people eventually started to use stones, animal bones, or pieces of bamboo to deliberately induce injury to relieve physical problems. The traumatic nature of acupuncture, which seems quite crude by modern standards, as well as its long history in China, seem to lend credence to the theory of its prehistoric origins. However, if acupuncture did indeed arise from repeated empirical experience of accidental injury, it should have developed all over the world, rather than solely in China.
2. Meridians of the Body: The rivers of the Earth in microcosm
According to traditional Chinese medicine, a network known as “meridians” is distributed throughout the human body, carrying Qi (vital energy) and blood to nourish the organs and tissues. Meridians of the human body are very similar to rivers of the earth in both structure and function. Rivers are the meridians of the Earth in macrocosm. They are the channels that contain the flow of water, the life force of our planet. On the microcosmic scale, the meridians of the human body are the channels that contain the flow of Qi and blood, the life force of living beings.
The ancient Chinese found that there are twelve Regular Meridians in the human body. The Neijing or Huangdi Nejing (the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic of Medicine) (compiled between 104-32 BC) is the seminal work of traditional Chinese medicine and the earliest extant medical exposition of acupuncture. The chapter entitled “Regular Watercourses (Jingshui)” deals specifically with the correspondences between the twelve Regular Meridians and the twelve major rivers in China. The rivers mentioned are located in the basins of the Changjiang River and the Yellow River.
The techniques and terminology of flood control offer a vivid analogy of the therapeutic mechanisms of acupuncture. Blockages in these “energy rivers” act as dams, obstructing the flow of Qi and blood and causing it to back up in connecting channels. Needling the acupoints removes the obstructions, curing disease by reestablishing the regular flow of Qi and blood. In the same way, dredging a river by clearing away sediment prevents flooding by allowing the water to flow freely. Similar descriptions of flood control and acupuncture have been used since acupuncture first appeared as a comprehensive system of healing early in China’s Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-24 AD). Such hydraulic terminology has been employed not simply for its evocative imagery. Rather, it indicates the understanding the Chinese ancestors have attained by this time of the correspondences between Nature and Human, river and meridian, flood and disease.
3. Dredging rather than Diking: The unparalleled mastery of flood control attained by the Chinese ancestors
China is located on an immense and steep continental slope, unlike any other in the world. The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, located in the western part of China, is the highest and geologically youngest plateau on Earth. It is known as the Roof of the World, with an average elevation of 4000-4500 meters. A Chinese saying states, “The higher the mountain towers, the higher the water rises.” The vast and cloud-kissed Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is the largest and highest natural water tower on Earth, storing snow precipitated from water vapor emitted by the world’s oceans and seas. As the compacted snow melts away under the sun, drop by drop, the liberated water flows naturally downward to the east and accumulates into tiny streams, which then converge into mighty torrents that empty back into the ocean.
China’s two longest rivers, the Yangtze River and the Yellow River, originate in the heights of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. They have been essential to agricultural development and population growth throughout China’s history. But due to the tremendous drop in altitude from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to sea level, water in these rivers flows extremely rapidly and may easily cause flooding. The Yellow River, the world’s muddiest river, is especially infamous for its destructive floods.
The Yellow River’s name refers to the vast quantities of yellow silt, or loess soil, it carries. Loess formations are extremely vulnerable to erosion by water. As the Yellow River winds through the Loess Plateau in northwestern China, the raging torrent picks up yellow silt in unusually large amounts and sweeps it downstream. As the river reaches flatter areas the current slows, depositing massive amounts of yellow silt and elevating the riverbed.
Attracted by the fertile lands of the Yellow River’s middle and lower reaches, the prehistoric ancestors of the Chinese people settled down along its banks to create a culture based on planting, fishing and hunting. However, these trailblazers were soon threatened by the river’s severe and protracted flooding. During the early stages, they may have resided on natural or artificial uplands or led nomadic lives to avoid flooding, while also imploring supernatural forces for help. But as their population increased, they had no other choice but to strive to harness the river’s enormous power.
This defining aspect of Chinese culture is reflected in one of China’s oldest and most popular legends, the story of how Great Yu controlled the flood. It is said that during the Wudi or Five Emperors Period (c. 2700 to 2000 BC), severe flooding spread over the country and brought great disaster to the people. Emperor Yao appointed his minister Gun to harness the river and control the waters. However, Gun’s attempts to obstruct the flood by erecting dikes and dams failed. Gun’s son Yu was appointed by the next emperor, Shun (c. 2100 BC), to continue his father’s work. Drawing a lesson from his father’s failure, Yu noticed and took advantage of the downward flowing nature of water. He dredged canals according to the physical features of the terrain, to lead the water finally to the sea. After thirteen years of hard work, the floods subsided.
It may be difficult to separate fact from legend in the case of Great Yu, but China’s long history of flood control is indisputable. The most valuable principle the ancient Chinese learned from their work with flood control was that dredging or diverting water to flow naturally downward is superior to diking or other attempts to obstruct the water’s passage.
The Dujiang Canal (Dujiang Yan), the most famous water conservancy project of ancient China and the entire ancient world, is a prime example of the use of dredging and water diversion for flood control. Completed in 256 BC, approximately contemporaneous with the appearance of acupuncture, the Dujiang Canal represents the peak of ancient Chinese hydraulic engineering. It has continued to play an important role in flood control, irrigation, and shipping up to the present day. The oldest operational water conservancy project in the world, the Dujiang Canal was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites in 2000.
The long history and unique mastery of flood control attained by the Chinese ancestors, exemplified by the Dujiang Canal, was a direct outgrowth of the geographical conditions they faced. Destructive floods are depicted in the myths and legends of many ancient nations, for instance, the story of Noah and the Flood in the Bible. However, there are no legends concerning flood control. This is a direct result of the physical environment of these ancient peoples.
Egypt has depended on the Nile River in both ancient times and modern times. Like a silver strip, the Nile flows across the Saharan desert, creating a corridor of life. Water is invaluable in the desert, creating oases wherever it appears. For the Egyptians, the yearly flooding of the Nile is a blessing rather than a disaster, irrigating and fertilizing the farmland of the Nile River Valley. This yearly flood is so vital to survival that the ancient Egyptians viewed it as the annual renewal of the first act of creation. If the waters did not rise high enough to innundate the surrounding farmland with water and fertile alluvial soil, drought and famine would result.
The ancient Egyptians therefore never developed flood control methods, and in fact prayed for the flood if it did not occur on time. Believing that the Nile god Hapi controlled the floods, they celebrated the yearly “Arrival of Hapi” and worshipped him with offerings, hoping that the Nile would rise up enough to provide both water and silt for the farmland.
The two rivers, the Yellow River and the Nile River, bring different gifts to their residents. While the flooding of the Nile River fertilizes farmland in Egypt directly, “China’s Sorrow” inspired ancient people to create a unique healing method.
4. Clearing the Meridians with Needles: Using the laws of the Nature to cure the ills of the human body
A fundamental concept of Chinese philosophy is the “Unity of Humanity and Heaven.” It implies that Humanity, Society, and Nature form an integrated system, and that each part is similarly constituted and governed by the same laws. Laozi (c. 6th century BC), the founder of Daoism, states: “Humanity is modeled upon Earth, Earth is modeled upon Heaven, Heaven is modeled upon the Dao, and the Dao is Nature itself.”
This holistic model of thinking was widely applied in the field of medicine. The early Chinese physicians were philosophers as well. They believed that the processes of the human body may be understood by observing and analyzing the phenomena of the universe, and that the disorders of Humanity can be managed using the principles of Nature. Therefore they held that medical practitioners should not only study the human body, but also should “know Heaven above and Earth below.”
The ancient Chinese philosopher-physicians realized that since the rivers and meridians are similar in structure, the flow of water in the rivers and the flow of Qi and blood in the meridians adhere to the same rules, and that their disorders can therefore be similarly managed. If a river course becomes silted up, the water in the river, which by nature flows downward, will overflow and result in flooding. If a meridian is obstructed, the Qi and blood it carries, which by nature flow in a circulatory path, will become stagnant and various disorders may occur. The healers of the human body therefore cleared the meridians by puncturing with needles to promote the flow of Qi and blood and cure disease, just as the healers of the Earth dredged the river courses using picks and shovels to direct the waters and control the flood.
The twelve Regular Meridians are distributed throughout the body, forming a network that links the upper and lower, and the internal and external, into an organic whole. The Qi and blood flow through the meridians to nourish the entire body. Furthermore, specific sites, called Caves of Qi (qixue) or acupoints, are located on the skin along the pathways of the meridians. These sites are often located in small depressions, usually between the muscles, tendons, bones, or in bony holes. When one is ill, the flow of Qi and blood slows, tending to stagnate at the indented sites which lead to obstruction of the meridians. Insertion of fine needles into these points can effectively promote the flow of Qi and blood and remove obstructions, promoting recovery.
Clearing the meridians of the human body with needling to allow the free circulation of the body’s energy is a direct application of the central principle of effective flood control – encouraging the desired flow by clearing channels rather than by erecting barriers.
The authors of the Neijing express the correspondence between flood control and acupuncture in this way: “Those versed in the laws of Nature excavate a pond at its lowest point, so that the water within the pond can be drained off and strenuous labor avoided. According to the same logic, they dredge the meridians at the acupoints, the cave-like depressions where Qi and blood deposits. In this way, the meridians can be freed with ease.”
5. Acupuncture: A true symbol of traditional Chinese culture
Rivers originate from mountains and empty into the seas. The erosion of soil at the upper reaches is the principal cause of flooding, so the most effective means of flood control is to conserve water and soil at the upper reaches. The meridians originate at the ends of limbs and end at the abdomen, chest, and head. Therefore, when using acupuncture to treat disease, headache is not treated by needling the head, but rather by needling the feet. Acupuncture, in its use of the laws of Nature to cure the ills of the human body, offers a visible expression of the concepts of Chinese holistic philosophy. The practice of needling the lower part of the body to cure the upper, and treating the outer to heal the inner is nothing less than holism made visible.
Acupuncture developed into its full form no later than the 2nd century BC, around the same time that the Chinese ancestors perfected their principles of flood control in the great Dujiang Canal water conservancy project. Just as water always flows downward, the theory and practice of acupuncture have never undergone fundamental change. Since its inception, satisfactory results have been achieved by puncturing the same sites with the same instruments.
An acupuncture needle may seem unromantic, but it represents the essence of traditional Chinese culture. Acupuncture is not merely a healing art, but a vivid symbol of thousands of years of Chinese culture.
Acupuncture is unique, original and representative. Not only does acupuncture exemplify the height of traditional Chinese culture, but its continued use over thousands of years confirms the value of the Chinese holistic principles that it embodies. The stability and vitality of acupuncture demonstrate why Chinese civilization has endured for over five thousands years.
6. Acupuncture: Over 1500 years of globalization
The worldwide dissemination of acupuncture can be divided into four stages. Acupuncture has spread to at least 140 countries and areas to date.
First Stage: By around the 6th century AD, acupuncture had begun to spread to the neighboring lands of Korea, Vietnam, and Japan. Particularly in Japan, the fundamental texts of acupuncture were imported, absorbed, and studied with great care.
541 AD: Chinese practitioners are dispatched to Korea by the Chinese government.
552 AD: The emperor of China presents Japan a copy of the Classic of Acupuncture (a section of the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine (Huangdi Neijing).
562 AD: Monk Zhi Cong brings the Manual of Channels and Acupoints (Mingtang Tu) and the Systematic Classic of Acupuncture and Moxibustion (Zhenjiu Jiayijing) to Korea and Japan.
754 AD: Jian Zhen, a high official of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), crosses the sea to Japan to promulgate Buddhism and Chinese medicine.
Second Stage: By around the 12th century AD, acupuncture had started to reach the Middle East via the Silk Road.
Third Stage: By the late 1500’s to early 1600’s, acupuncture had begun to filter into Europe by way of Japan and the Maritime Silk Road, transmitted by the Jesuits in particular.
1671 AD: Harvieu, a Jesuit monk, produces the first French translation of a work on acupuncture when he returns to France from Macao and Beijing.
1683 AD: Willem Ten Rhyne, a Dutch physician who visited Nagasaki in Japan in the early part of the 17th century, publishes Dissertatio de Arthride: Mantissa Schematica de Acupunctura, a Latin dissertation on acupuncture, in London and invents the European term “acupuncture.”
1810 AD: The first recorded use of acupuncture in Europe occurs at the Paris School of Medicine when Dr. Berlioz employs it to treat a young woman suffering from abdominal pain. The Paris Medical Society describes this as a somewhat reckless form of treatment.
1823 AD: Acupuncture is mentioned in the first edition of the Lancet.
Fourth Stage: Since the early 1970s, acupuncture has spread dramatically throughout the world, catalyzed by Nixon’s historic visit to China and popularized by the World Health Organization (WHO).
1971: James Reston reports on his experience with acupuncture in Beijing in the New York Times. This article represents the first news of acupuncture to reach the English-speaking citizens of the United States, or at least the vast majority who have no daily contact with Asians.
1973: The American Journal of Acupuncture starts publication, playing an important role in the clinical practice and study of acupuncture in the West.
1976: Dr. Bruce Pomeranz, a professor in the Department of Zoology at the University of Toronto, publishes an original article stating that analgesia in acupuncture is mediated by endorphins. His research is the first to utilize the Western scientific paradigm to explain why acupuncture works.
1979: An international conference on acupuncture, moxibustion, and acupuncture anesthesia sponsored by WHO is held in Beijing and attended by participants from twelve countries. Its purpose is to discuss ways in which priorities and standards for acupuncture may be determined in the areas of clinical practice, research, training, and transfer of technology. The conference draws up a provisional list of diseases that lend themselves to treatment with acupuncture.
Acupuncture and Moxibustion is a medical treatment that has been practiced for thousands of years in China and other Asian countries as well as now around the world. It is used as a means of treating and preventing disease. Acupuncture treatment involves the insertion of fine, sterile needles into specific sites (acupuncture points) along the body’s meridians to clear energy blockages and encourage the normal flow of energy (Qi) through the individual.
The general theory of acupuncture is based on the premise that there are patterns of energy flow (Qi) through the body that are essential for health. Disruptions of this flow are believed to be responsible for disease. Acupuncture corrects imbalances of flow at identifiable points close to the skin. Today, acupuncture is an effective, natural and increasingly popular form of health care that is used by people whole over the world.
Acupuncture needles are so fine that there is no discomfort when they are inserted but a slight tingle (known as needle sensation) may be experienced. The needles are usually left in for approximately twenty minutes to more; during this time there may be a heaviness of the limbs and a feeling of relaxation. The Doctor / practitioner may also stimulate the acupuncture points using other methods, such as moxibustion (a traditional technique that involves the burning of mugwort, a small, spongy herb used to facilitate healing), cupping and electro-stimulation etc. in order to re-establish the flow of qi.
Since Acupuncture and moxibustion Medicine promotes the body’s natural healing ability, many conditions can be treated. It is also a comprehensive system of preventative health care and maintenance. The effectiveness of acupuncture is well-documented. Throughout its long history, acupuncture has established a solid reputation as an excellent alternative for health care that actually works, and is very effective to treat some diseases, where other methods of treatment could not achieve good result or failed.
An Acupuncture medicine doctor should possess adequate knowledge and experience for providing proper treatment to his/her patients. To avoid the unwanted complications in Acupuncture treatment please avoid taking treatment by quack / fake Acupuncturist. There are many around us without proper qualifications. Because inadequate knowledge and experience may lead to serious medical problems.
The World Health Organization recognizes Acupuncture as a viable means of treatment for a wide range of conditions. In an official report, Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials, the WHO has listed the following symptoms, diseases and conditions that have been shown through controlled trials to be treated effectively by acupuncture:
low back pain, neck pain, sciatica, tennis elbow, knee pain, periarthritis of the shoulder, sprains, facial pain (including craniomandibular disorders), headache, dental pain, tempromandibular (TMJ) dysfunction, rheumatoid arthritis, induction of labor, correction of malposition of fetus (breech presentation), morning sickness, nausea and vomiting, postoperative pain, stroke, essential hypertension, primary hypotension, renal colic, leucopenia, adverse reactions to radiation or chemotherapy, allergic rhinitis, including hay fever, biliary colic, depression (including depressive neurosis and depression following stroke), acute bacillary dysentery, primary dysmenorrhea, acute epigastralgia, peptic ulcer, acute and chronic gastritis.
In the field of acupuncture some good clinical researches have been completed, and there has also been some follow-up assessment of many of the conditions that have been treated by Acupuncture Doctors. Some diseases are more successfully treated by acupuncture and Moxibustion where other methods of treatment could not achieve good result or failed. Though this method of treatment has already been started in our country but due to quite less number of medically qualified acupuncture doctors available in our country and lack of proper perception about the application of this method in some specific diseases, the patients are depriving from the advantages of Acupuncture & Moxibustion treatment.
So, I have made an attempt to provide little information about the effects of Acupuncture and Moxibustion in few diseases. Many of the facts and figures quoted in the following sections are the results of my own experience and clinical trials carried out in China and others countries.
Diseases of the Muscles, Bones and Joints:
The muscles, bones and joints are usually called collectively the musculo-skeletal system. When disease or damage occurs to this system it nearly always results in pain, and most people use words such as rheumatism or arthritis to describe this type of pain.
There are three main types of damage that occur to the musculo-skeletal system; the first is a sudden injury or sprain which might be a domestic injury, or might be incurred during a sporting activity or in a car accident. This usually causes local pain and bruising lasting for a few days, or even a few weeks or more. The other main group is arthritis and this can be divided into two important types, Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Sprains: Sudden injury or sprains usually respond well to acupuncture. The pain resulting from a sprained shoulder, ankle etc will often continue for some days or weeks after the initial injury. Once a clear diagnosis has been made acupuncture can usually be used to relieve this type of pain.
The experience of a many of Acupuncture doctors, shows that, of the people treated for differing acutely painful conditions, about 70 percent obtain swift and significant pain relief. If a fracture of the bone is present then the pain relief gained from acupuncture is less effective than if the injury is due to a strain or tear of the muscles, tendons or ligaments. The main advantage of treating these acute pains with acupuncture is that chronic pain can be avoided. A sudden shoulder injury may produce pain and immobility for many months, sometimes years, but if acupuncture is used when the pain occurs then it seems that chronic pain may be avoided.
Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis and the rheumatic pains that result from this type of joint damage are quite a common problem. People frequently complain that their arthritic knee pain is worse in cold or damp weather and this demonstrates quite clearly the origin of the concept of pathogens in traditional medicine. The pathogen in osteoarthritis is almost always cold or damp and therefore these pains should be treated by moxibustion.
A great deal of research work has been done to investigate the effects of acupuncture on the pain caused by osteoarthritis. Clinical trials have been completed on knee, hip, elbow, neck and lower back pain, and the information from these trials shows that significant pain relief can be achieved in about 70 per cent of those who receive acupuncture. Some work suggests that only 50 per cent of people benefit from acupuncture while other trials show 95 per cent of the patients benefiting. Acupuncture also has a ‘magical quality’ that drugs do not have, so it is difficult to sort out the effects of the ‘magic’ as compared to the real effects of acupuncture. In spite of these problems, acupuncture is a safe and effective form of treatment for osteoarthritis.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: The effects of acupuncture on rheumatoid arthritis are not so clear cut. During the early, acute, inflammatory stage of rheumatoid arthritis there is some evidence to suggest that Acupuncture might worsen the pain (though which usually may subside gradually) and therefore many acupuncturists do not treat acute rheumatoid arthritis. After some months the acute inflammatory stage subsides and the residual joint destruction may then lead to the development of a secondary osteoarthritis. This type of pain is amenable to acupuncture and responds in the same way as other osteoarthritic aches and pains. Chronic pain, due to disease of the musculo-skeletal system, is frequently amenable to acupuncture treatment. The published research shows that pain which has been present for many years can respond as well as pain that has been present for only a few months; therefore, from the available information, it is fair to say that acupuncture is ‘always worth a try’ in this type of condition.
Headaches: Headaches can be due to a multitude of factors; arthritis of the neck, dental problems, psychological problems, sinusitis, stress and tension, and head injury are a few of the many causes. Headaches are a common complaint and a notoriously difficult one to treat effectively, and they can be the cause of a considerable amount of distress and marital disharmony. Acupuncture treatment has been used to treat a wide variety of headaches, particularly migrainous headaches, and the results obtained have been very encouraging. The published work suggests that between 65-95 per cent of all headache sufferers obtain significant and long lasting pain relief from acupuncture treatment. Migraines seem to respond as well as, if not better than, other types of headache. Acupuncture therapy for headaches may cause the headaches to vanish completely, or occur with a markedly decreased intensity and/or frequency. The pain relief resulting from acupuncture treatment can sometimes be maintained for some years and re-treatment is usually required less frequently for headaches.
Diseases of the Nervous System:
Strokes: A stroke is caused by a disturbance of the blood supply to the brain. The blood vessels that normally supply blood to the brain can be compromised by becoming blocked or bleeding. This result in a deficient blood supply to the brain tissue and these events can be precipitated by a variety of factors such as raised blood pressure, hardening of the arteries and severe head injury. The brain is divided into many different functional areas, one area controlling speech, while another dominates the sensations of touch and pain. The functional impairment that occurs with a stroke depends on the area of the brain that is damaged; if the speech area is damaged by a lack of blood supply then the patient may be unable to speak properly. In China, acupuncture is the standard treatment for strokes. In the Western countries, the mainstays of stroke treatment are speech therapy, physiotherapy and occupational therapy, but the Chinese feel that these methods have less to offer than acupuncture medicine. Both scalp and body acupuncture are techniques that can be used to aid recovery from a stroke. The research work suggests that acupuncture increases the blood supply to the brain, and for some unexplained reason this seems to improve functional ability and acts as a stimulus to recovery after a stroke.
Clinical trials completed by the Chinese doctor’s state that some effect can be gained from acupuncture in about 80 per cent of strokes. The success rate claimed is very high but to some extent this success rate is mirrored by the experience of a variety of doctors in the West. Western medicine often has little to offer the stroke patient and therefore acupuncture therapy is always worth considering. Ideally strokes should be treated within six months of the damage occurring. The Chinese doctors also treat their patients for long periods and a stroke patient may receive one hundred or two hundred acupuncture treatment sessions before being declared a success or a failure.
The Neuralgias (Nerve Pain): Trigeminal neuralgia usually presents with severe unilateral facial pain. Its cause is unclear but the painful facial spasms are often precipitated by cold or wind. The Chinese acupuncturist claim to be able to gain improvement, with acupuncture, in about 70 per cent of cases of trigeminal neuralgia. Judging by the experience of Western acupuncturists this success rate represents a rather high figure, although acupuncture can undoubtedly have a beneficial effect on this type of pain.
Postherpetic neuralgia is the pain that occurs after an attack of shingles. Shingles is a viral infection of the nerves, and the nerves affected by shingles can occasionally continue to cause severe pain after the shingles has cleared. It seems that of those patients with established postherpetic neuralgia, about 40 per cent gain some degree of long term benefit from acupuncture treatment. There are a vast number of aches and pains that are often described as neuralgic. Many of these occur as facial pain and most of them cause severe discomfort. It is always worthwhile to attempt to alleviate these pains by using acupuncture treatment.
Anxiety, Depression, Insomnia and Other Nervous Disorders: It is difficult to be objective about the treatment of disorders such as anxiety, Insomnia and depression, as the problems themselves are difficult to assess objectively, and therefore no good clear figures are available about their treatment with acupuncture. In spite of this, many acupuncture doctors, including the Chinese, treat a wide range of ‘mental disorders’ and insomnia (sleep problem) with acupuncture. Many people have stated that acupuncture is clearly effective in helping symptoms such as insomnia and bed-wetting, and can also create a feeling of general well-being. The Chinese doctors have completed trials on some of the more clearly defined and serious mental diseases, such as schizophrenia. In a trial involving over 400 patients they claim a 54 per cent cure rate for this disease, with a further 30 per cent showing ‘significant improvement’. However, from a variety of excellent research papers it is clear that acupuncture can influence quite radically many areas of the central nervous system, as well as neurotransmitters and others brain functions also. Therefore this therapy has a great role in brain related problems or neuro-developmental dysfunction.
Nerve Paralysis: Paralysis can also be treated by a variety of acupuncture techniques. The acupuncture must be continued for a long period. Sometimes daily for six months and the results from some of the Chinese research works are very encouraging. Chinese doctors claim that some 50-60 per cent of patients are likely to gain significant return of function if treated with acupuncture.
Facial paralysis (Bell’s palsy) is a disease of sudden onset that causes one side of the face to lose muscular power; the cause of this is unknown. Acupuncture and moxibustion can be used to treat this and the research claim a 75 per cent complete recovery rate but, again, this disease allows a significant percentage of spontaneous recovery. The Chinese research also claim that a further 20 per cent gain benefit from acupuncture, although not complete recovery. Even allowing for the known level of spontaneous resolution in facial paralysis it does seem that acupuncture has something extra to offer.
Parkinson’s disease, Epilepsy, nerve deafness etc: Acupuncture has been claimed to be effective in Parkinson’s disease, Cerebral Palsy, Epilepsy, nerve deafness, and a large variety of other problems. According to some studies, Parkinson’s disease may be accompanied by an imbalance of energy along one or more meridians. The muscle stiffness, soreness, imbalance etc. of Parkinson’s may be alleviated by a series of treatments. It is always wise to remember that acupuncture is a harmless technique and can sometimes give excellent results in above casese where other medical methods have failed.
Autism /ASD, Cerebral Palsy etc: Acupuncture along with herbal therapy have been found highly effective for treating children with brain dysfunction, resulting in improvement in the patient’s overall functional abilities. Excellent results are being achieved through simultaneous application of Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine in the cases of ASD / Autism and Cerebral Palsy in different countries of the world. There are several research papers, articles etc. that has been published all over the world about the efficacy of Acupuncture and Herbal Medicines in this context. In my clinical practice I am also getting very effective result by applying integration of Acupuncture and Herbal treatment. I noticed that, formulated Herbal Medicine along with acupuncture session gives much result other than only Acupuncture treatment or only Herbal Medicine. Like other diseases, I treated several patients. Some of them improved tremendously just after few days of treatment.
ADD and ADHD: Acupuncture can help the patient to manage the Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), and may provide some relief which will help the patient to gain greater benefit from the therapies available to him or her, and can help with the side effects of those therapies. Taking advantage of everything the medical knowledge of both hemispheres has to offer is a great way to ensure the most effective treatment for this disruptive, often limiting and painful condition. Acupuncture can be an excellent complementary therapy for the treatment of ADD and ADHD. In some cases Acupuncture works as a magic bullet for the treatment of ADD and ADHD. A research showed that, Acupuncture treatment has a good effect on infantile attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, its total effective rate was higher and the changes in abnormal electroencephalogram and the curative effect were better.
Diseases of the Digestive System:
IBS: An increasing number of studies have been conducted on treating IBS, with promising results. These studies have documented that Chinese medicine can effectively treat IBS in a safe and drug-free way.
Indigestion: Exact figures for success rates are not available, but the ‘clinical impression’ that arises from a number of acupuncture doctors indicates that about 60 per cent of patients gain some long-term relief of their symptoms with acupuncture.
Diseases of the Respiratory System:
Asthma: Acupuncture causes the contracted muscular walls to dilate; the mechanism of this is unknown, but there is good Western research data to support this claim. A recent Chinese clinical trial on asthma showed that some 70 percent of asthmatics gained a ‘very good effect’ from acupuncture and moxibustion. The acupuncture treatment was able to decrease the frequency and intensity of asthmatic attacks over a period of a year or more. This result is encouraging as it shows that acupuncture and moxibustion can affect the response of the body to the environmental stimuli causing asthmatic attacks. Our clinical experience also supports this efficacy of Acupuncture and Moxibustion medicine.
Bronchitis: Acupuncture cannot rebuild lung tissue, but by opening up the breathing tubes it can allow the remaining lung tissue to function efficiently. The mechanism of acupuncture in bronchitis is probably much the same as in asthma, allowing more air to enter the lungs. Recent Chinese research works has shown that about 50 per cent of bronchitis ‘benefit’ from acupuncture. The treatment must be repeated regularly if the effect is to be maintained for long period. On the other hand acupuncture treatment also help to control the infection effectively in bronchitis.
Diseases of the Heart and Blood Vessels:
In China it is a common and acceptable form of treatment for some of these problems. A variety of experiments carried out in the western countries give clear support to the idea that acupuncture does have an effect on the circulatory system.
Angina: Using sophisticated measuring equipment the Chinese researchers have completed a variety of trials to assess the effects of acupuncture on the heart, and they have shown a marked increase in the functional ability and efficiency of the heart muscles after acupuncture. This is further supported by clinical work, which shows that some 80 per cent of patients with angina have improved after acupuncture. When acupuncture is used to treat angina a course of treatments is given, and then followed by booster treatments.
The Correction of Abnormal Heart Rhythms: Heart diseases can frequently cause an abnormal rhythm to the heart beat; this may manifest itself as palpitations, an irregular heart beat, or dropped beats. Acupuncture can correct a small number of these arrhythmias. In established atrial fibrillation (irregular heart beats), acupuncture affects a small percentage of cases, some 1.5 per cent, although in recently acquired arrhythmias, acupuncture can be effective in up to 70 per cent of cases.
The Use of Acupuncture in Addiction and Obesity:
A large number of Western countries acupuncturists are using a variety of acupuncture techniques to treat obesity, smoking and hard drug addiction. There is some excellent physiological and clinical evidence to support the use of acupuncture method in these areas. The withdrawal symptoms experienced by people giving up smoking, or drugs, can be alleviated by raising the levels of endorphins in the nervous system. Some people believe that the desire to eat is also mediated by the endorphin level in the brain. It is clear that endorphin levels throughout the nervous system can be increased by Acupuncture. The techniques used to achieve an increase in endorphin levels center around the use of ear acupuncture. It must be stressed that acupuncture cannot replace willpower. It can only help the withdrawal symptoms, or hunger pains, experienced by those already motivated and committed to solving their particular problem.
Obesity: Acupuncture seems to relieve the problem of hunger usually created by dieting. Many people who receive acupuncture to help with weight loss also go on a diet at the same time. It is difficult to assess exactly which factors are responsible for weight loss, the acupuncture or the diet, or both in combination. Most acupuncturists claim that 40-50 per cent of their patients experience some significant weight loss during treatment.
Hard Drug Addiction: Some excellent research work has been done in this field, especially in Hong Kong. It is clear that acupuncture can help to solve the severe withdrawal symptoms experienced by those coming off hard drugs like heroin.
Acupuncture treatment helps about 40 per cent of people to give up smoking over a period of about six months. Again, it is essential to be well motivated before embarking on a course of treatment. Acupuncture does seem to decrease the desire to smoke and also to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms produced by abstinence from tobacco.
Reduce the Discomforts and Side Effects of Chemo/Radiotherapy for Cancer:
The effect of acupuncture on chemotherapy-induced nausea, vomiting etc. has been studied over the past 20 years, and clinical evidence gathered to date has been favorable. Current practice guidelines recommend acupuncture as a complementary therapy for uncontrolled nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy.
The Use of Acupuncture in Obstetrics:
In China the major use of acupuncture in obstetrics is to provide analgesia (pain relief) during Caesarean section, and to correct foetal malpositions, such as breech (breech means when the baby is ‘bottom first’ rather than ‘head first’).
Fertility and Gynecologic Problems:
Women who are having problems with conception, premenstrual symptoms or menopausal issues will often see positive results with Acupuncture medicine. It may be possible to reduce or eliminate the need for Western pharmaceuticals. If drugs or hormones must be used, side effects may be reduced. For women who are experiencing disorders of conception, my own experience suggests that acupuncture and Herbal medicine is more effective and much less unpleasant and dangerous than hormonal treatments or in vitro fertilization procedures.
The correction of foetal malposition is achieved by applying moxibustion to an acupuncture point. In about 60 percent of women the foetus turns naturally prior to the thirty-fourth week of pregnancy; this can be increased to 90 per cent with the aid of moxibustion. After the thirty-fourth week, when natural version is less likely, the Chinese claim that 80 per cent of foetal malpositions will be corrected permanently by this procedure. Once corrected, the malposition does not recur, provided moxibustion is applied daily. There seems to be no available physiological basis with which to explain this finding.
Anaesthesia for Labour and Delivery:
Acupuncture anaesthesia is widely used for caesarean sections in China. A report recently published, discusses the results of 1,000 cases managed in this manner. The Chinese Acupuncturist claim a 98 per cent success rate in the abolition of pain, a quicker recovery rate from the operation, less blood loss, and the obvious advantage of the mother being able to see the baby at, or soon after, birth. This report finds acupuncture a superior form of analgesia compared to other forms of pain relief (general or epidural anaesthesia) for caesarean section. Acupuncture can also be used to provide pain relief in normal obstetric deliveries. Adequate assessment of this form of obstetric analgesia has not yet been published, although the experience of a wide variety of acupuncturists in the western world would indicate that it is a useful and effective procedure.
Acupuncture anaesthesia is widely used in China and it has been used in a wide variety of operations, from minor procedures to open heart surgery or brain operations. It is undoubtedly an effective form of pain relief in the majority of people, but there is always a small percentage who fail to gain adequate analgesia from acupuncture. In general, acupuncture allows for a safer operation, with less likelihood of complications, and a swifter post-operative recovery. (Excerpted from Acupuncture: It’s Place in Western Medical Science, George T. Lewith M.A., M.R.C.G.P., M.R.C.P. )