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Excerpt from "Magic Needles: Feel Younger and Live Longer with Acupuncture"

by Jun Xu, M.D., LaC and Frank Murray

Part One

The Importance of Acupuncture

Acupuncture releases a natural energy that can alleviate even long-standing health conditions. Pain-free acupuncture is, therefore, an ideal treatment for asthma, bronchitis, depression, drug and alcohol addiction, headaches, smoking, women’s health problems, and much more.

Since acupuncture is not a self-help treatment as such (where­as acupressure can be), but requires a practitioner, you may want to take this book with you to show the acupuncturist the chapter that corresponds to your condition. Included is valuable information on the techniques involved, and in the Appendix, there is a chapter-by-chapter list of tips to acupuncturists for each of the twenty-three conditions covered in this thorough book.


In the Beginning

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), acupuncture and moxibustion are important procedures that prevent and treat disease, either by puncturing certain points on the body with needles, or by applying heat with ignited moxa wool, reported Essentials of Chinese Acupuncture, a translation of Zhongguo Zhenjiuxue Gaiyao. Requiring simple equipment, they have been widely popular in China and elsewhere for thousands of years.1

“The initiation and development of the art of acupuncture and moxibustion have a long historical process,” the publication said. “They are summaries of experience of the Chinese laboring people of many centuries in their struggle against disease. As early as the Stone Age, people used needles fashioned of stone for curative purposes. These are known as Bian Shi and are a rudiment of acupuncture.”

When humans entered the Bronze and then the Iron Age, needles made of these metals were substituted for the stone Bian Shi. With the development of more advanced techniques, needling instruments were constantly improved, providing further refinement of acupuncture.

Moxibustion originated after man’s introduction of fire. It is assumed that, while warming themselves by the fire, people in ancient times accidentally found relief or disappearance of certain pain or illness when definite areas of the skin were subjected to burning. Moxa leaves (Artemisia vulgaris or mugwort) were later chosen as the material for cauterization since they are easily lit, and the heat is mild and effective in removing obstruction in channels and collaterals.

The earliest medical classic in China, Huangdi Neijing (Canon of Medicine) was compiled between 500–300 B.C., the publication added. It is a summary of the medical experience and theoretical knowledge prior to the Warring States period (475–221 B.C.). The book, which consists of two parts—Suwen and Lingshu—describes the basic theories of traditional Chinese medicine, such as yin-yang, the five elements, zang-fu, channels and collaterals, qi (vital energy) and blood, etiology, pathology, diagnostic methods, and differentiation of syndromes, as well as basic knowledge concerning acupuncture points and needling methods.

The Warring States period in China, and later in Japan, was a period in which small feuding kingdoms, or fiefdoms, struggled for supremacy. The Chinese Warring States period was dominated by six or seven small feuding Chinese kingdoms. It was the age of Confucian thinkers, Mencius and Zunzi.2

Following Neijing, there appeared quite a number of treatises on acu­puncture and moxibustion written in different dynasties, with representative ones being:1

Zhenjiu Jiayijing (A Classic of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, 265 A.D.), compiled by Huangfu Mi of the Jin Dynasty.

Tongren Shuxue Zhenjiu Tujing (Illustrated Manual on Points for Acupuncture and Moxibustion Shown on a Bronze Figure, 1026 A.D.), compiled by Wang Weiyi, an acupuncturist of the Song Dynasty. The next year, Wang Weiyi sponsored the casting of two life-size bronze figures marked with acupuncture points, a momentous event in the development of acupuncture and moxibustion.

Zhenjiu Zishengjing (A Classic of Acupuncture and Moxibustion Therapy, 1220 A.D.), compiled by Wang Zhizhong of the Song Dynasty.

Shisijing Fahui (The Enlargement of the Fourteen Channels, 1341 A.D.), a work by Hua Boren of the Yuan Dynasty).

Zhenjiu Dacheng (Compendium of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, 1601 A.D.), a work by Yang Jizhou, an acupuncturist of the Ming Dynasty. It has been an indispensable reference book in studying acupuncture and moxibustion in the almost four centuries since it was published.

Chinese acupuncture and moxibustion were introduced to Korea and Japan in the Sixth Century when a monk named Zhi Cong traveled Eastward by sea carrying copies of Mingtangtu (Illustrated Manual of Channels, Collaterals and Acupuncture Points), Zhenjiu Jiayijing, and other medical books.

In the late Seventeenth Century, acupuncture and moxibustion spread to Europe. This actively promoted the medical and cultural exchange between China and other countries in the world. As reported elsewhere in this book, acupuncture is rapidly gaining popularity in the United States.


The Increasing Popularity of Acupuncture

Interest in acupuncture in the United States took a big step forward in 1971, when Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State under President Richard M. Nixon, visited China. Kissinger was accompanied by James Reston, a reporter for The New York Times, who had an attack of appendicitis that Chinese doctors treated surgically, using acupuncture as an anesthesia. Reston’s subsequent article in The Times generated considerable interest in acupuncture.1

The use of acupuncture has become more and more popular and mainstream because the therapy taps into the body’s own pharmacy and helps the body’s ability to heal itself. While Western medicine deals with treating individuals in parts, acupuncture addresses how illnesses are related to one another.2

The therapy has been shown to affect specific areas of the brain associated with stress, drug addiction, and chronic pain, and it can assist in the side effects of cancer treatment. Acupuncture can diminish pain and inflammation and provide a preventive benefit by keeping inflammation from recurring. There is clear evidence for the benefits of acupuncture in treating a variety of conditions, including alcohol and drug addiction, anxiety, carpal tunnel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea, gastritis, headaches, insomnia, and lower back pain. In addition, research has shown how acupuncture may be beneficial in treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), mild anxiety, and osteoarthritis.

Approximately one-half of those with headaches respond to acupuncture, as do about one-third of those with trigeminal neuralgia (trigeminal relates to the fifth cranial nerve). It can also relieve those with post-stroke spasticity.

Other conditions where the use of acupuncture can be beneficial include nausea, and even Raynaud’s Phenomenon. In these, and all conditions, there is a low incidence of adverse effects using acupuncture when compared to medical procedures or therapeutic drugs.

In the past three decades, acupuncture has begun to be integrated into Western medical applications. Relief from pain without anesthetics is the best known and most frequently used application of acupuncture.3

There are different types of acupuncture, including traditional Chinese acupuncture, auricular acupuncture, French energetics acupuncture, and Korean and Japanese acupuncture. In the U.S., requirements for administering acupuncture vary from state to state, from 100 hours of specialized training to a four-year program.

Much of what were once perceived as alternative therapies are now regarded by mainstream medicine as adjuncts to traditional Western medicine. For example, patient-oriented care is the new emphasis that seeks to enhance the patient’s own attitudes and emotional resources to promote healing. The reason for the spark in interest for such modalities as acupuncture is that many who are ill have needs that go beyond current medicine’s technology.4

Increased information and awareness of older medical systems, such as TCM and acupuncture, offers benefits to many people. There is the perception that contemporary Western medicine has reduced healing to a mechanical process, and has failed to acknowledge the spiritual and psychological component of life.

Doctors who practice it often use acupuncture as another therapeutic modality of general medicine.5

The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, established in 1987 in Los Angeles, California, requires its members to have at least 200 hours of training in a continuing medical-education approved program. While the academy is open to all physicians, most of them are interested in pain management. Anesthesiologists and orthopedic surgeons have also taken the course to control pain.6

How does acupuncture work? Some studies suggest a release of endorphins as one possibility. These are a group of proteins with potent analgesic properties. Another immune response suggests that inserting needles may alter the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

Glen S. Rothfield, an M.D. from Arlington, Massachusetts, uses acupuncture and natural medicine in his practice. As an example, Rothfield treats arthritis with niacinimide (vitamin B3), bioflavonoids, willow bark, and acupuncture before he resorts to nonsteroidal and anti-inflammatory drugs.1

Andrew Weil, M.D., a Tucson, Arizona physician, said that people who come to him seeking alternative care are highly intelligent, motivated, and educated. He practices natural and preventive medicine, which includes nutritional medicine, diet therapy, vitamins and minerals, and mind-body approaches. He reports that 10 percent of his patients are well and see him only for preventive and lifestyle counseling. About forty-five percent come to him for routine conditions, such as allergies, anxiety, digestive disorders, headaches, insomnia, and sinus infections, and acupuncture is one of the methods he uses to ameliorate these conditions.

One main reason for the increasing popularity of alternative medicine, including acupuncture, is that it is being sought out by physicians who are frustrated with the system they are being taught, and there is a huge patient interest in it. For at least one-fourth of the world’s population, acupuncture is more commonly used than aspirin.

Alternative therapies can reduce costs in a number of ways, since many hospitalizations are due to harmful drug interactions resulting from conventionally prescribed drugs.

Some people prefer visits to physicians because they are looking for emotional support and guidance, not necessarily treatment for a specific illness. But alternative therapies, including acupuncture, can provide that kind of support at a much lower cost, and they also stress prevention.


How Acupuncture Works

Acupuncture from the Perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Acupuncture is one of the most important therapeutic tools in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). According to TCM, there is a system of balance between our universal and human bodies, called yin and yang balance, with yin representing the feminine, night, winter, weak, dark, for example, and yang representing the masculine, day, summer, strong, light, and so on. Our bodies adjust this balance according to the changes in nature—for instance, when the sun rises in the morning, the yang in the body increases in order to provide the essential energy needed to perform daily activities, and when evening comes, the body’s yin increases to accomodate that time of day.

There are fourteen major meridians within the body. Qi, the vital energy, circulates through these fourteen major meridians and numerous other tiny meridians in the body. Approximately 400 acupuncture points are found along these meridians. If there is an imbalance of yin and yang, the qi will be blocked along the meridian, and an illness will likely arise.

Fortunately, the ancient Chinese invented TCM to counteract this imbalance. The therapeutic tools of TCM include acupuncture, herbs, massage, moxa (a method for burning moxa to transfer energy from the burning herb to human body), qi gong (an energy/breathing exercise), and many others. Acupuncture needles can be inserted into any of the 400 specific points in the body to open the blockage and help the body balance its yin and yang, thereby treating and healing the illness.

A report from the Consensus Development Conference on Acupuncture held at the National Institutes of Health (N.I.H.) in 1997 stated that acupuncture is “widely practiced […] by thousands of physicians, dentists, acupuncturists, and other practitioners—for relief or prevention of pain and for various other health conditions.”1

According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), which included a comprehensive survey of complementary and alternative medicine use by Americans, “an estimated 3.1 million adults and 150,000 Children had used acupuncture in the previous year. Between the 2002 and 2007 NHIS’s, acupuncture use among adults had increased by three-tenths of 1 percent (approximately one million people).”2

Acupuncture from the Perspectives of
Scientific Theories and Mechanisms of Action

Two current major theories explain the mechanisms of acupuncture—the gate-control theory of pain and the neurohormonal theory.

Gate-Control Theory of Pain

In 1962, Ronald Melzack and P. D. Wall proposed the gate-control theory, which suggested that pain perception is not simply a direct response to the stimulation of pain fibers, but is also mediated by the cooperation of excitation and inhibition in pain pathways. Because the pain is controlled by the inhibitory action on the pain pathway, the perception of pain can be altered. In other words, the pain can be gated on or off through various methods—mechanically, pharmacologically, physically, physiologically, and psychologically.3,4

In 1976, Melzack used the gate-control theory to explain the mechanisms of acupuncture. He believed that acupuncture acts on the reticular formation in the brain stem to alter the pain pathway.5

This loosely organized area of the brain is involved in the waking and sleeping cycle and appears to be at the crux of basic neurological and behavioral functions of the human being.

Since Melzack’s proposal, the gate-control theory has become more popular, and many studies have supported this theory about the mechanisms of acupuncture. Melzack’s idea led to the theory of central control of pain gating, which proposes that pain is blockaded at the brain (i.e. central to the brain rather than at the spinal cord or periphery) via the release of endogenous opioids (natural painkillers in the brain), and neurohormones, such as endorphins and enkephalins (naturally occurring morphines).6,7,8

Neurohormonal Theory, a Contemporary Acupuncture Model

Based on information from the gate-control theory, many scientists began to study the central neurotransmitters, such as endorphins (i.e. opioids and nitric oxide, an important messenger molecule involved in many physiological and pathological processes that can be both beneficial and detrimental), and their regulation in many other levels of the brain along the pain pathways, including the periaqueductal gray (an area of the brain involved in the regulation of pain), the thalamus (a centrally-located structure that controls the flow of all information to the cortex), and the feedback pathways from the cerebral cortex to the thalamus. Pain blockade at these brain locations is often mediated by neurohormones, especially those that bind to the opioid receptors (the pain-blockade site).9,10

Recently, scientists have started to use fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) and PET (positron emission tomography) to study the mechanism of acupuncture. These studies have shown that the pain reduction by acupuncture may be mediated through decreased activities of several parts of the brain—the thalamus , the insula, and the anterior cingulate cortex.11,12, 13 The insula is a receiving zone that reads the physiological state of the entire body and then generates subjective feelings that can bring about actions, like eating, that keep the body in a state of internal balance. Information from the insula is relayed to other brain structures that appear to be involved in decision-making, especially the anterior cingulate and prefrontal cortices.

About the Authors:

Jun Xu, M.D., LaC, is a medical doctor in Connecticut specializing in rehabilitative medicine and acupuncture. He is a Diplomat in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology, certified by NCCAOM, the National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Since March 2010,he has been president of the American Traditional Chinese Medicine Society (ATCMS). Dr. Xu has been featured in magazines and on several television shows.

Frank Murray is a former editor of Better Nutrition, GreatLife, and Let’s Live (England), and the author or co-author of fifty books on health and nutrition. He currently resides in New York City, NewYork.

Excerpted from Magic Needles: Feel Younger and Live Longer with Acupuncture by Jun Xu, M.D., LaC and Frank Murray. Reprinted with permission: Basic Health Publications, Inc., Laguna Beach, CA.

To order a copy of Magic Needles, call toll free 800-575-8890 or go on line at www.basichealthpub.com.

Copyright © 2011 by Jun Xu, M.D., L.Ac., and Frank Murray

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