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The Biomedical Basis of Holistic Acupuncture
By: Andrew Pacholyk, MS, L.Ac.

The Ancient Art of Acupuncture is the needling of specific points along "meridians" or channels that run throughout our body. Acupuncture can be traced back as far as the Stone Age in China, when stone knives and pointed rocks were used to relieve pain and diseases. "These instruments were known by the ancients as "bian" In the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD) an Analytical Dictionary of Characters "Shuo Wen Jie Zi" describes the character "bian" as meaning a stone to treat disease."(1) Later these stones were replaced by needles made of bamboo and slivers of animal bone, then finally in the Shang Dynasty bronze casting techniques made metal needles possible, which conducted electricity and Qi. This led to the mapping of the meridian system or channels of energy within the body.

Acupuncture remained relatively unheard of until 1974 when James Reston, a reporter for the New York Times accompanied President Nixon on a trip to China where they witnessed an appendectomy and several demonstrations of serious surgeries being performed with acupuncture as the only anesthetic using Acupuncture Anesthesia. Despite many efforts to prove it's efficiency, Western science has never been able to reconcile how Acupuncture works. They can prove "that" it works, but not "how" it works.

Biochemical theories

Most of the scientific studies of acupuncture have been centered on the analgesic aspects of pain relief. Acupuncture is definitely effective in treating pain; it works 70% to 80% of the time, far greater than the placebo, which only has about 30% efficiency. (2) The problem with attributing all of acupuncture's effects to the placebo effect, which is based on a "suggestive way" or the fact that one just wants to believe that it works, was the fact that veterinarians in China have used acupuncture successfully to treat animals. (3)

Dr. Bruce Promeranz, working at the University of Toronto, was very involved in research done on acupuncture analgesia. By activating small myelinated nerve fibers, acupuncture applications send impulses to the spinal chord, midbrain and pituitary-hypothalamus in the diencephelon. (4) Neurological research done in the late 70's discovered the naturally occurring chemicals in the body known as endorphins. (5) By binding to the opiate receptors that are found throughout the nervous system, endorphins are able to stop pain. The hypothalamus-pituitary releases Beta-endorphins into the blood and cerebral spinal fluid to create an analgesic effect by causing incoming pain signals from reaching the brain. Pomeranz discovered that pre-treating rats with a drug called Naloxone, a drug known to block the healing endorphins, could not achieve acupuncture pain relief. This finding suggested that endorphin release caused by acupuncture stimulus was an important mechanism behind acupuncture's pain relieving effects.

Pomeranz was then interested in the effects of electrical stimulation and manipulation of acupuncture needles. What he also discovered was the difference between high frequency, low intensity vs. low frequency, high intensity application.

The low frequency, high intensity produced an analgesic effect which was slower at the onset but longer in duration and also having cumulative effects. Therefore, repeated treatments produce more and more benefits for the patient.

The high frequency, low intensity produced a very rapid analgesic effect, which is great for acute pain but shorter in duration with no cumulative effects. (6)

There are presently 100 different neurotransmitters and neuroendocrine substances in the body, of which the endorphins constitute only one class. (7) Hence, there is much work to be done in testing and researching these chemicals and their possible effects with acupuncture.

Biomechanical theories

The biomechanical questions had to do with the presents of meridians in the body. These are the channels in the body, which are filled with our life force, energy or Qi. The meridians are said to circulate Qi throughout the system of the body. In an attempt to locate the meridians anatomically, two French Drs. Claude Darras and Pierre De Vernejoul injected human studies with radioactive isotopes into acupuncture points. A solution of an ionic salt of technetium was injected and followed over a period of time with a gamma ray camera. The radioactive technetium followed the exact same pathways of the meridian channels described and illustrated in several hundred-year-old acupuncture charts of the human body! (8) To ensure that the Drs. were measuring meridians and not blood vessels or lymphatic channels, some patients received technetium injections adjacent to non-acupoint skin regions as well as in nearby blood and lymphatic channels. The radioactive tracers tended to diffuse outward from the injection site into a typical small circular pattern. (9)

In 1975, Dr. Liu YK researched the location of acupoints present at sites of motor nerves. His work realized that acupoints correspond to regions where motor nerves enter skeletal muscle and where there is a great density of motor nerve terminal elements at the surface. As well, there was found to be dense clusters of encapsulated autonomic nerve mechanoreceptor sites at these points. (10) Further research was done on Dr. Liu's work. Dr. Watari published a report in Beijing, China in November 1987, based on his work. He found that histologically, volume density of corresponding acupoints to blood vessels are elevated fourfold and that of nerves 1.4 times over that of surrounding tissues. These vessels and fibers mingle to form glomerular structures. (11)

This was exciting new biomechanical evidence in both identifying the meridian channels in the human body and the fact that the acupuncture points on the body have corresponding volume densities that increase with stimulation.

Bio-electromagnetic theories

Science has long been aware of an electrical phenomenon called the "Current of Injury".This happens when tissue in the body undergoes trauma or microscopic damage to an area of skin. When skin cells are pierced, as with an acupuncture needle, they start leaking electrically charged ions into the surrounding areas of tissue. A weak electrical battery-like charge is created. This electric current is called the current of injury, which is know to stimulate a healing response from the nearby cells. This does not explain how stimulating acupoints with low level, non-invasive lasers could achieve the same therapeutic effects. (12)

The electrical conductivity of acupoints has been known for several decades thanks to the work of Nakatani in the 1950s and by Dr. Robert Becker in the 1970s. Becker's work on the Large Intestine and the Pericardium meridians found that the points along these channels showed significantly more electrical conductivity than areas of skin with non-acupoints.

In 1986 German scientist Fritz-Albert Popp and Chinese biologist, Chang-Lin Zhang developed a model they called the "Standing Wave Superposition Hypothesis". This research attempts to accommodate the holographic nature of acupuncture such as the homunculus or miniature representation of the whole body represented in the ears and the feet. The theory also strives to explain the anomalous skin resistance properties of acupuncture points as well as the apparent interconnectivity between them. (13)

In the Zhang-Popp model, it is shown that the body is composed of sodium, potassium and other electrically charged inorganic ions such as proteins and DNA which when accelerated will emit EM radiation in accordance with conventional physical theory. With these many types of charges oscillating in the body, an interference pattern is produced formed by the various waves of various wavelengths.

The highest combination of wave amplitudes forms the acupuncture points and meridians by means of constructive interference. At these points the skin is at the highest in electrical conductivity. This conductivity depends on the internal electrical field, which is determined by the interference pattern from the superposition of the numerous waves. (14) Hence, the standing wave pattern of a sick person would have a varied pattern from that of a healthier person. The treatment of acupuncture with needles in the acupoints would cause a disturbance in the standard wave pattern caused by new boundaries formed by the needle. The needle activates the current of injury response resulting in a change in the EM field, producing changes in the biological response, which may promote healing. It is this theory, which implicates the EM fields of the entire body.

The principle of the Connective Tissue Continuum is another approach at viewing the correlation of acupuncture to the bio-electromagnetic theory. From a cellular level through to the bodies' connective tissue, these living organisms are considered a continuum. Not only is the entire cell now known to be mechanically and electrically interconnected in a "solid state" (15), but, all the cells in the body are in turn interconnected to one another via the connective tissues (16).

The function of connective tissues is to keep the body organized, acting as a lace work between the major organs and tissues, to strengthen the wall of arteries, veins, intestines and pathways and to provide fascia and the skeletal structure attachment to the muscles. It is believed that connective tissues may be largely responsible for the rapid intercommunication that enables our body to function effectively as a coherent whole, and is therefore central to our health and well-being. Recent studies with Nuclear Magnetic Resonance has shown that the muscles in living human subjects provide evidence of a "liquid-crystalline-like" structure (17). Liquid crystals usually undergo rapid changes in phases or transitions when exposed to electromagnetic fields. Liquid crystals will also respond to changes in temperature, hydration, pressure and shear forces. Biological liquid crystals carry static electric charges and are influenced by pH, salt concentration and dielectric constant of the solvent.

There are many types of liquid crystals, from those which are most liquid, to those which are most solid. Those that are most liquid can flow as water does, and even though all molecules tend to be aligned in one direction, individual molecules can move very freely and change places with each other while maintaining their common orientation. The ones that resemble solid crystal will have order and will remain flexible and responsive. It is already widely recognized that all the major constituents of living organisms may be liquid crystal such as lipids of cellular membranes, DNA, possibly all proteins, especially cytoskeletal proteins, muscle proteins, and proteins in the connective tissues such as collagens and proteoglycans (18). It is through this "liquid network" that scientist believe an acupuncture response is solicited.

In conclusion

By looking at the Bioscience attempts in explaining the way holistic acupuncture works in healing, we are introduced to some very notable concepts. Observing the biochemical view, we see, by Pomeranz research, that the hypothalamus-pituitary releases Beta-endorphins into the blood and cerebral spinal fluid to create an analgesic effect by causing incoming pain signals from reaching the brain. The low frequency, high intensity produced an analgesic effect which was slower at the onset but longer in duration and also having cumulative effects. Therefore, repeated treatments produce more and more benefits for the patient. The high frequency, low intensity produced a very rapid analgesic effect, great for acute pain but, shorter in duration with no cumulative effects.

Biomechanically, Drs. Claude Darras and Pierre De Vernejoul injected human studies with radioactive isotopes into acupuncture points. A solution of an ionic salt of technetium was injected and followed over a period of time with a gamma ray camera. The radioactive technetium followed the exact same pathways of the meridian channels described and charted in several hundred-year-old acupuncture charts of the human body! Dr. Liu YK researched the location of acupoints present at sites of motor nerves. His work realized that acupoints correspond to regions where motor nerves enter skeletal muscle and where there is a great density of motor nerve terminal elements at the surface.

Bio-electromagnetic theories are based on the Current Of Injury, which is know to stimulate a healing response from the nearby cells. The electrical conductivity of acupoints researched by Nakatani in the 1950s and by Dr. Robert Becker in the 1970s found that the points along the channels showed significantly more electrical conductivity than areas of skin with non-acupoints.

The Zhang-Popp model, shows us that the body is composed of sodium, potassium and other electrically charged inorganic ions such as proteins and DNA which when accelerated will emit EM radiation in accordance with conventional physical theory. The acupuncture needle activates the current of injury response resulting in a change in the EM field, producing changes in the biological response.

The Connective Tissue Continuum embraces the concept that the cytoskeletal structure of each individual cell in the body is a homunculus of the connective tissue in which it creates. Magnetic Resonance has shown that the muscles in living human subjects provide evidence of a "liquid-crystalline-like" structure. Liquid crystals usually undergo rapid changes in phases or transitions when exposed to electromagnetic fields. It is through this "liquid network" that scientist believe an electromagnetic response from acupuncture is solicited. This research represents much of the current biological views on how acupuncture heals and tries to explain the Biomedical Basis of Holistic Acupuncture.

References

1. Sources of Chinese Tradition Vol. 1 WM Theodore DeBary, Irene Bloom Columbia University Press NY, NY 1999

2. Scientific Basis of Acupuncture  B. Pomeranz Acupuncture textbook and Atlas, NY, NY 1987

3. Vibrational Medicine for the 21 Century- Richard Gerber M.D. Eagle Brook, NY, NY 2000 "Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine"

4. "Can Western Science Provide A Foundation For Acupuncture"- Beverly Rubik, PhD. Alternative Therapies Magazine September 1995, Vol. 1 Number 4

5. Vibrational Medicine for the 21 Century- Richard Gerber M.D. Eagle Brook, NY, NY 2000  "Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine"

6. Scientific Basis of Acupuncture B. Pomeranz Acupuncture textbook and Atlas, NY, NY 1987

7. "Can Western Science Provide A Foundation For Acupuncture"- Beverly Rubik, PhD. Alternative Therapies Magazine September 1995, Vol. 1 Number 4

8. Vibrational Medicine for the 21 Century- Richard Gerber M.D. Eagle Brook, NY, NY 2000 "Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine"

9. Vibrational Medicine for the 21 Century- Richard Gerber M.D. Eagle Brook, NY, NY 2000 "Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine"

10. "Can Western Science Provide A Foundation For Acupuncture"- Beverly Rubik, PhD. Alternative Therapies Magazine September 1995, Vol. 1 Number 4

11. "Can Western Science Provide A Foundation For Acupuncture"- Beverly Rubik, PhD. Alternative Therapies Magazine September 1995, Vol. 1 Number 4

12. Vibrational Medicine for the 21 Century- Richard Gerber M.D. Eagle Brook, NY, NY 2000 "Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine"

13. "Can Western Science Provide A Foundation For Acupuncture"- Beverly Rubik, PhD. Alternative Therapies Magazine September 1995, Vol. 1 Number 4

14. "Can Western Science Provide A Foundation For Acupuncture"- Beverly Rubik, PhD. Alternative Therapies Magazine September 1995, Vol. 1 Number 4

15. Clegg J.S. and Drost-Hansen W. On the biochemistry and cell physiologyof water. In: Hochachka and Mommsen (eds.). Biochemistry and molecular biologyof fishes. Elsevier Science Publ. vol.1, Ch.1, pp.1-23, 1991

16. Oschman, James L. (Oct. 1996-Jan. 1998) What is 'Healing Energy'?The Scientific Basis of Energy Medicine. J of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.(Series of articles.) Part 1-6. Kreisand Boesch, 1994

17. Giraud-Guille, M.M. (1988) "Twisted plywoodarchitecture of collagen fibrils in human compact bone osteons", Calcif.Tissue Int., 42:167-180.

18. Knight, D. and Feng, D. (1993). Collagens as liquid crystals, British Association for the Advancement of Science, Chemistry Session: Molecular Self-Assembly in Science and Life, Sept. 1, Keele.


About the Author: Andrew Pacholyk, MS, L.Ac is a licensed acupuncturist and certified herbalist with a full time practice in New York City. Andrew specializes in rejuvenating therapies based in the ancient Chinese Medical approach to Endocrinology, Gynecology and Pain Management. By improving circulation and an increase in metabolism, Andrew treats hormonal imbalance, infertility, menopause and menstrual disorders, as well as increasing blood flow and vital energy in order to decrease pain, trauma and with its associated symptoms. Discover more about Andrew, his practice and his life's work at http://www.proacumed.com and http://www.peacefulmind.com