The modernization of acupuncture

Since the 1950s, major innovations in acupuncture have been made mainly in Europe. These innovations have allowed acupuncture to develop, be taught and practised as an objective, technical discipline. Recognition has also been made of the many factors affecting health in the twentieth century that did not exist when traditional acupuncture came into being. How does acupuncture work? Is a question that cannot easily be answered. As mentioned above, many attempts have been made to link the points and meridians with features consistently demonstrable by our conventional scientific and medical techniques. For example, it has been suggested that the meridian system reflects an incompletely described nerve reflex system which can be stimulated by the needles. It has been found that acupuncture can increase the release of endorphins. Stimulating particular acupuncture points can produce measurable and sometimes significant changes in the release of other body chemicals such as neurotransmitters and some hormones, and also changes in breathing and heart rates. It is known that if nerves are ‘blocked’ with local anaesthetic then acupuncture does not work. This suggests to Western thinking that the acupuncture mechanism exists within the nerves and is, therefore, not the result of some mysterious ‘energy’.

It is also possible that acupuncture and allied therapies manipulate the body’s metabolic energy, such as temperature and electrical phenomena, during the life of cells. A control system for the body has been suggested which uses minute electrical currents to carry information. It is proposed that this system functions alongside, but separate from, the nervous system and that acupuncture points act as ‘booster stations’ along the information lines known as the meridians.