Earlier this week I highlighted the fact that times are getting tough for alternative medicine and natural remedies as more and more regulations and restrictions come into force… taking away our freedom of choice in the process.
The exact reason for this leaves me flummoxed and frustrated, and yet I cannot help but wonder why the Western world with it’s sky-high profit margins and ‘big business’ mentality won’t (or cannot) see the numerous benefits attached to ancient remedies and traditional medicinal practices such as acupuncture.
Since the revolution in 1976, China has embarked on a programme of modernisation, internationalisation, and technological development. However, despite this transition it was clear right from the beginning that they would remain committed to one of their most ancient practices: Traditional Chinese Medicine – even whilst embracing aspects of Western medicine. With regards to the former, acupuncture and herbal medicine are an integral part of the health facilities on offer.
The low-down on acupuncture and acupressure
Those who practice Traditional Chinese Medicine believe the human body has up to 20 pathways of energy, called meridians. These channels course throughout the body, carrying energy in much the same way that our circulatory system carries blood to and from our vital organs.
However, these pathways can become blocked. When this flow of energy (or chi) is disrupted, poor health and specific medical ailments can result. Practitioners use electrical stimulation, needles (in the case of acupuncture), or firm pressure with the hand (as in the case of acupressure) to stimulate specific pressure points along these meridians.
This can help release muscular tension and promote the circulation of blood. Practitioners also believe that it can remove blockages, thereby allowing the body’s energy to flow naturally and stimulate self-healing.
Acupuncture: Recognising the importance of the body’s energy fields
Most of us associate acupuncture and acupressure with Chinese medicine. After all, the Chinese have practiced these healing methods for thousands of years. But they are not alone.
Both the ancient Mayas and the Incas independently documented energy pathways in the body. The Mayans called this energy “wind in the blood”. The Incas talked about “rivers of light” flowing through the “luminous body”.
Sure enough, the pathways and pressure points these two cultures identified are almost identical to the ones that the Traditional Chinese system of medicine recognises.
There is a lot more evidence for acupuncture and acupressure than anecdotes
The most interesting evidence for this ancient practice comes from modern science – images of the brain itself.
For example, the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, published by Oxford University, reported that, “Specific acupuncture points associated with hearing and vision stimulate the visual and auditory cerebral areas respectively”. Neuro-imaging showed that these areas “lit up” when the pressure points were stimulated.
US researchers at the University of California, Irvine, stimulated a point on the foot, also associated with vision. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) scans showed that this caused the visual cortex to immediately “light- up”. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital stimulated a specific point on the wrist, known to relieve nausea. This caused the part of the brain that affects balance and nausea to “light-up”.
The effects in the brain from stimulating these points on the body cannot be explained by our current knowledge of anatomy.
“Modern medicine” can’t explain how acupressure works. But we have proof that it does work…
In my research for this article, I read numerous peer- reviewed studies. Of course, some studies are not conclusive. However, there were dozens of well-controlled, peer-reviewed trials, published in major journals that prove the benefits of acupressure and acupuncture.
There is strong evidence that these healing practices can help to relieve muscle and joint pain and headaches. They can boost the feel-good neuro-chemical serotonin, thereby helping to alleviate depression. They can help in the treatment of insomnia. They benefit those who suffer nausea from chemotherapy and anaesthesia. There are dozens of conditions that have been shown to benefit from acupressure and acupuncture.
In fact, in 1997, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reviewed numerous studies, concluding that “there is sufficient evidence of acupuncture’s value to expand its use into conventional medicine and encourage further studies”.
In a randomised controlled pilot study in 2007, at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences and Family and Geriatric Medicine, University of Louisville School of Medicine, in the US, acupuncture was shown to be an effective and acceptable non-invasive treatment option for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In another study, carried out at the School of Healthcare, Baines Wing, University of Leeds in the UK, the role of acupuncture on fatigue levels experienced by patients undergoing conventional treatment for breast cancer, was assessed. This study showed that acupuncture can help alleviate the side effects of conventional treatments for breast cancer and improve quality of life.
Further studies involving cancer patients, revealed that those receiving acupuncture experienced significant improvements in their levels of fatigue.
The benefits associated with this ancient medical practice are seemingly endless. In a time where the practice of Natural and Alternative Medicine is under intense scrutiny, it’s a shame that the medical authorities don’?t turn their attentions to the numerous studies supporting their use before automatically dismissing them out of hand.
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Disclaimer: Bear in mind the material contained in this article is provided for information purposes only. We are not addressing anyone’s personal situation. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.
“China’s revolution in health” by Miller NN and Strickler JC, published Am Univ Field Staff Rep Asia. 1980;3:1-24
“Acupuncture for posttraumatic stress disorder: a randomized controlled pilot trial” by Hollifield M, Sinclair-Lian N, Warner TD and Hammerschlag R, published J Nerv Ment Dis. 2007 Jun;195(6):504-13
“Acupuncture care for breast cancer patients during chemotherapy: a feasibility study” by Price S, Lewith G and Thomas K, published Integr Cancer Ther. 2006 Dec;5(4):308-14
“Pilot, randomized, modified, double-blind, placebo- controlled trial of acupuncture for cancer-related fatigue” by Balk J, Day R, Rosenzweig M and Beriwal S, published J Soc Integr Oncol. 2009 Winter;7(1):4-1