How Does Acupuncture Work?
There are many theories about how Acupuncture works.
One of the simplest theories asserts that the nervous system can be gated. In the gate control theory, sensations from needle insertion inhibit the transmission of pain signals using common pathways to the brain. The idea is that sensation stimulates inhibitory interneurons in the spinal column, inhibiting the synaptic pathway of the pain signal. While this may be an active phenomenon during Acupuncture treatment, there are effects of Acupuncture that extend well beyond short-term pain relief. For more information on the gate control theory of pain: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1607474/.
Another theory asserts that Acupuncture exerts a modulating effect on the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), wherein the activities of the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) are brought back into balance through activation of specific nerve fibers via needle insertion. Like the gate control theory, this ANS modulation theory would only explain the effects of specific points along the particular nerve tissue trajectories involved in these specific processes, unless some idea that the micro-trauma of the needle insertion leads to general analgesia, which can regulate this balance, is applied. While it may be true that there is commonly a release of endorphins and other endogenous opioids after the micro-trauma of needle insertion, this would only explain a short-term activation of the PNS, after which the underlying pattern of imbalance should not be substantially altered, yet the effects of Acupuncture last well beyond the relaxation phase felt during and immediately after treatment.
In conventional healthcare, there exists a practice known as “Dry Needling,” in which points called “Trigger Points” and/or muscle “Motor Points” have needles inserted into them based on their anatomical location and repeatable effect on musculature and connective tissue. While these effects are considered to be local in nature, unlike the assertion of global effects in the case of Acupuncture, such Trigger Points bear a striking resemblance to Acupuncture points. As stated on the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (AAAOM) website, “Dorsher et al., determined that of the 255 trigger points listed by Travell and Simons, 234 (92%) had anatomic correspondence with classical, miscellaneous, or new acupuncture points listed in Deadman et al., an internationally-recognized acupuncture reference book,” (http://www.aaaomonline.org/Dry-Needling-Position-Paper).
While the coincidence of Trigger Points and Acupuncture Points is high, this alone does not offer a mechanism of action for the effects of Acupuncture or Dry Needling. A proposed mechanism of Trigger Point Dry Needling is that inhibition of motor neurons results from needle stimulation of Muscle Spindles or Golgi Tendon Organs, which mediate muscle stretch and tension respectively. This mechanism is reasonable for situations involving the relief of muscle tension but leaves much of Acupuncture unexplained. There is a growing body of scientific evidence, however, for more exotic means of information transmission in the human body, and these biological properties may offer new insights into the nature of life and consciousness while at the same time validating the existence of Chinese Medical (Acupuncture) Channel (Meridian) Anatomy as a means of communication throughout the human organism.
There have been studies of connective tissue, including the fascia, which covers all bones, organs, and musculature as well as the fibers of the intercellular matrix, which have revealed that these combinations of mostly collagen and elastin proteins are much more dynamic in living beings than previously thought. In their article in The American Journal of Chinese Medicine Mae-Wan Ho, PhD and David P. Knight, PhD “propose that the acupuncture system and the DC body field detected by Western scientists both inhere in the continuum of liquid crystalline collagen fibres that make up the bulk of the connective tissues. Bound water layers on the collagen fibres provide proton conduction pathways for rapid intercommunication throughout the body, enabling the organism to function as a coherent whole,” (http://www.worldscientific.com/doi/abs/10.1142/S0192415X98000294). This proposal assimilates many of the newly discovered properties of connective tissue into a proposal that they can act together as a mechanism for the transmission of vast quantities of information at rapid rates throughout the body. Since Acupuncture points tend to lie on fascial planes, between anatomical structures, the idea that acupuncture accesses dynamics intrinsic to connective tissue seems rather reasonable.
What seems to be the most promising field of study for eventually providing a verifiable mechanism for the actions of acupuncture, however, is the study of Biophotons. Not only are photons becoming a leading contender in the transmission of consciousness in biological systems, because they have been observed being absorbed and emitted by genetic material, and such genetic material resides in the nucleus of every cell within the human body, these photons display a level of coherence as a function of their quantum entanglement with DNA that turns them into a system of information transmission with an extremely large bandwidth at the speed of light or faster in the case of quantum states (F.A. Popp et al, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0375960101008325 & https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S101113449700050X). In their article Biophoton signal transmission and processing in the brain Rendong Tang and Jiapei Dai assert that “both experimental evidence and theoretical speculation have suggested that biophotons may play a potential role in neural signal transmission and processing, contributing to the understanding of the high functions of the nervous system,” (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1011134413002881).
While biophotons and their quantum effects on microtubules within cells may seem like too diffuse a biological system to form such definite channels as defined by the Acupuncture Channel (Meridian) system, there are newly discovered anatomical structures that may provide a link between biophoton emission and the acupuncture channel system. In the Article Bonghan Duct and Acupuncture Meridian as Optical Channel of Biophoton, Kwang-Sup Soh lays out how the work of A.S. Presman describing a biological electromagnetic (EM) network that is distinct from the nervous system fits together with the work of A.F. Popp and W. Nagl on DNA-mediated ‘Biophotons’ with DNA acting as an exciplex (excitable molecular polymer complex) that can absorb and re-emit photons, which then have characteristics of quantum coherence. Soh proposes that Bonghan Kim’s discovery of the Bonghan System (BHS) of Bonghan Ducts (BHD) and Bonghan corpuscles (BHC), which correspond to Acupuncture Meridians (AMs) and Acupuncture Points (APs) could provide a reasonable anatomical structure through which the Presman-Popp biophoton communication occurs (http://www.biontology.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/bonghan-ducts.pdf). If this is true, then it means ancient people discovered the quantum mechanical dimension of their own biology, likely through the means of self-cultivation practices, which allowed them to observe very fine details of their own biology. Because the scientific research into this field is so newly developed, it has not yet produced a reliably consolidated theory of biophotons and quantum biology, but the ancient wisdom contained in Chinese Medical Texts may now be more closely scrutinized for clues about further investigation into this frontier of science.