Mechanisms of Action from a Western Perspective

Several processes have been proposed to explain acupuncture’s effects, primarily those on pain. Acupuncture points are believed to stimulate the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) to release chemicals into the brain, spinal cord, and muscles. These chemicals either change the experience or pain or trigger a release of other chemicals, such as, hormones, that influence the body’s self-regulating systems. These biochemical changes may stimulate the body’s natural healing abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being.

There are three main mechanisms:

  1. Conduction of electromagnetic signals:
    Western scientists have found evidence that acupuncture points are strategic conductors of electromagnetic signals. Stimulating points along these pathways through acupuncture enables electromagnetic signals to be relayed at a greater rate than under normal conditions. These signals may start the flow of painkilling biochemicals, such as endorphins, and of immune system cells to specific sites in the body that are injured or vulnerable to disease.
  2. Activation of Opioid systems:
    Research has found that several types of opioids may be released into the central nervous system during acupuncture treatment, thereby reducing pain. Opioids are naturally occurring chemicals in the brain that have an analgesic effect. The release of these opioids plays a significant role in the reduction of pain. There has been considerable evidence to support that acupuncture stimulates the central nervous system, releasing these chemicals.
  3. Changes in Brain Chemistry, sensation, and involuntary body functions:
    Studies have shown that acupuncture may alter brain chemistry by changing the release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones. Stimulation of acupuncture points by needles affects the body on a biochemical and physiological level through sensory receptors. The stimulation of sensory receptors, produced with acupuncture, stimulate nerves that transmit signals to the hypothalamus and pituitary glands in the brain, thereby altering the secretion of their chemicals (neurotransmitters, neurohormones & endorphins). These particular chemicals play a direct role in the sensation of pain, as well as, the activity of an organ or organs. Evidence has shown that acupuncture alters this secretion in a manner that reduces pain.

Endorphins are the brain’s “natural pain-killers” which explain acupuncture’s role in pain disorders such as back pain, PMS, arthritis, chronic headaches, etc… Additionally, these chemicals help to regulate our emotional state and aid in reducing anxiety, depression, and stress. Furthermore, increased stress levels lead to increased cortisol levels, and increased cortisol levels lead to inflammation in the body and (subsequently) the vast majority of popular “Western” diseases. Through maintenance of your body with acupuncture, you ARE take a huge step in preventing illness.

Other researched physiological effects of acupuncture include increased circulation and proper nerve conduction, decreased inflammation, relief of muscle spasms, and increased levels of T-cells (immune system stimulants).

Acupuncture also has been documented to affect the parts of the central nervous system related to sensation and involuntary body functions such as, proper nerve conduction, immune reactions , blood pressure, blood circulation, decreasing inflammation and body temperature regulation.