How does it work?

Björn Nordenström, radiology professor at Karolinska Hospital, made his breakthrough when treating lung cancer patients with acupuncture.

Dr. Nordenström proposed a closed loop, circulatory, self-regulating model for healing that was much more detailed and complete than conventional wound healing models. Dr. Nordenström's model involves various ‘Biologically Closed Electric Circuits (BCEC)’, capable of utilizing a number of physiological pathways and influencing structure and function for a variety of tissues and organs. In essence, he described another circulatory system where continuous energy circulation and circulating electrical currents support healing, metabolism, growth, regulation, immune response (IABC, 2009).

His theory, described in details in his book, “Biologically Closed Electric Circuits” (Nordenström, 1983), supports the principals of TCM and the concept of Qi. As we move further into the 21st century, more and more evidence is being presented to explain the ancient theory of TCM. Ahn and colleagues (2008) observed that acupoints appear to have distinctive electrical properties, including lower impedance, different to other areas of the skin (Ahn et al., 2008). In a spectacular experiment Cho and colleagues (1998) demonstrated a correlation between acupoint stimulation and the activation of specific areas of the brain as anticipated by ancient acupuncture literature. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) when stimulating an acupoint on the toe recommended by TCM for treatment of eye disorders, they were able to show activation of the occipital lobes of the brain (Z. H. Cho et al., 1998). However, when needles were inserted in non-acupoints (2–5 cm from the acupoint) no activation of the occipital lobes was observed. This study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and gained considerable attention since there are no known neural pathways between the two areas (toe and occipital lobe) that could account for the speed of activation shown by the fMRI. However, it is important to state that the authors have retracted their publication. Some years later it was demonstrated that there is an 80% correspondence between the sites of acupoints and the location of inter- or intramuscular connective tissue planes, suggesting the existence of “channels connecting the surface of the body to internal organs” (Langevin & Yandow, 2002; p. 257).

It is important, however, to present the Western medical point of view about the working mechanisms behind the action of acupuncture. These theories suggest that the insertion of needles into the skin and deeper tissues stimulates blood circulation and activates peripheral nerves. Both the central nervous system and the endocrine system will be affected, which in turn affect the immune system. Acupuncture also balances the autonomic nervous system. It causes the release of opioid peptides (the body's own pain relief), neurotransmitters (chemical messengers of the brain), and hormones (chemical messengers of the body).

Supporting ‘health for all’ is one of the core tasks of the World Health Organization. This task can only be accomplished by the mutual cooperation of the various medical sciences, including TCM, to provide a holistic approach to patients.

In the following pages I have collected evidence-based medical research findings about TCM acupuncture and its possible use and efficiency in different areas of medical care.