Uncover the Roots of Acupuncture: A Comprehensive Historical Overview
How does Acupuncture Work?
That’s a great question. If you’ve been poking around the internet or talking to your New Age friends, you’ve probably heard something about “qi” and “energy” and “meridians”… and something about fixing blockages and restoring balance. That’s not surprising, since that’s the story that most Westerners have been taught.
It goes something like this: “The body is covered by invisible ‘meridians’. A mysterious energy called ‘qi’ flows through the ‘meridians’ and is responsible for health. If the ‘energy’ gets blocked, then disease is sure to follow… and acupuncture somehow removes those energetic blockages.” If that’s the story that you’re used to, then what I’m about to tell you will blow your mind!
Here goes. The energy-meridian model of Acupuncture has absolutely NO historical or scientific basis. That’s right! It is a fabrication that was made up in France in the 1930’s!
So how did that happen?
It can all be traced back to a French bank clerk, named George Soulie de Morant. He lived in China from 1901 to 1917. While there, he became enamored with various aspects of Chinese culture. When Soulie de Morant came home, he wrote several good – if somewhat embellished – books on Chinese history and culture.
Then, he wrote a textbook on Acupuncture. Now remember, Soulie de Morant was a bank clerk and translator, who had no scientific or medical training. He translated the term “qi”, which can mean – “air,” “gas”, “vapor,” “weather,” “the nature of something,” or “the function of something” – as “energy.” Soulie de Morant also translated the term “mai” – which means “vessel” (i.e. blood vessel) – as “meridian.” So, he quickly turned a reasonable, anatomically-based medical system into a metaphysical one.
So if it’s not energy, then what is it?
Chinese Medicine is actually a materialist medicine, based on the same basic anatomy and physiology as Western medicine. The earliest evidence of medicine in China goes back to the late stone age. Chinese Medicine also has a continuous written history going back at least 2,500 years. While some of those texts were updated by physicians in later dynasties, the basic idea stayed the same.
From historical evidence, we know that before the birth of Christ, Chinese physicians had performed detailed dissections, weighed organs, mapped out the circulatory system and discovered the continuous circulation of blood – which wasn’t discovered in Europe for another 2,000 years! Physicians had learned to use herbs, acupuncture, physical manipulations and therapeutic exercise to treat many diseases.
So thanks for the history lesson, but how does it actually work?
In one word, “neuromodulation.” I know it sounds scary, but it simply means “affecting how a nerve – and thus the body – functions.” Traditional sources recommend needling along neurovascular structures to trigger improved blood flow and function. That’s right! They were working with the nervous system to affect health – not manipulating some magical energy!
Acupuncture is Not a Dead Medicine
Acupuncture may be old, but it’s also constantly growing based on new research and clinical experience. I like to think that it’s sort of like the Borg from Star Trek. If anything medically useful gets discovered out – anywhere in the world – it gets assimilated when it’s a good fit!
New research has shown that needling various points along nerves can affect specific areas of the central nervous system, reduce neurogenic inflammation, trigger the release of specific chemicals in the nervous system and even trigger neuroplastic changes – that means that acupuncture can actually change your brain (for the better) over time!
Modern researchers also have connected electrical stimulation to the needles. This has been shown in various studies to release stem cells, release natural pain killers, and in two trials, even to promote regrowth of cartilage in arthritic joints.
We’re on the forefront of that transition
We are helping to bring Chinese Medicine into the 21st century. We’re tirelessly advocating for the integration of Acupuncture and Chinese herbology into mainstream medicine AND training the next generation of practitioners in the most up-to-date, scientifically based treatments available.
And we Practice What We Preach
We don’t just talk a good game and teach classes. We’re also on the front lines, putting research into practice. Every. Day. This means that when you come in for your first visit, you can rest assured that we’ll be bringing the latest science – in addition to a traditional lens – to bear, to give you the best treatment that we possibly can.
Kendall, Donald. 2002. “The Dao of Chinese Medicine.” Oxford University Press.
Unschuld, Paul. 1985. “Medicine in China: a History of Ideas.” University of California Press.
Kresser, Chris. “Chinese Medicine Demystified” https://chriskresser.com/chinese-medicine-demystified-part-i-a-case-of-mistaken-identity/