With its basis in Taoist philosophy, acupuncture first struck western observers as little more than Chinese folklore or “barefoot medicine.” A vast majority of American physicians were dubious about the scientific credibility of this ancient medical system, equating it with superstitious kitchen cures, like chicken soup for colds and flu or pickle juice for removing warts.
Few people heard of acupuncture until New York Times columnist James Res (on was stricken with appendicitis upon his arrival in Peking about sixteen years ago. His appendix was removed under conventional anesthesia, but the surprise was that Reston agreed to postoperative acupuncture treatment to relieve his abdominal pain. He reported that within an hour and thereafter, he was free of any abdominal pressure or distention. Subsequently teams of American doctors toured Chinese medical centers to observe the alleged range of acupunctures capabilities, beyond that of inducing anesthesia. What they found, among other things, was that acupuncture treatments were shown to combat infectious diseases, reputedly by raising the level of bacteria-fighting white blood cells.
How does acupuncture work? In China this needle therapy developed in conjunction with the accompanying practice of moxibustion, or the burning of the herb mugwort, at or near the appropriate points on the patient’s body. According to Chinese theory, disease is an imbalance of yin (female) and yang (male) forces disrupting an orderly flow of Ch’i, or energy. Bodily organs as well as behavior, temperature, and other functions are assigned yin or yang attributes. Even the ingestion of food is based on this principle ofopposif.es: there is yin (such as fruit) or yang (such as red meat) as well as foods that are balanced (like brown rice and other grains). Chinese physicians believe that all forces—universal or earthly—-influence human organic functions and fluctuations, which will be different for each of us.
Acupuncturists take as truth that energy flows from organ to organ through channels, or meridians, beneath the skin. There are twelve such meridians running on either side of the body, one along the center front and one in back- There are up to eight hundred points spaced systematically along these meridians that acupuncturists must learn to pierce with needles, thereby correcting imbalances in the corresponding organs. Once needles are in place, they may be twirled or not, depending on the complex law governing the relationship between the type of needling and the organs.
The bafflement for many Westerners is that the needles need not be placed anywhere near where the trouble is. For example, acupuncture needles stuck in a specifically designated point on the hand can reduce abdominal cramps, while a needle placed in a governed point around the knee can help kidney function. How could this happen? No one actually knows. In fact, no one knows why acupuncture works at all. Naturally, theories abound to explain it. Dr. Ronald Hoffman, M.D., medical director of the Whole Life Medical Center and a general practitioner in New York City who practices holistic or alternate medicine, including acupuncture, told me: “I think acupuncture is extremely helpful in the treatment of endometriosis, although we don’t know exactly what’s happening. In Chinese medicine, there is no actual formal diagnosis of endometriosis. But with menstrual problems, such as dysmenorrhea, or painful menstruation, it was considered pelvic congestion or stagnated energy. The acupuncture treatment, then, was designed to unblock the channel and release that stagnation.”