Chinese medicine, of which acupuncture is a part, has been practiced successfully for dozens of centuries in the Far East and for several generations here in the West. Though it has similarities with Western medicine, it is fundamentally so different from what we in the West consider traditional medicine that it defies conventional explanation.
Today scientists are studying how the body reacts to acupuncture: they take fMRIs and PET Scans to observe its behavior and after treatment they can measure changes in body physiology and chemistry, including levels of endorphins and neurotransmitters. However, a satisfactory explanation about why and how it works remains elusive. Importantly, we have no way to explain the origin and presence of Qi (or Chi), the Chinese word for vital life energy, which is fundamental to existence.
In her book, My Stroke of Insight, Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist, chronicles her personal journey through stroke and recovery and suggests that a study of the right brain might be a key to understanding acupuncture. She might be onto something, because in Chinese medicine we use the concept of yin and yang to diagnose and treat disease, which is a much more right brain concept than left. Sherwin B. Nuland, MD has done an exemplary job of addressing this dilemma in articles he wrote and published in The American Scholar, a journal of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. In The Uncertain Art: “Acupuncture and Science” Dr. Nuland presents the conundrum with humor and intelligence, and I think he sums up the mystery and beauty of this little-understood science brilliantly.
Debbie Grimes, M.S., L.Ac, Diplomate NCCAOM