What is the Science Behind Acupuncture?

by Dr. Rob Benhuri, D. Ac, Synergy Wellness Center

Although acupuncture has been around for centuries, we are only just beginning to scratch the surface in terms of understanding how it works scientifically.

In the past, it was accepted that acupuncture worked by restoring a state of balance to the body and mind. However, we now live in an age in which many people would prefer to understand exactly what is going on inside their body when they go for a treatment.

Fortunately, research into how acupuncture works has given us many insights into this mysterious system of medicine. While we still do not understand everything, we are far closer than we were just a few decades ago.

Pain Gate Control Theory

One popular theory behind how acupuncture works is known as the “gate control theory” of pain. This theory describes how pain signals can be prevented from reaching the brain by opening and closing certain “gates” throughout the central nervous system.

The idea is that acupuncture can be used to stimulate inhibitory nerve cells, much in the same way as you would if you rubbed your elbow after banging it, for example.

Release of Endorphins

Acupuncture also is known to trigger the release of endorphins. These chemicals are natural painkillers produced by our body, and they work in a very similar way to morphine.

As well as relieving pain, endorphins bring about a sense of calm and general well-being. This is the most likely reason why some people report feeling “on a high” after an acupuncture session!

Purinergic Signalling

Purinergic signalling is a term used to describe how the molecule adenosine triphosphate is converted into adenosine outside of cells.

This molecule exists inside cells as an important source of energy. When cells are damaged, for example, if you cut yourself with a knife or are pricked with a needle, adenosine triphosphate leaks out. When it escapes outside of cells, a chemical reaction converts it into another molecule called adenosine.

Adenosine signals to the nervous and immune systems that an injury has occurred. This triggers the healing process, kicks the immune system into action, and dulls any pain in the area.

Of course, this list is not complete. But, these varied effects go some way in explaining why acupuncture can be used to treat so many different health conditions. Research is ongoing and there is no doubt we still have a lot to learn.