As a visiting professor in China in 1989, I met two kinds of doctors: those who practiced orthodox medicine and those who practiced traditional Chinese medicine, which dates back 8,000 years and includes acupuncture (the practice of inserting needles into the body to reduce pain or induce anesthesia) and moxibustion (acupuncture with burning herbs placed on top of the acupuncture needles).
The traditional Chinese medicine doctors considered acupuncture and moxibustion major ways to boost immune function and decrease inflammation and used them to control allergy, infections, and autoimmunity.
I will never forget visiting the People’s Liberation Army’s General Hospital’s Moxibustion Clinic in Beijing and seeing clouds of smoke from all the burning herbs. I found the doctors in modern hospitals who practiced this traditional Chinese medicine fascinating.
Acupuncture has since gained a foothold in modern medicine in the West. The theory of acupuncture centers around something called qi energy or the energy that flows through the body’s energy pathways known as meridians. Chinese medicine believes that disease is caused by an imbalance of the flow of this energy.
Thus, acupuncture targets 350 to 400 points where needles can be placed in the body to restore that energy. Practitioners and physicians use different acupoints, and different times of application, making it difficult to acquire standardized immunological data, but since acupuncture is used to control pain and inflammation, there must be some effect on immunity.
Most scientists believe that acupuncture leads to the secretion of endorphins or pain modifiers within the body. There is one study in which a form of bacterial arthritis induced in rats was modified with acupuncture.
The study also said that monocyte or macrophage cells of innate immunity and the T cells of innate and adaptive immunity were affected by the manual placement of the needles. Imagine if someday this could lead to a link to a cure for diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
There is no definitive immunological data to support these claims, but even without it, acupuncture has become a standard in the West and is now offered as an optional course for attending physicians at most hospitals. The procedure is also covered by many major insurance companies.
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