How the East Met the West
Even though it is a millenarian medical practice, acupuncture did not make its debut in modern American medicine until more times, when a cultural exchange with China promoted by President Nixon facilitated the meeting of East and West. Diplomats and physicians noticed the effectiveness of this practice by observing the analgesic properties of the therapy during some invasive surgical procedures. Journalist James Reston underwent an emergency appendectomy using acupuncture analgesia before, during, and after the procedure. He then penned an article for The New York Times describing his experience and advocating for acupuncture to be used alongside Western medical techniques.
However, despite the newfound experience and positive results with the practice, acupuncture didn’t spread far in the USA at the time. The Flexner Report, a commentary on the condition of medical education and practices in the early 20th Century, aimed to weed out ineffective, “unscientific” practices. The report successfully supported an organized standardization of medical education under stricter biologic science and the new emerging science of pharmacology. However, due to its rigid guidelines for what made practices safe and effective, the report eliminated all traditional natural methods without investigating their scientific foundations.
Ultimately, as a result of this report and a lack of funding, the once-utilized practice of blending modern medical practice and traditional styles slowly disappeared.
Acupuncture’s Growing Pains in the West
The mainstream medical community couldn’t find a scientific basis for acupuncture’s clinical results according to modern medical science standards. The yin-yang, Qi energy-based system was too primitive for medical establishments since it did not include any drug-mediated mechanisms. This paved the way for the development of traditional Oriental medical training for non-physicians, who became Oriental medical doctors (OMD’s), to satisfy the needs of patients looking for alternative and non-toxic therapies.
The excellent results obtained by these practitioners, its frequent use by patients, and the rebirth of alternative medicine promoted by Clinton’s presidency ultimately provided funding for research studies in a special division of the National Institute of Health (NIH). The outpouring of data from experimental and clinical models demonstrated how the needles used in acupuncture stimulate the production of skin receptors that generate the natural opioid endorphin-like substances that calm and reduce pain symptoms.
Acupuncture Goes Mainstream
This boom in research and the backing of the World Health Organization (WHO) allowed for a worldwide standardization of education for non-physicians and physicians alike. It also helped the NIH declare medical acupuncture as a field of modern medicine, specifically for the management of pain and anesthesia.
The need to standardize acupuncture education as suggested by the WHO inspired a group of physicians to create the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture in 1987, and later, to develop a certifying exam under the American Board of Medical Acupuncture (ABMA).
Worldwide Research Assures Acupuncture Is Here to Stay
Controlled studies show acupuncture’s superiority in the treatment of a variety of ailments, such as migraines, back pain, knee and shoulder osteoarthritis, depression, and anxiety. It has also been proven effective in treating gastrointestinal complex diseases such as spastic colon, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis, gynecological problems, menopause, infertility, pain and nausea caused by cancer treatments, insomnia, fibromyalgia, and many others. Less invasive techniques with cold lasers can also be effective in adults and children.
Health Perspective: East Vs. West
Modern medicine focuses on the patient as a biologic organism where health is the absence of any disease or impairment, as defined by the World Health Organization.
Traditional Chinese medicine is the optimal state of the human being based on the genetic potential that allows it to survive in harmony with its environment as it goes through the aging process. This believe relates to the new epigenetic theory of health where lifestyles and emotions influence the quality of our health.
In Western medicine, pathogenic organisms are believed to be the cause of the majority of diseases, including idiopathic, undetermined, or auto-immune responses. These infectious diseases are caused by pathogenic microorganisms, such as bacteria or viruses, that are spread from person to person. Western doctors also take into account hereditary tendencies, external climate, and trauma when diagnosing the patient.
However, in addition to recognizing the aforementioned contributing factors to illness and disease, practitioners of Eastern medicine also believe that lifestyle (such as nutrition, exercise, and prudent sexual practices) and emotions may contribute to physical unhealthiness and emphasize a stronger mind/body/spirit connection. For example, emotions such as anger, melancholy, excess joy of bipolar-manic states, and obsessive worrying may have negative effects on a person’s physical body.
How the Needles Knit the Fabric of Our Health
In Eastern medicine, each organism is considered a holographic universe of interconnections bridged by innumerable channels that allow the flow of energy, or Qi, through each portion of the organism. Any alteration as a result of the four causes of disease discussed previously will alter the normal flow of energy through the hologram, creating imbalances that will manifest as clinical symptoms. The correction of the causes and the use of the needles to knit the loose ends created by the imbalance will rapidly mitigate the symptoms by correcting the disharmony. An experienced practitioner is very effective in correcting the superficial imbalance as well as the root cause of the imbalance so the disease process is eradicated permanently.
Advantages of Acupuncture for the Treatment of Modern Diseases
There are several advantages of using acupuncture for the treatment of modern diseases. Independently of modern techniques, acupuncture has been proven to lessen or alleviate the pain of patients suffering from a variety of both physical and psychological conditions such as traumatic and athletic injuries, anxiety, depression, PTSD, drug dependency, and the emotional effects associated with many chronic illnesses.
In many cases, using acupuncture in the place of modern practices can replace the need for pharmaceutical drugs, which leads to less toxic side effects. Additionally, the complications rate of its use is almost nonexistent, as it is much less invasive than many types of modern medicine. Because of its noninvasive nature, it can also be utilized successfully in conjunction with modern techniques such as increasing the success of an in vitro fertility treatment, assisting in the neurological rehabilitation of cerebrovascular accidents in the early stages, and helping physicians by supporting the recovery of acute conditions.
Lastly, and most importantly for some, acupuncture is very cost effective in comparison to other therapies.