Why Your Pastor is Wrong About Acupuncture (November 10, 2015)
I wish to tell you what I think is a very sad story. An acupuncturist of my acquaintance had begun seeing a child who had been deaf from birth in an attempt to restore (at least in some part) the little girl's hearing. After several treatments, she began hearing some sounds, and the parents were so excited that they told everyone who would listen -- including the people in their church congregation. When their pastor got wind of this, he scolded them and told them that acupuncture was eastern mysticism and therefore occult and satanic, and that they had to stop the treatments immediately. Which they did.
There are quite a few ways I could go with this topic, some of them particularly tempting. But I'm going to mind my manners for once and simply point out that the conflating of Chinese medicine with eastern religion is just flat out wrong, and why. Quite simply, we know a lot more about how acupuncture works than we did even a few years ago, and you don't have to drag energy, life force, Lao Tzu or lotus blossoms into the picture to explain it.
I can see where the aforementioned pastor's completely inaccurate assessment came from. Traditionally, Chinese medicine, government, religion, philosophy, and science -- basically everything in the Chinese intellectual world -- all have the same philosophical foundation. Part of that foundation is the "everything is energy" thing, and manipulation of the patient's individual life energy ("qi", pronounced chee) is the most commonly presented explanation of how acupuncture works. That has a mystical sound to it that some people find way cool, but that other people (both your religion- and your science-minded types, interestingly) don't like one little bit.
Acupuncture points tend to be found in rows, also called channels/ meridians. You can consider them as conduits for life force, or you can see that they tend to run between muscle groups and along major nerve trunks and blood vessels. You could think about the points being areas where your energy is concentrated, or you can appreciate that they are located near nerve plexuses and other tissues that, when appropriately stimulated, can pass along a lot of information to the rest of the body.
Scientists argued for many years that there was no such thing as qi and that therefore acupuncture couldn't possibly work. Finally some smart boy or girl realized that they had it backwards. There's no use denying that something works just because you don't like the explanation of WHY. The thing to do is just cave and admit that we don't know what is happening -- and then use some of that science stuff we're so proud of to FIND OUT. Since then, we've discovered that (in very broad, general terms):
It does all these things by (mostly) signalling the brain and the body's other organs and control systems through the nerves. You put a needle in an acupuncture point, it sends signals along nerves that notify different parts of the body to do their thing. Some acupuncture points are good for changing hormone balance. Some decrease inflammatory chemicals. Some change neurotransmitters, in the brain and elsewhere. Etc.
The key here is that we have finally begun to come out of our mental straitjackets and realize that there are other ways of directly treating the body besides cutting stuff out and dosing it with pharmaceuticals. It is a joyous irony that THE trend in conventional medicine right now is less drug/surgery and more of the stuff that's traditionally been relegated to "hucksters" and "quacks" and, in the case of the aforementioned pastor, satanists as well. Who woulda thunk it.
Anyway, my point is that we don't need to resort to traditional Asian thought, or to magical thinking, in order to accept acupuncture as a beneficial therapy. We just need to realize that there are other, valid ways to help people get better than the ones we are used to.
Our bodies have been healing themselves for a long time, and mostly doing a pretty good job of it. Sometimes you can put a few little needles into it for half an hour or so and help it along a bit. I really doubt that anyone is going to go to hell for THAT.
--dr. diane holmes
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