There are many theories on why and how acupuncture works to treat many health conditions. Read more below to learn about a new theory that is emerging in current research.
Research Update: New research might help explain how acupuncture works
I often get asked the question, “how does acupuncture work.” There are actually many western explanations on how acupuncture works from a science perspective. The most well-known explanation is that acupuncture works by stimulating endorphin “the feel-good hormone” and thus reduces pain.
The Interstitial Theory
Another theory scientists have held for many years as to why acupuncture works to alleviate chronic pain and other ailments is called the Vascular-Interstitial Theory. This theory describes the idea that acupuncture works by affecting the electrical signals in the body. Electricity is vital for sending information through the body to the brain and vice versa, as well as in order to conduct currents to the heart, which allows it to pump at the right times.
A disruption to any of these electrical currents can cause illness. The Vascular-Interstitial Theory of acupuncture suggests stimulating certain acupuncture points affects these electrical currents in our bodies, facilitating healing by allowing the movement of blood, oxygen, and electrical energy between healthy and injured tissues.
New research to back up this theory
Research published in March 2018 in Scientific Reports, sheds new light on the Vascular-Interstitial Theory by looking at a specific area in the body called the interstitium.
Previous research suggested the interstitium was a layer of densely packed connective tissue lining the digestive tract, lungs, urinary systems and surrounding veins and fascia between the muscles. New and increasingly powerful microscopes now allow scientists to look inside living tissues. In this case, the authors of the research were able to look inside for the first time, and rather than a web of densely packed connective tissue, they found the space is a network of interconnected, fluid-filled compartments. This finding may help to explain why placing acupuncture needles at specific points on the body creates healing elsewhere in the body.
What does this new research help us learn about acupuncture?
Previous research found an 80% correspondence between the location of acupuncture points and the location of connective tissue planes. Researchers proposed that the anatomical relationship of acupuncture points to the connective tissue planes is relevant to acupuncture‘s mechanism of action and suggests a potentially important integrative role for interstitial connective tissue.
Interstitium and how acupuncture works
In a recent article for The Cut, reporter Katie Heaney interviewed one of the authors of this new research, Neil Theise, a clinician and professor of pathology at NYU Langone Health and a proponent of alternative medicine. While the research paper itself did not discuss acupuncture, Heaney asked Theise to weigh in on the possible connections. Theise posited it was possible the research had implications for understanding acupuncture. The layer of skin into which acupuncture needles are inserted is the interstitium, Theise explained.
“There’s fluid in there,” he told Heaney. “When you put the needle [into an acu-point], maybe the collagen bundles are arranged into a channel through which fluid can flow.”
The research shows the interstitium is a structured and organized system in the body. It may be that stimulating true acupoints allows interstitial fluid to travel throughout the body, explaining why acupuncture has far-reaching effects, not just offering pain relief at the site where the needles are inserted. Channels of interstitial fluid may be responsible for facilitating the transfer of blood, organic matter and electricity between healthy and injured parts of the body. These findings also offer a possible explanation as to why other research has shown sham acupuncture points have some pain-relieving effects where the needles are inserted, but true acupoints go a lot further in offering system-wide relief.
As always, this research is inconclusive on its own. It will require more research to further explore the connection between the interstitium and acupuncture, but it is undoubtedly an interesting idea.
If you or someone you know suffers from chronic pain or migraines, give us a call today (425) 686-4498 to learn how we can help you find relief in an all-natural way!
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Dr. Ellie Heintze, ND, LAc, is a naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist in Bothell, WA at her practice Starting Point Acupuncture. She is a pain specialist, seeing people who suffer from chronic pain, migraines, as well as digestive issues. Offering pain relief injections, acupuncture, facial rejuvenation, and nutrition consults. Most insurances accepted. Dr. Ellie Heintze is also the author of the book, A Starting Point Guide to Going Gluten-Free on Amazon.
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Dr. Ellie Heintze, ND, LAc
- Master’s Degree in Acupuncture
- Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine
- Master’s Degree in Chemistry
Northern Arizona University
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