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Acupuncture and Asian Medicine +TCM: A Brief Introduction


Today, in most western cultures, acupuncture, TCM and Asian medicine are considered “new alternative” medicines. In reality, acupuncture and Asian medicine are practiced medical treatments that are more than 3,500 years old. Simply put, acupuncture is the insertion of very fine needles, (sometimes in conjunction with electrical stimulus), on the body’s surface, in order to influence physiological functioning of the body.

Acupuncture can also be used in conjunction with heat produced by burning specific herbs. This is called Moxibustion. In addition, a non-invasive method so called acupressure, can also be effective.

oc acupuncture dr inserting needles imageThe first record of acupuncture is found in the 4,700-year-old Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine. This is said to be the oldest medical textbook in the world. It is said to have been written down from even earlier theories by Shen Nung, the father of Chinese medicine (TCM). Shen Nung documented theories about circulation, pulse and the heart more than 4,000 years before European medicine had any concept about them.


Yin YangAs the basis of acupuncture and Asian medicine, Shen Nung theorized that the body had an energy force running throughout it. This energy force is known as Qi (roughly pronounced Chee). The Qi consists of all essential life activities, which include the spiritual, emotional, mental, and the physical aspects of life. A person’s health is influenced by the flow of Qi in the body, in combination with the universal forces of Yin and Yang. If the flow of Qi is insufficient, unbalanced or interrupted, Yin and Yang become unbalanced, and illness may occur. Qi travels throughout the body along “meridians” or special pathways.

The meridians (or channels) are the same on both sides of the body (paired). There are 14 main meridians running vertically up and down the surface of the body. Out of these, there are 12 organ meridians in each half of the body (remember they are in pairs). There are also two unpaired midline meridians. The acupuncture points are specific locations, where the meridians come to the surface of the skin, and are easily accessible by “needling,” moxibustion and acupressure. The connections between them ensure that there is an even circulation of Qi, a balance between Yin and Yang. Energy constantly flows up and down these pathways. When pathways become obstructed, deficient, excessive, or just unbalanced, Yin and Yang are thought to be thrown out of balance. This causes illness. Acupuncture and Asian medicine are said to restore the balance.

Yin and Yang are an important theory in the discussion of acupuncture treatment, in relation to the TCM Chinese theory of body systems. Yin is signified by female attributes, passive, dark, cold, moist, that which moves medially, and deficient of Yang. Yang is signified by male attributes, light, active, warm, dry, that which moves laterally, and deficient of Yin. Nothing is completely Yin or Yang. The most striking example of this is man himself. A man is the combination of his mother (Yin) and his father (Yang). He contains qualities of both: This is the universal symbol describing the constant flow of Yin and Yang forces. You will notice that within Yin, there is Yang, and within Yang, there is the genesis of Yin. Whether or not you believe in Taoist philosophy, (which all this is based on), one thing is indisputable: acupuncture works.


Acupuncture and Asian medicine practitioners can use as many as nine types of acupuncture needles, though only six are commonly used today. These needles vary in length, width of shaft and shape of head. Today, most needles are disposable. They are used once and discarded in accordance with medical biohazard regulations and guidelines. There are a few different, precise methods by which acupuncturists insert needles.

There are a few related procedures that fall into the range of acupuncture and Asian medicine treatments. The first is Electro-Acupuncture, which is the process of using very small electrical impulses through the acupuncture needles. This method is generally used for analgesia (pain relief or prevention). The amount of power used is only a few micro-amperes, but the frequency of the current can vary from 5 to 2,000 Hz. A very commonly used treatment in the United States is Auricular-Acupuncture or ear acupuncture. The theory is that since the ear has a rich nerve and blood supply, it would have connections all over the body. For this reason, the ear has many acupuncture points, which correspond with many parts and organs of the body. Auricular acupuncture has been successful in treating problems ranging from obesity to alcoholism, to drug addiction.

Another popular treatment method is Moxibustion, which is the treatment of diseases by applying heat to acupuncture points. Acupuncture and Moxibustion are considered complementary forms of treatment, and are commonly used together. Moxibustion is used for ailments such as bronchial asthma, bronchitis, and certain types of paralysis and arthritic disorders.

Cupping pic 2Cupping is another type of treatment. This is a method of stimulating acupuncture points by applying suction through a metal, wood or glass jar, in which a partial vacuum has been created. This technique produces blood congestion at the site, and therefore, stimulates it. Cupping is used for neck/shoulder/backaches, sprains, soft tissue injuries, and helping relieve fluid from the lungs in chronic bronchitis.

One of the most popular alternatives to acupuncture is Shiatsu Acupressure. This is simply acupuncture without needles. Stimulation of the acupuncture points is preformed with the fingers. Another variation of acupressure is Reflexology (also called zone therapy). This is where the soles of the feet and the posterior-inferior regions of the ankle joints are stimulated. Many diseases of the internal organs can be treated in this manner.

Medicinal Herbal Therapy works in concert with acupuncture by providing the nourishing support for the energetic “re-programming” and “re-balancing” efforts of acupuncture.

The question arises, how does acupuncture work? Scientists have no real answer to this; as you know many of the workings of the body are still a mystery. There are a few prevailing theories:

  1. By some unknown process, acupuncture raises levels of triglycerides, specific hormones, prostaglandins, white blood counts, gamma globulins, opsonin and overall anti-body levels. This is called the “Augmentation of Immunity” Theory.
  2. The “Endorphin” Theory states that acupuncture stimulates the secretions of endorphins in the body (specifically Encephalin).
  3. The “Neurotransmitter” Theory states that certain neurotransmitter levels (such as Serotonin and Noradrenalin) are affected by acupuncture.
  4. “Circulatory” Theory states that acupuncture has the effect of constricting or dilating blood vessels. This may be caused by the body’s release of vasodilators (such as Histamine), in response to acupuncture.
  5. One of the most popular theories is the “Gate Control” Theory. According to this theory, the perception of pain is controlled by a part of the nervous system, which regulates the impulse that will later be interpreted as pain. This part of the nervous system is called the “Gate.” If the gate is hit with too many impulses, it becomes overwhelmed, and it closes. This prevents some of the impulses from getting through. The first gates to close would be the ones that are the smallest. The nerve fibers that carry the impulses of pain are rather small nerve fibers called “C” fibers. These are the gates that close during acupuncture.

There are many diseases that can be treated successfully by acupuncture or its related treatments (see sidebar below). Hopefully, this brief introduction will give you a better understanding of the history of acupuncture, the different procedures and the alternatives that it offers.


• Allergies/Asthma
• Anxiety/Depression
• Arthritis/Joint problems
• Back pain
• Bladder/Kidney problems
• Constipation/Diarrhea
• Colds/Influenza
• Cough/Bronchitis
• Dizziness
• Drug/Smoking/Alcohol addiction
• Fatigue
• Gastrointestinal disorder
• Gynecological disorders
• Headaches/Migraine
• Heart problems/Palpitation
• High blood pressure
• Immune system deficiency

• Knee pain
• Menstrual discomfort
• Musculoskeletal injuries
• Paralysis/Numbness
• Rhinitis
• Sciatica
• Sexual dysfunction
• Side effects of chemo- and radiation therapies
• Sinusitis
• Skin problems
• Stress/Tension
• Stroke rehabilitation
• Tendonitis



As appeared in Edible Orange County Magazine, Spring 2012

By Katalin Csoka L.Ac., Ph.D., M.D.

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"Be good to yourself. If you do not take care of your body, where will you live?"

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