Author: Dr. habil. Hegyi Gabriella MD.PhD. Department of Complementary Medicine, Institute of Dietetic and Physiotherapy, University of Pécs

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One of the main parts of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM, HKO) is acupuncture. Its classical basis is given by the “doctrine of the system of energy flow”, the underlying “channels”, or in other words, meridians and points. During the treatment, very thin, sterile needles are inserted into the acupuncture points on the skin surface at different depths. The inserted needles generates a sensory – which is activated pulse that travels to the spinal cord and then crosses the large ascending pathways through the nuclei of the thalamus to the cerebral cortex. Recent radiological examination methods (PET, fMRI) prove that acupuncture also activates other central nervous system structures such as nucleus accumbens, amygdala, habenula, thalamus nuclei.

The mechanism of action of acupuncture are:

  • The immune strengthen effect:  Acupuncture increases the amount of triglycerides, certain hormones, prostaglandins, white blood cells, gamma globulins, opsonins, and antibodies.
  • Pain relief effect: Acupuncture stimulates the production of endorphins, mostly enkephalins and dynorphins.
  • Anti depression effect: Acupuncture can affect the production and secretion of certain neurotransmitters such as serotonin and noradrenaline which help relieve the depression symptoms.
  • Rehabilitation effect: Acupuncture boost the circulation of blood, nerve and lympho by stimulating the muscle-nerve system and releases vasodilator substances like histamine, prostaglandines.

According to WHO, acupuncture treatments can be applied for the following diseases:

  • allergic rhinitis
  • Primary and secondary depression, for example after stroke
  • Sleep disturbances
  • painful menstrual periods which are caused by uterine contractions
  • epigastric pain (peptic ulcer, acute and chronic gastritis), stomach cramps
  • Joint pain: knee pain, low back pain (discus hernia, discopathy, postoperative pain) and neuralgia facial pain, neck-shoulder syndrome. Soft tissue rheumatism, tennis elbow, lumbago.
  • headaches, migraine
  • high blood pressure
  • introduction of childbirth: facilitation of the dilatation phase, correction of fetal maintenance,
  • treatment of postoperative pain syndromes, postoperative nausea
  • improvement of the symptoms of stroke. • Improve mental and movement development of children with disabilities

Researchers found a statistically significant correlation between the number of treatments and the effectiveness. Patients who received less than six treatments hardly showed  significant effective, but those got a course of at least 10 treatment did show a better recovery. This is the so-called cumulative effect.