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How Do Combinatorial Codes Make The Acupuncture Magic Work?

Acupuncture utilizes the capacity of the mind to sense and respond to combinatorial patterns. Neurons recognize and transmit functional messages. Their signals selectively signify smells, heat, light, sounds, touch, pain and much more. Those signals also tense muscles and trigger the production of neurohormones.  This website holds that all neurons recognize combinations of incoming signals to fire, or to become inhibited.  

The localized acupuncture pain signals are recognized by cells in other regions, which respond by inhibiting pain signals, or relaxing muscles. Since combinatorial codes work in a massively linked network, the application of a needle in one location generates responses in distant regions of the body.

  • Successfully practiced worldwide, science has not been able to explain how acupuncture treatment works.
  • WHO has acknowledged the beneficial effects of acupuncture.
  • Traditional Chinese medical theory suggests that a “vital energy” links the external surface of the body to internal systems through broad and mysterious pathways. This is not a satisfactory scientific explanation.
  • The diagnosis of illness for acupuncture treatment is highly individualized and seeks to identify “patterns of disharmony.” Diagnosis depends on individual philosophical theories and intuitive impressions.
  • All the peripheral pathways treated in acupuncture are wholly traversed by pain and touch sensory nerve cells.
  • Combinatorial coding has been acknowledged by science. The phenomenon can explain how a touch can relieve pain.
  • A combinatorial coding intelligence, which links the pain and sensory pathways to the motor systems provides the obvious explanation for acupuncture.

How Does Acupuncture Work?
What Is The History Of Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is not voodoo. It is a technique of inserting and manipulating fine needles into specific points on the body to relieve pain or for therapeutic purposes. A legend claims that acupuncture started in China when some soldiers experimented with arrows (later needles) as therapy, after experiencing relief from pain in other parts of the body, after being wounded by arrows in battle.

Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, Vietnamese and Korean forms of acupuncture are practiced and taught throughout the world. The beneficial effects of the treatment indicate a real life phenomenon. The impact of acupuncture can be explained from known scientific facts.

How Does Acupuncture Work?
Is Acupuncture Effective?

An effective therapy implies real physical responses within the system. The WHO endorses acupuncture for approximately two dozen conditions, and says evidence is suggestive but inconclusive for several dozen more. George A. Ulett at the University of Missouri School of Medicine reports that the stimulation of about 80 acupuncture points has proved to be useful for pain control. A review for the American Pain Society/American College of Physicians found evidence that acupuncture is effective for chronic low back pain. Another 2008 review suggests that combining acupuncture with conventional infertility treatments such as IVF significantly improves success rates.

The Cochrane review suggested that stimulation of the P6 acupoint can reduce the risk of postoperative nausea and vomiting with minimal side effects. Several trials have indicated that migraine patients benefit from acupuncture. There is also general agreement that acupuncture is safe when administered by well-trained practitioners using sterile needles. While acupuncture cannot replace Western medicine, it is regarded to be an effective complementary therapy. These benefits of acupuncture can only be produced by real life nervous system events.

How Does Acupuncture Work?
What Is The Traditional Chinese Theory?

Traditional Chinese medical theory gave practitioners an abstract framework for the identification of acupuncture points. According to them, disease is caused by a loss of balance of Yin, Yang, Qi and Blood within the body. Qi is an immaterial “vital energy” and Blood (capitalized to distinguish it from physiological blood) is material. Qi is believed to move through twelve internal and an external pathways.

The internal pathways enter the body cavities and related Zang Fu organs - functional systems, named after anatomical organs. Zang is translated as "viscera" or solid organs and Fu is translated as "bowels" or hollow organs. Zang Fu are capitalized in English - Lung, Heart, Kidney, etc. Treatment modifies the activity of one or more organs through the application of needles, pressure, heat, etc. on sensitive acupuncture points. The traditional theory suggested links from the peripheral nervous system through broad pathways to the internal systems. But this explanation does not practically answer the question "How Does Acupuncture Work?"

How Does Acupuncture Work?
What Is The Method Of Diagnosis?

Acupuncture results cannot be indexed precisely, because neural links vary widely. Neuron growth differs widely for individuals and combinatorial codes can be both acquired and inherited. So, acupuncture treatment is highly individualized. Each practitioner bases it on philosophical theories and subjective and intuitive impressions. Inspection focuses on the face and tongue, including analysis of the tongue size, shape, tension, color and coating, and the absence or presence of teeth marks around the edge.

Breathing sounds and body odor are considered. Chills and fever; perspiration; appetite, thirst and taste; defecation and urination; pain; sleep; and menses are questioned. The body is felt for tender "ashi" points. Practitioners link "patterns of disharmony," to biomedical conditions. As an example, for the pattern called Deficiency of Spleen, Qi may be manifested as as chronic fatigue, diarrhea or uterine prolapse. Tradition suggests "One disease, many patterns; one pattern, many diseases."

How Does Acupuncture Work?
Are Acupuncture Points Linked?

The practitioners realized that specific acupuncture points had links to particular biological systems. Specific pain signals were recognized by these systems, which responded by relaxing local muscles, or by triggering beneficial neurohormonal responses. The early practitioners linked these identified cause and effect relationships to imagine a comprehensible system.

Qi and Blood flow through "fourteen channels" - "twelve main meridians" and two of the "eight extra meridians" (Du Mai and Ren Mai). The twelve primary pathways run vertically, bilaterally, and symmetrically and every channel corresponds to and connects internally with one of the twelve Zang Fu organs. All acupuncture points of a channel lie on its external pathway. In reality, this entire external pathway is wholly traversed by pain and touch sensory nerve cells.

How Does Acupuncture Work?
Does The Process Have A Combinatorial Logic?

Among many neural functions, combinatorial coding powers the variations in human response to pain. Pain sensory neurons report pain to the cortex. Acupuncture is known to trigger inhibitory action in the pain pathways of the cerebral cortex. It was also was shown to increase the nitric oxide levels in treated regions, resulting in increased local blood circulation.

Pain blockade is also mediated by neurohormones. Let us assume that a reporting pain sensory neuron has three inputs - P, SP and T. P reports actual pain caused by damage to skin cells. SP reports pain signals from neighboring pain reporting cells. T reports touch signals from surrounding cells, or from linked accupressure points. Consider the possible interpretations of pain sent by the reporting system to the cortex:

1. P - Fire to report pain.
2. SP - Fire to report sympathetic pain.
3. P + T - Fire to ignore touch and report pain.
4. SP + T - Inhibit - suppress sympathetic pain to report touch.

Based on its evaluation of its combinatorial inputs, the pain reporting neuron can substantially vary its interpretation of pain. Pain can be directly reported. By responding with sympathetic pain messages, or remembered pain messages, the neuron can exaggerate effect of injury. Touch signals can suppress sympathetic and recalled pain messages. Combinatorial codes can enable neurons to enable the seemingly mysterious responses of the body to accupuncture and accupressure.

How Does Acupuncture Work?
What Are Blockage Points?

The ancient practitioners discovered tender “ashi points,” which indicated “blockages.” Touch sensory signals in these points generated pain signals in the system. Essentially, specific groups of neurons responded to neighborhood neural activity by triggering remembered pain signals, or by tensing muscles. Palpation of these tender points triggered pain signals.

Acupressure (repeated touch), or ongoing acupuncture stilled pain, or relaxed muscles in the linked regions. The “removal of blockages” and “the free flow of Qi and Blood” were the combinatorial responses of an intelligent neural network. They responded to acupressure, or acupuncture by “tonifying where there is deficiency, draining where there is excess, and promoting free flow where there is stagnation.” The guiding principle of acupuncture was "no pain, no blockage; no blockage, no pain."

How Does Acupuncture Work?
How Is The Typical Treatment Done?

Since acupuncture acts on the system through a widely distributed nervous system, acupuncture points are quite remote from the problem regions. Typically, a common treatment for headaches is to stimulate the sensitive points in the centers of the webs between the thumbs and the palms of the patient's hands.

The patient reclines, and the points on each hand are first sterilized with alcohol, and then thin, disposable needles are inserted until a characteristic "twinge" is felt by the patient, often accompanied by a slight twitching of the area between the thumb and hand. Most patients report a pleasurable "tingling" sensation and feeling of relaxation while the needles are in place. Others may experience extreme sensitivity to pain at the sensitive points and even a feeling of nausea, before getting relief.

How Does Acupuncture Work?
Has Science Solved The Mystery?

Modern science has still not acknowledged the impact of combinatorial coding in the nervous system. Without such an understanding, science has expended massive efforts to discover either anatomical, or physiological links to acupuncture points. They could find no evidence of the flow of Qi or Blood along the fourteen channels. There was no known anatomical or histological basis for the existence of acupuncture points or meridians.

According to the NIH consensus statement on acupuncture, these traditional Chinese medical concepts "are difficult to reconcile with contemporary biomedical information but continue to play an important role in the evaluation of patients and the formulation of treatment in acupuncture.” A combinatorial coding intelligence, which links the pain and sensory pathways to the motor systems provides the obvious links for acupuncture. This explanation grants a "scientific basis" for the treatment.

This page was last updated on 31-Dec-2013.