Acupuncture is the practice of inserting hair thin needles into certain anatomical points in the body to relieve specific symptoms associated with many diseases. The anatomical points (acupuncture points) are thought to have certain electrical properties, which affect chemical neurotransmitters in the body.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the human body has more than 2,000 acupuncture points connected via pathways, or meridians. These pathways create an energy flow (Qi, pronounced "chee") through the body that is vital for overall health. Disruption of the energy flow can cause disease. Acupuncture may correct these imbalances when applied at acupuncture points and improve the flow of Qi.

In the past few years acupuncture has undergone extensive laboratory research, and has become increasingly known and accepted in the West. The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes the powerful healing effects of acupuncture, and cites over 40 conditions that are treatable with acupuncture, including: menstrual cramps, stress, migraines, depression, and infertility in men and women.

How does it work?

Many studies have documented acupuncture's effects on the body, but none have fully explained how acupuncture works within the framework of Western medicine. Researchers have proposed several processes to explain acupuncture's effects.

In general, acupuncture points are believed to stimulate the central nervous system, which, in turn, releases chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. These chemicals either alter the experience of pain or release other chemicals that influence the body's self-regulating systems. These biochemical changes may stimulate the body's natural healing abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being.

Attention has been focused on the following theories to further explain how acupuncture affects the body:

Conduction of electromagnetic signals: Evidence suggests that acupuncture points are strategic conductors of electromagnetic signals. Stimulating these points enables electromagnetic signals to be relayed at greater-than-normal rates. These signals may start the flow of pain-killing biochemicals, such as endorphins, or release immune system cells to specific body sites.

Activation of the body's natural opiod system: Considerable research supports the claim that acupuncture releases opiods, synthetic or naturally occurring chemicals in the brain, that may reduce pain or induce sleep. These chemicals may explain acupuncture's pain-relieving effects.

Stimulation of the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland: Joined at the base of the brain, the hypothalamus and pituitary glands are responsible for many body functions. The hypothalamus activates and controls part of the nervous system, the endocrine processes, and many bodily functions, such as sleep, regulation of temperature, and appetite. The pituitary gland supplies some of the body's needed hormones. Stimulation of these glands can result in a broad spectrum of effects on various body systems.

Change in the secretion of neurotransmitters and neurohormones: Studies suggest that acupuncture may alter brain chemistry in a positive way. This is accomplished by changing the release of neurotransmitters (biochemical substances that stimulate or inhibit nerve impulses) and neurohormones (naturally-occurring chemical substances that can change the structure or function, or impact the activity of, a body organ).