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The beneficial effects of acupuncture are far-reaching and can be categorized into six different effects. The best known of these and most spectaculary demonstrated is analgesia (pain relief) which is achieved by raising the pain threshold. Surgical operations eg appendectomy, caesarean section, facial surgery were in the past routinely carried out in China using acupuncture alone. Today it is more likely that modern anaesthetic is performed due to its improved efficacy. However in conjunction with acupuncture the amount of pharmacological agent is minimized.

Secondly, sedation occurs which is useful for the treatment of anxiety states, addictions etc.

A third most important effect is to adjust homeostasis of the body. Homeostasis is the term to explain the balance or equilibrium between opposing control systems of bodily functions ie so that blood pressure is controlled, body temperature controlled, respiration rate maintained etc.

In many diseases this balance is temporarily deranged and acupuncture is helpful in restoring the body to the original state of equilibrium.

There is an immune enhancing action of acupuncture, whereby body resistance to disease is strengthened. Reliance on anti-biotics can be lessened. Similarly there is an anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy effect.

The success rate of acupuncture treatment is generally found to be 80-85%, with 15% of the population not responding. However for the 85% majority it provides a non-drug option for the management of numerous physical conditions.

The gate control theory of pain was the first scientific theory advanced for the mechanism of action of acupuncture. That is, by stimulating nerve fibres adjacent to an area eliciting pain, a pain blocking action is effected at the spinal cord ie the fibres registering pain are inhibited in transmitting their message to the brain. However, this theory only partly explained the phenomena.

Further it was realized that several hormones (chemicals) produced by areas of the brain also had a role to play. These have subsequently been named endorphins and encephalins which are the body's own opiate (morphine-like) hormones. Morphine is the most powerful analgesic known to man and so it is understandable that by stimulating the secretion of the body's own morphine-like substances in the brain such a profound effect as to allow major surgery to be performed can be experienced.

This mechanism of action helps to explain why acupuncture stimulation of a point far removed from the source of pain is effective.

These discoveries have all involved extensive research on animals and humans, so the theory that hypnosis plays a role can be discounted. Other chemical transmitters shown to be affected by acupuncture treatment include dymorphia and serotonins.

Whilst scientific evidence for the mechanism of action is extensive, the full explanation is still unknown with new theories constantly being explored. Importantly though, the ancient art which has evolved over thousands of years from observation has gained credibility as a legitimate therapy in western medicine.

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