How does acupuncture work?

This question has been plaguing me since my first experience receiving acupuncture over thirty years ago.

When I was a patient, I was just satisfied that it did work. I treated it like a strange magic that made me well again, and left it at that. I had a blind faith in the Chinese way of healing people.

It was only when I decided to become an practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine that my burning desire to really find out the truth about how it really works was set into motion. Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in NYC had accepted me into their four year Master’s program, and I was embarking on a journey to find out the hidden knowledge of this 2,000 year old ancient medicine.

Finally the mystery behind the medicine that heals on so many levels would be unveiled for me to know and understand! All I needed was to pay my tuition and the truth would then be revealed.

Well, nothing could have been further from the truth.

In the four years of the Master’s program I took all the classes I could to unlock the mystery: fundamentals of Chinese medicine, Chinese philosophy, fundamentals of acupuncture, and herbology, to name a few. There was not one explanation offered in any of the classes that could satisfy my western scientific mind. This, after all, was not in my culture; the talk of qi (life force), meridians (paths through which qi flows), and yin and yang was an exciting foreign language and way of viewing the world. But I still lacked an explanation of how acupuncture treatments could have such a transformative effect on my patients.

I was looking for some sort of scientific account of how the meridians, qi, and acupuncture points were able to heal the body. However, in all my exhaustive studies there was no such explanation that really made sense.

But as time went on, my emersion and indoctrination into this new world of healing lead me back to blind faith in the work that I was doing. As my practice grew, as well as my ability to help my patients heal, my need to know how this medicine really worked became less important. I simply knew and saw that it did work, and that was all I needed to understand.


Just recently, I have discovered the work of Kim Bonghan, a scientist from Korea that published research on physical duct-like systems that appear to be the anatomical basis of the meridian systems. He found that these threadlike microscopic structures correspond to the layout of the acupuncture meridian system. These channels have been found inside the blood, lymphatic vessel, and form networks that overlay the internal organs as well as the brain.

These transparent tubular structures contain a flowing liquid of hyaluronic acid, small granules of DNA, and chromosomal material. These structures are like fiber optic channels in the body that are able to carry an extremely high density of information beyond the limited one-way signals of the nervous system, activating a unique communication network that can restore normal functioning in the body. After 40 years of work, the Bonghan research is using stereo-microscopic photography to photograph and identify these thin, almost transparent, tubular structures.

In a separate study in 1992, Russian researchers found that acupuncture channels conduct light. The study found that this ability exists only along the acupuncture meridians, and can enter and exit only along the acupuncture points.

This research is starting to shed light on how and why acupuncture can have such diverse and unique ability to heal on all systems and levels of the body. I find this information to be so exciting, and hope that research continues to majorly impact our understanding of this fascinating system of healing.

David Milbrant. “Bonghan Channels in Acupuncture”. Acupuncture Today, April, 2009, Vol. 10, Issue 04

Byung-Cheon Lee, Kyung-Hee Bae, Gil-Ja Jhon, Kwang-Sup Soh. “Bonghan System as Mesenchymal Stem Cell Niches and Pathways of Macrophages in Adipose Tissues”. Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies, Volume 2, Issue 1, March 2009, Pages 79–82