Why Today's Acupuncture Attracted Skepticism


The effectiveness of acupuncture was immediate, reliable and reproducible, particularly when treating pains,  as described in Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine (Huangdi Neijing), the oldest Chinese canon of medicine dating from about 100 B.C., where an organized system of diagnosis and treatment using needles was first recorded in writing in Chinese medicine history.

However, today's acupuncture, specifically the textbook acupuncture as commonly taught in schools worldwide, rarely worked as reliable and fast as described in the classic canon. This unreliability was the main reason causing skepticism among many Western medicine practitioners.

So why ancient acupuncture worked magically, but today's attracted skepticism or controversies?

Many historical factors have contributed to such situation. One factor is that today's acupuncture is wrongly guided by an inappropriate theory.  Today's acupuncture is in fact a system organized by Chinese scholars 100 years ago in 1920's, further systematized in 1950's - 70's in Mainland China and gradually accepted worldwide thereafter. This system applied the Chinese Herb Medicine theory (Tongue and pulse diagnosis) to guide clinical practice of acupuncture, while the acupuncture as described in Huangdi Neijing had nothing to do with Chinese herb medicine theory.

Ever since 1920's, clinical experiences have repeatedly indicated the theories of Herb Medicine does not work on acupuncture. Insert needles at the acupoints selected by applying herb theory very rarely produces reliable or quick effects. Many researches conducted in European and Unite States found that inserting needles at the acupoints suggested in textbook did not work any better than inserting needles somewhere else. This is because the textbook uses herb theory to select acupoints.

Particularly in the recent 20 years, more and more experts agrees that acupuncture has been mistakenly regarded as a sub-specialty affiliated with Chinese Herb Medicine. Obviously, there is a drastic difference in clinical mechanisms between the two.  Acupuncture medicine physically uses sharp needles to stimulate the skin without any chemical substances involved, while Herb Medicine uses natural substances such as herbs, minerals or parts of animals to treat diseases. Therefore, acupuncture must has its own theories and needs diagnostic and treatment methodology that are different from those of Herb Medicine.

As Professor Long-Xiang Huang, the leading acupuncture researcher put it, the magically effective classic acupuncture can be likened to brilliant jewels of wisdom (based on thousands of years' try and error experience). Today's acupuncture is like a necklace composed by jewels strung together by an ugly string of wrong or outdated theory. The brilliant jewels are greatly devalued by the ugly string.

The consequence is that the clinical effectiveness of truly magic acupuncture is greatly reduced. More importantly, the wrongly applied theory prevented further development of acupuncture medicine. It is not possible to improve a medicine guided by a wrong theory.

The good news is that  textbook acupuncture aside, there also exists (previously secret) family lineages of acupuncture such as Tung's acupuncture, I Jing acupuncture ... which faithfully inherited the truly classic modality of acupuncture as recorded in Huangdi Neijing. The effectiveness of these modalities are immediate, reliable and reproducible. These family lineage modalities of acupuncture have been practised without need to be guided by herb theory.  Although they are still not accepted by those domineering scholars who strongly believe acupuncture should be guided by  the herb theory,  more and more clinical practitioners worldwide became to realize the magic power of these not-well-known modalities and started to integrate such modalities into their daily clinical practice. 

Medical history has been always a trial and error process. Only through repeatedly  trial and error and correcting our error with a open mind,  can our medicine be kept constantly improving.

Literature cited

1. Yun-tao Ma, The New Reality of Acupuncture Medicine.  https://www.med-vetacupuncture.org/english/articles/biomedac.html

2. Long-Xiang Huang, Reconstruction of theories of acupuncture, 2016. The Acupuncture Institute of Chinese Medical Sciences