I am often asked, “Does acupuncture work?” followed by, “How does acupuncture work?” My answer to the first is, “Yes acupuncture works, that’s why I have developed a thriving practice over 10 years.” The answer to the second is, “That’s a hard question to answer easily, but let’s start with a little medical theory of Chinese medicine.”
There are two of several organizational models that are a good introduction to Chinese medicine:
1. Five organ systems
2. Three burners
The Five Organ Systems of Chinese Medicine
There are 5 organ systems in Chinese medicine know as the Five Phases. (They are more commonly referred to as Five Elements.) They each have anatomical organs associated with them and a range of physical to emotional components. There is a full listing of all the associations in a two-page graphic in Does It Hurt.
- Wood– also know as Liver/ Gallbladder. Wood includes your organs liver and gallbladder, all of the tendons, ligaments and muscles, your eyes, tears, sense of vision, and your emotions of creativity, anger and frustration.
- Fire– Heart/ Small Intestine, Pericardium/Triple Heater- Fire includes your organs heart and small intestine, your blood, blood vessels, sweat, and your emotions of consciousness and unconsciousness. The heart is the seat of our emotions.
- Earth– Spleen/ Stomach- Earth includes your organs spleen and stomach, all of your connective tissue, fat tissue, saliva, sense of taste, and your self awareness.
- Metal– Lung/ Large Intestine- Metal includes your organs lung and large intestine, all of your skin, the lining of your digestive tract, mucous, your sense of smell, and your emotions of sensitivity and hypersensitivity.
- Water– Kidney/ Bladder- Water includes your organs kidney and bladder, your bones, teeth, reproductive system, central nervous system including spine and brain, your endocrine system, ears, sense of hearing, and your emotions of will, volition, and fear.
- Pericardium/ Triple Heater- This system is the concept of distribution of heat and fluids in your system. It is associated with the heart so responsible for managing your emotions.
These organ systems all interrelate, each connecting to the others through a system of generation and regulation. Taken as a functional whole they describe all that we are, our physical to emotional self.
The Three Burners
We are a three-level energy production plant. I describe us like this because we extract energy from food and oxygen amazingly efficiently. This model is a very elegant way of seeing how we take in food and extract its energy, add this to oxygen to create fuel energy, distribute high-octane energy via the blood, combust it, then perform cleanup or detoxification from the byproducts of this process. Here is an interesting link https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2011/11/mpg-of-a-human/ which points out that we have very efficient engines!
Middle Burner– Stomach and spleen are the intake organs for our food. The taste of food immediately sends energy to the associated organs. Material food energy is then liberated and sent upward to the upper burner.
Upper Burner– Lung and heart comprise the upper burner. Food energy arrives from the middle burner and is mixed with oxygen at the lung. The heart distributes this completed fuel energy (ying qi) to the entire body via blood which is yin or material energy. In each cell the yin nutrients are burned to release active energy, yang or immaterial energy.
Lower Burner-Kidney, bladder, liver, gallbladder, small and large intestines are included in the lower burner. Cellular combustion of food and oxygen is a dirty process like all combustion processes. The lower burner is your detoxification apparatus, cleaning the waste products from your blood and excreting them to the outside.
Our engines not only burn and circulate fuel and detoxify, they also produce all of our substances and fluids. Bones, teeth, connective tissue, body fluids, our organs, eyes and all of our emotions are supported in this process. We are amazing beings!
You will find more in-depth descriptions of these theories in my introductory book on acupuncture,
Does It Hurt? A Dialog to Help You Understand and Trust Acupuncture