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Exactly how and why acupuncture seems to improve certain conditions isn’t known. This procedure remains controversial because it’s very difficult to study using standard scientific methods. For example, it’s difficult to identify meridians because they don’t directly correspond to familiar systems, such as nerve or blood circulation pathways. Some researchers think that meridians are located throughout the body’s connective tissue. Others don’t think that meridians and qi even exist.

Despite the controversy, preliminary research shows that acupuncture may help treat a variety of health conditions. According to the National Institutes of Health, researchers are studying at least three possible explanations:

Central nervous system stimulation. Acupuncture may stimulate your central nervous system — your brain and spinal cord — to release neurotransmitters and neurohormones that activate your body’s natural healing abilities.

Opioid release. During acupuncture, endorphins that are part of your body’s natural pain-control system may be released into your central nervous system. This reduces pain.

Body function change. Acupuncture may alter how your blood pressure, blood flow and body temperature are regulated as changes occur in the central nervous system.

(Source: Mayo Clinic, online at www.mayoclinic.com.)

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