Electrical properties of acupuncture points and meridians: A systematic review

Authors

  • Andrew C. Ahn,

    Corresponding author
    1. Division for Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
    2. Division of General Medicine and Primary Care, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts
    3. Center for Biomedical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts
    • Harvard Medical School, Division for Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies, 401 Park Drive Suite 22A-West, Boston, MA 02215.
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  • Agatha P. Colbert,

    1. Helfgott Research Institute, National College of Natural Medicine, Portland, Oregon
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  • Belinda J. Anderson,

    1. Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, New York, New York
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  • Ørjan G. Martinsen,

    1. Department of Physics, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
    2. Department of Clinical and Biomedical Engineering, Rikshospitalet, Oslo, Norway
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  • Richard Hammerschlag,

    1. Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, Portland, Oregon
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  • Steve Cina,

    1. New England School of Acupuncture, Watertown, Massachusetts
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  • Peter M. Wayne,

    1. Division for Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Helene M. Langevin

    1. Department of Neurology, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont
    2. Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont
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Abstract

According to conventional wisdom within the acupuncture community, acupuncture points and meridians are special conduits for electrical signals. This view gained popularity after anecdotal reports and clinical studies asserted that these anatomical structures are characterized by lower electrical impedance compared to adjacent controls. To ascertain whether evidence exists to support or refute this claim, we conducted a systematic review of studies directly evaluating the electrical characteristics of acupuncture structures and appropriate controls. We searched seven electronic databases until August 2007, hand-searched references, and consulted technical experts. We limited the review to primary data human studies published in English. A quality scoring system was created and employed for this review. A total of 16 articles representing 18 studies met inclusion criteria: 9 examining acupuncture points and 9 examining meridians. Five out of 9 point studies showed positive association between acupuncture points and lower electrical resistance and impedance, while 7 out of 9 meridian studies showed positive association between acupuncture meridians and lower electrical impedance and higher capacitance. The studies were generally poor in quality and limited by small sample size and multiple confounders. Based on this review, the evidence does not conclusively support the claim that acupuncture points or meridians are electrically distinguishable. However, the preliminary findings are suggestive and offer future directions for research based on in-depth interpretation of the data. Bioelectromagnetics 29:245–256, 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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