The origins of acupuncture

Acupuncture is a branch of traditional Chinese medicine, born in China more than 3000 years ago but which has only recently become part of Western medical culture.

Only with the discovery of the Indies did trade and direct trade with China foster closer relations, such as to allow some doctrines of traditional Chinese medicine to land in Europe. The limits of this initial knowledge were two: on the one hand, the difficulty of translating a doctrine very different from ours and mostly made up of ideographic characters in the Chinese language; on the other hand, the poor scientific and medical preparation of diplomats and religious who carried out these first translations. Only in the 17th century were translations of Chinese medicine texts published in the West.

However, all these contacts did not lead to a real comparison between the Western medical and academic world with that of acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine.

It is only in the first post-war period that a real interest in acupuncture began to appear in western countries; an interest that deepens especially after the Second World War and was amplified in the 70s.

In Italy, acupuncture took root as a medical practice in the 90s, and is now defined as a “medical act” of the unique relevance of the graduate in Medicine and Surgery. Under Italian law, anyone who practices acupuncture without this requirement can be criminally punishable.


What is acupuncture

Acupuncture consists in the insertion (painlessly) for therapeutic purposes of very fine needles (sterile and disposable) in particular body sites, called acupuncture sites or acupoints, distributed over the entire body surface. After insertion, the needles can also be stimulated using various techniques: manual, electrostimulation, moxibustion …

The therapy is based on the idea that a network of channels, called meridians, are present in the body through which a fundamental energy for health and life flows. The patency of the channels allows the correct flow of this vital energy, on the contrary their obstruction alters the flow and this can determine the appearance of various types of problems. The goal of acupuncture treatment is to free the meridians, in case of obstruction, and restore a correct flow. This is done by inserting specific needles in certain areas of the body.

The therapy consists of a cycle of sessions, of variable number depending on the pathology and its severity, during which the needles will remain fixed in the body for about 30 minutes.

The World Health Organization has drawn up a table listing the fields in which it can be useful to resort to acupuncture, alone or in association with traditional therapies:

      • ache
      • nervous system diseases such as insomnia and anxiety
      • osteoarticular and rheumatological diseases
      • obstetric-gynecological diseases
      • respiratory diseases
      • gastrointestinal diseases such as nausea, vomiting, constipation
      • chronic degenerative diseases
      • cardiovascular diseases
      • oncological diseases


Acupuncture and oncology

Acupuncture in cancer patients aims to reduce the side effects of the disease, traditional therapies and therefore improve the quality of life.

Studies currently available in the literature show that oncology acupuncture is useful for:

      • counteract nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy drugs and radiotherapy. This would seem to be the most important effect of acupuncture (1)
      • reduce neuropathic pain triggered by some chemotherapy, joint pain typical of hormone therapy or radiation therapy or pain after surgery (2)
      • reduce post-chemotherapy fatigue (3)
      • improve frequent sleep disturbance in cancer patients (4)
      • improve the depressive symptoms that often occur following the diagnosis of cancer (5)
      • reduce vasomotor symptoms (such as hot flashes) in women with breast cancer and undergoing hormone therapy (6)


Safety and side effects

Acupuncture is a safe treatment, does not interfere with traditional drug therapies and has practically no side effects. Furthermore, it is cheap and simple to use even in the hospital setting.

Since the needles that are used are made of metal, the practice of acupuncture is contraindicated in patients who have a metal allergy.


Bibliographical references:

1) Medicine (Baltimore). 2020 Jan. Prevention of chemotherapyinduced nausea and vomiting with acupuncture: A protocol for systematic review and meta-analysis. Ma TT, Zhang T, Zhang GL, Dai CF, Zhang BR, Wang XM, Wang LP.

2) Eur J Cancer Care (Engl). 2017 Mar. Systematic review and meta-analysis of acupuncture to reduce cancer-related pain. Chiu H, Hsieh YJ, Tsai PS.

3) Support Care Cancer. 2018 Feb. Effects of acupuncture on cancerrelated fatigue: a meta-analysis. Zhang Y, Lin L, Li H, Hu Y, Tian L.

4) Integr Cancer Ther. 2017 Jun. Acupuncture for Managing Cancer-Related Insomnia: A Systematic Review of Randomized Clinical Trials. Choi TY, Kim JI, Lim HJ, Lee MS.

5) J Tradit Chin Med. 2011 Sep. Clinical research of acupuncture on malignant tumor patients for improving depression and sleep quality. Feng Y, Wang XY, Li SD, Zhang Y, Wang HM, Li M, Cao K, Ye YF, Zhang Z.

6) J Cancer Res Ther. 2018 Sep. Acupuncture for the relief of hot flashes in breast cancer patients: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and observational studies. Wang XP, Zhang DJ, Wei XD, Wang JP, Zhang DZ.