Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine as a whole are based on the theory that health and illness in an individual are determined by the flow of Qi in their body along a series of pathways, or meridians. Until now, meridians have commonly been viewed as a metaphor or an ancient theory of how the body works developed before the advent of modern medicine. But researchers are finding evidence of structures in the human body that could be analogous to meridians and some have demonstrated the existence of acupoints. Both of these discoveries could ultimately help us better understand how acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine work.
The primo vascular system connects the cardiovascular, nervous, immune, and hormonal systems ... and it lies at the lowest level of life.
Based on Traditional Chinese Medicine, meridians are channels that run in and along the body where energy flows – a.k.a. Qi. Acupoints are specific points along the meridian that can be stimulated to manipulate the flow of Qi, oftentimes to open blockages and restore the normal flow of energy. There are fourteen major meridians that run throughout the body, with hundreds of acupoints along them. Each meridian is interconnected and controls the flow of Qi in a particular region or regions of the body, both internally and externally. This is why acupuncture is capable of treating so many different ailments, because it views the body as a whole instead of focusing on one condition or one symptom at a time.
New studies are showing that the existence of a newly discovered bodily system called the primo vascular system could be the physical basis of meridians. Although the discovery is still in its infancy, it has been shown that the primo vascular system connects the cardiovascular, nervous, immune, and hormonal systems, making it essentially responsible for all major physiological functions and a likely candidate for meridians and acupoints alike. One summary went as far as to say that the primo vascular system is "the communication system between living organisms and the environment, and it lies at the lowest level of life." While still relatively unknown, this system may be the basis for a new understanding and appreciation of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
CT scans have revealed that acupuncture points have a higher density of microvessels and a large amount of involuted microvascular structures
Related to the discovery of the primo vascular system, other researchers have found evidence of acupoints as exhibited by structural differences at the sites of known acupoints versus the surrounding tissue. CT scans have revealed that acupuncture points have a higher density of microvessels and a large amount of involuted microvascular structures compared to non-acupoint areas. Other research using an amperometric oxygen microsensor demonstrates a similar finding: acupoint sites have significant differences compared to non-acupoints sites. Overall, researchers concluded that their studies "[demonstrate] again the existence of acupoints, and also show that acupoints are special points in mammals.” Combined with the discovery of the primo vascular system, these two discoveries truly start to weave together the basis of acupuncture in modern medicine.
The discovery of the primo vascular system and confirmation of acupoints' existence provides brilliant insight into how acupuncture and TCM work. It also demonstrates the true depth of knowledge and wisdom that ancient healers possessed. It makes their discoveries that much more admirable, given how much they were able to glean from simple observation and careful trial and error. Hopefully, with continued research we can one day fully understand the mechanisms of acupuncture and TCM.