After 3,000 years of mystery, the secrets of acupuncture have been unlocked by Curtin University of Technology researchers.
Curtin Adjunct Professor, Dr Morry Silberstein, has developed a new theory that explains - for the first time - the scientific reasons why acupuncture works.
We have never really had a scientific explanation for how acupuncture actually works, he said.
In the absence of a scientific rationale, acupuncture has not been widely used in the mainstream medical community.
If we can explain the process scientifically, we can open it to full scientific scrutiny and develop ways to use it as a part of medical treatments.
Dr Silberstein said the discovery could further our understanding of the autonomic nervous system.
It may provide us with new methods of treating sleep problems, pain and high blood pressure, he said.
His research, to be published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology later this year, suggests that the insertion of an acupuncture needle into the skin disrupts the branching point of nerves called C fibres, which transmit low-grade sensory information over very long distances by using Merkel cells as intermediaries.
We have known for some time that acupuncture points have a much lower electrical resistance than nearby areas of skin, Dr Silberstein said.
It is possible that this is because C fibre nerves branch at acupuncture points.
Scientists do not know exactly what role C fibres play in the nervous system, however, Dr Silberstein has a theory.
This network of nerves possibly exists to maintain our state of arousal or wakefulness, and its disruption by an acupuncture needle numbs our general sensitivity to pain, he said.