A Model To Explain Acupuncture,
From Phylogenesis To The Multiplicity
Of Methodologies And Results




B.V.Sc., Q.D.A.H., C.Ac.,(IVAS)

Grad.Dip.Acup., M.App.Sc


Photonic Acupuncture is the application of monochromatic light to classical acupuncture points and is the correct name for what has been described as laser acupuncture, or low-level laser therapy.


One may describe electromagnetic radiation (EMR) in space in terms of wavelengths and in tissue in terms of photons or packets of energy.  A more fundamental scientific concept describes EMR as variations in the electrical field strength, where the frequency and amplitude are the features of importance.  


Understanding the biological effects of light’s action in tissue demonstrates there are disadvantages, but no clinical or biological advantages,  in using a low-level laser light compared to using non-coherent light.


A unifying electro-physiology theory is advanced, postulating how the various forms of stimulation of acupuncture points result in similar changes in physiological parameters.  


An understanding of the phylogenetic evolution of the body’s electromagnetic field sensory systems allows a rational explanation for the origin of acupuncture points and channels.




 Much confusion has been caused by the inability of some workers in Acupuncture,  to demonstrate the exact nature of an acupuncture locus, or to identify them in neuro-anatomical terms (Gunn et al. 1976).   As it was known that the skin over a muscle motor point had the least resistance to electrical stimulation, one of the earlier attempts to explain acupuncture points, was in terms of the relatively fixed patterns of motor lines. (Walthard and Tchicaloff 1971).  Gunn et al. (1980) demonstrated that dry needling muscles at motor points relieving pain.  To date, Acupuncture has not been fully explained in western neuro-physiological terms (Smith 1994).  Due to the number of methods of stimulating acupuncture points (Altman 1994, O’Connor and Bensky 1992), there are difficulties inaccurate interpretation, as it is unknown to what extent extraneous influences occur, and to what extent these may cause errors (Bensoussan 1991).


Four significant theories attempt to explain the reduction in pain and  the wide range of physiological effects of Acupuncture:- (1) The neural  non-opiate theory, now primarily discounted by Stux and Pomeranz (1989); (2) The  neural opiate theory; (3) The hormonal opiate theory; and

(4) The bioelectric theory (Becker 1985). This theory has neither been fully endorsed nor dismissed (Bensoussan 1991). 


Traditional Acupuncture is an invasive technology, and each of the above theories starts with the initial microtrauma, which creates a chemical cascade of inflammatory and immunological responses (Smith 1994).  These theories do not explain how non-invasive or non-traumatising stimulation produces an equivalent physiological effect.


That low-level laser light could stimulate acupuncture points has been known since 1968 (Mester 1985).  Simple light-emitting diodes (LEDs) became available in the early 1970s, with the first Gallium-Arsenide diode laser developed in  1979, but only in the last five years have superbright or super-luminous diodes  (SLDs) been commercially available.  A recent survey amongst physiotherapists showed 94% of respondents were dissatisfied with the amount and quality of information available on laser therapy (Baxter 1994).  Due to a lack of basic understanding, controversies surround the stimulation of tissue with light, and whether or not coherent, collimated, and narrowly monochromatic, laser-generatedd light, produces different effects from non-coherent broadband light  (Pontinen 1992, Baxter 1994).  


Both laser diodes and modern SLDs are now made from a Gallium-Aluminium-Arsenide 

(Ga-Al-As) alloy formed into a double hetero-junction chip.  This means that  there are two junctions of dissimilar crystalline alloys, not just one junction  as in the older style LEDs.  The SLD has the same chip structure as a solid  state laser, but it lacks the thin films of reflective aluminium to form a  resonant cavity, which would technically make it a laser.


In the biological literature, it is common to find comments relating the  wavelength of light to specific effects, such as absorption, penetration depth,  and even mode of function, however, as the velocity of light changes with each  change in the density of the tissue, so does the wavelength (Kane and Sternheim  1988).  The past ten years have seen an explosion in knowledge regarding the  molecular basis for membrane transport, which permits an understanding of the  physiological basis for clinical Acupuncture at a level not previously possible.




 The efficacy of phototherapy has long been known, even though its’ mechanism of  action was not understood.  From 1500 BC Indian Sanskrit documents, through the  histories of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, one finds references to  the healing powers of light.  Henri de Mondeville (1260-1320 AD) used red light  to treat  smallpox.  John of Goddesden, physician to Edward II of England, in  1510 treated a prince with smallpox, using red dyes, red bedclothes and red  curtains (diffuse red light), and cured him without a vestige of pock marks.  In  1903 a Danish doctor, was awarded a Nobel prize for treating tuberculosis and  smallpox with red light to abolish suppuration and lessen scarring (Kleinkort  and Foley 1984).


With the advent of modern antibiotics and improved hygiene much of this old  information was forgotten or ignored (Karu 1989).  Not surprisingly, suggesting  that light could be used to treat disease risked accusations of pseudo-science,  as quackery flourishes in the twilight zone of knowledge.


When lasers were discovered in the late 1950s, the observed biological effects  were attributed to the uniquely high coherence of the radiation (Mester et al  1985), however, Karu (1987), conclusively demonstrated that there was no  scientific or physical basis for such a belief.  


While low powered laser light was used to stimulate acupuncture points from  1963, it was not until 1989 that sufficient, detailed, scientific information  was available to understand the interaction of light with tissue.  In 1990 with  the advent of SLD technology, and then in 1991 with the publication of  Bioenergetics texts, it was possible to introduce a rational, scientific,  advanced method of non-invasive acupuncture treatment, which Pontinen (1992)  described as pain-free, sterile, safe, and effective.


It must be clearly stated that biological specimens only absorb non-coherent  light, and the coherence of laser light is lost after the first millimetre of  epidermis.


In discussing the biostimulatory effects of low intensity light on tissue, a  number of erroneous points are commonly encountered: 


Basford (1989) states that red light penetrates 0.8-15mm into tissue whereas  infrared light reaches 10-50mm, (penetration increases with wavelength).  This  statement is incorrect.  


There is little penetration up to 600nm, due to absorption by the various  peptide bonds, chromophores, porphyrins, haemoglobin, oxyhaemoglobin, and  photo-inducible components such as urocanic acid and melanin (Wilson and Jaques  1990).  From 600nm to 700nm there is a steep rise in penetration (about 2.5  times the distance), due to decreasing haemoglobin absorption, and then  penetration is roughly constant above this region to about 1300nm, with a small  dip at 960nm due the high absorption at this level by water (Smith 1991). 


Light beams of lasers and non-lasers show a variety of different intensity  profiles, divergent beam widths, and wavelengths.  In an attempt to rationalise  different forms of treatment, a common suggestion is to quote all treatments in  Joules per square centimetre, regardless of the spot size (Pontinen 1992, Baxter  1994).  As time is involved in the measurement of Joules/square cm, this has led  to various high intensity treatments over short times being quoted as equivalent  to low intensity long time treatments (Bliddal et al 1987), whereas the  irradiation in the first case can introduce bio-inhibition (Harris 1988).  This  is equivalent to a driver speeding at 200 km/hr, with three passengers, telling  a traffic policeman he was only travelling at 50km/hr/person.


A common fallacy is that pulsing makes for deeper penetration.  When lasers  were first utilised, to get sufficient electrical strength, one had to pulse the  current to get a solid material to lase.  In modern lasers, pulsing is merely  switching on and off and reduces the effectiveness, by a factor equal to the  on/off period relationship, thus increasing the time per treatment required  (Baxter 1994).  This is analogous to suggesting that if the room light was to be  switched on and off it would make the room brighter.  Manufacturers may provide  pulsing because their competition do so, but to purport any benefits from  pulsing is wrong.  


All electromagnetic radiation (EMR) has its own frequency with visible light  falling between 4×10*14 to 7×10*14 cycles per second (Hz).  Gas lasers tend to  produce continuous energy, while laser or otherwise semiconductor light is in  bursts of 5000Hz.  The claim of clinical benefit is based on  confusion with the  known fact, that slowly pulsing a strong electric field will affect the cyclic  adenosine-mono-phosphate (cAMP) and de-oxyribose-nucleic-acid (DNA) synthesis in 

tissue, while different pulse frequencies of strong electrical fields effect the  production of encephalin, dynorphins, endorphins and monoamines (Stux and  Pomeranz 1989). 


Another fallacy is that pressing the light into the tissue makes the light  penetrate further.  Proponents of such suggestions (Pontinen 1992, Baxter 1994),  do not consider that compression changes the tissue’s density, the refractive  index, the light’s subsequent scatter and therefore may reduce penetration but  not increase it.


Many articles describe laser coherence, and the various types of lasers  available from gas to diodes, without explaining that most diodes are  technically not true lasers, a fact made clear by Baxter (1994).  A common error  is to describe He-Ne lasers as producing 632.8nm wavelength and Ga-As as  producing 904nm (Flemming 1994) as if this were the only wave length produced.  


Using a ruby rod, Maiman (1960) produced the first visible laser light at  694.3nm.  Within a year, numerous lasers were available, among them being  invisible infra-red He-Ne lasers of 1118, 1153, 1160, 1199 and 1207nm, while the  first visible He-Ne laser of 633nm did not appear until 1962.  In diode systems  (laser or otherwise), the radiated wavelength depends on the percentage of  aluminium in the diode, which   can be manufactured to produce virtually any  wavelength required (Baxter 1994).


It is necessary to counter much misinformation and erroneous conceptions if  progress is to be made in the use of light to stimulate acupuncture points.  


All living cells require energy for growth and metabolism, usually supplied by  ATP phosphate bond hydrolysis, which is the common energy transfer in all living  organisms (Herbert et al. 1989).  The chemiosmotic theory, is based on the  principle that concentration gradients across a cell membrane and the  phosphodiester bonds in ATP are inter-convertible forms of storing energy.


There is a great similarity between photosynthesis in plant chlorophyll and  mitochondrial oxidation utilising cytochromes.  Both chlorophyll and  mitochondrial cytochromes have a metalated, conjugated porphyrin ring, which is an efficient light absorber.  Singlet oxygen is highly reactive, rapidly  oxidises a large variety of biological molecules, damages DNA and is responsible  for cell destruction.  Singlet oxygen is photo-produced by porphyrins, the  efficiency of which depends on the side chains, and the radiation energy  frequency.  Incorporation of metal ions into the porphyrin molecule depresses or  even inhibits formation of singlet oxygen (Lubart et al. 1990, 1991). 


The absorption of specific wavelengths of light by specific receptors such as  rhodopsin, phytochrome, or chlorophyll is easily demonstrated, but can not be as  easily demonstrated for porphyrins.  All photoreceptor pigments (porphyrins and  their derivatives) when irradiated, change colour, and their absorption peak  shifts due to cis-trans isomerisation. 


An even more complex matter is to demonstrate the absorption by non-specialised  chromophores such as flavins.  Reactions with various components of light  produces a photobiological response in the terminal oxidases of the  mitochondrial respiratory chain, which has a complex structure as well as a  complicated absorption spectrum near 400, 450, 605, 680, 760, and 830nm.   Flavoproteins and their semiquinone forms have absorption bands in the red  region, which in the case of the respiratory chains are represented by  dehydrogenases (Brunori and Wilson 1982).  


This is affected by whether the receptor is in the reduced or oxidised form.  As  the cellular redox potential is lowered or moved more in the reduced direction,  the effect of light on tissue is greater.  The cellular response is not an all  or nothing response, but a graded reaction.


If DNA synthesis is taken as an indicator of cellular stimulation by light, then  with as many factors controlled for as possible, DNA synthesis can be observed  in wavelength range of about 320nm to 450nm and 600nm to 840nm with maxima  peaks at 400, 630, 680, 760, and 820nm (Karu 1989).  Light in the wavelengths  mentioned is not absorbed directly by the DNA, therefore there has to be  intervening photo-acceptors producing photo-products which influence the  metabolic processes in the cells.  This is why spectral bands of 50-150nm are  advantageous (Karu 1989), and why laser’s single wave length, used as a  stimulatory mechanism is disadvantaged by comparison. 


Quoting numerous studies, Karu (1987) states that at the level of a whole  organism, the skin possesses light sensitivity, and the presence of the eyes  only modifies the skin’s photo-sensitivity effect.  When light is applied to  acupuncture points it stimulates mitochondrial membrane cytochromes, which are  normally engaged in electron transfer.  This may be seen as the local activation  of a universal, primitive, photo-synthetic mechanism, to low intensity near monochromatic light, suggesting a similar molecular mechanism with the same  primary photoreceptor.





The cells normal function is to pump hydrogen ion (H+) out of the cell against  high electrical and chemical gradients.  The electro-chemiosmotic pressure so  generated, when released by the influx of hydrogen ions into the cell drives the  ADP + P -> ATP (Nicholls and Ferguson 1992).  Ions have a relatively high  surface charge, a high attraction to water, which accounts for the relative lack  of ion permeability through membranes.


In the context of cell to cell signalling, if one accepts the term first  messenger as a generic term to cover all types of extracellular signal  molecules, the term second messenger represents the intracellular signal  molecules that are produced in response (Hardie 1993).  Almost all mammalian  cells, except red blood cells, produce prostaglandin and eicosanoids, which like  hormones, have profound physiological effects at extremely low concentrations.   Mechanical deformation of cells produces prostaglandin (first messenger) which  provokes the metabolic activity as revealed by increased cAMP (second  messenger), leading to DNA synthesis and the activation of protein kinases which  is involved in the stimulation of phosphorylation (Bereiter-Hahn 1986).  


Stimulation with electrical fields serves the same role as the prostaglandin  effect.  In the neuromuscular systems, electrical potentials which are the  product of intercellular chemical reactions, serve as messengers, provoke  specific responses, and cyclic series of potentials can be used to automatically  control a target organ (Martin and Burr 1988).


In the evolution of single cell organisms, the two major branches formed are the  eukaryotes (plants, animals and fungi), which have a membrane-enclosed nucleus,  and the prokaryotes (bacteria), which lack this organelle.  According to the  endosymbiotic hypothesis, a purple photosynthetic bacteria formed an  evolutionary successful, symbiotic relationship with a primitive form of  nucleated cells giving rise to chloroplasts in plants and mitochondria in animal  cells.  The only known eukaryotes which do not have chloroplasts, mitochondria  etc., have symbiotic cyanobacteria within them (Voet and Voet 1995).  


Every unicellular organism has to be capable of the full panoply of biochemical  processes required, with growth and metabolism controlled only by nutrient  availability, with each cell competing for these nutrients with the same and  other species.  In multicellular organisms, cells are differentiated for a  particular purpose, and close cooperation is required between them for efficient  function, particularly in the co-ordination of movement, metabolism, and growth  (Hardie 1991).


Anatomical and cytological studies have shown that all living things have an  underlying regularity that derives from their being constructed in a hierarchal  manner.  One striking feature that all living organisms have in common is the  presence of an ADP-ATP system.  Understanding photo-receptor evolution and  function, shows that different organisms use different photoreceptors for  essentially the same function, while in other cases, essentially the same  photoreceptor has been used to achieve different objectives Holmes (1991).


Bacteria and other single cell organisms do not have a nervous system, but they  have both a form of memory and a sense of direction, due to electrical potential  differences across their cell membranes.  Sharks and fish use the electric  fields around their body for prey detection, and communication (Kane and  Sternheim 1988, Kramer 1990, Moller 1995) as do echidnas and platypus (Manger  1994).  Snakes have infrared sensors on their lips (Bereiter-Hahn et al 1986). Having originated from a common phylogenetic base, all creatures develop  characteristics best suited to the environment they inhabit, and as all species  share common features to a greater or lesser degree, this may be exemplified by  cellular response to electromagnetic radiation.  


Each electrical charge produces an electric field in its vicinity, with the  total electric field of multiple charges being the sum of their individual  electric fields. 


In the case of fish and sharks using the electric fields around their body for  prey detection, and communication, this may be exemplified by a school of fish  being attacked by a shark.  The shark is sensitive to, and attracted by the  minute electric fields produced by each fish, which in a school may be  considered as an aggregated field.  As soon as the shark breaches the outer  limits of the school’s associated field, a force is transmitted to the entire  school and all fish turn as one. In the case of fish living in a conductive  medium, these sensors in their skins are particularly well developed.


All living tissue produces electromagnetic fields, and have  EMF sensors  developed to a greater or lesser extent.  Monotremes, which are of a higher  phylogenetic development than fish, also utilise electromagnetic radiation  sensing, especially under water.  Birds, higher mammals, and humans have well  developed eyes to receive electromagnetic radiation in the form of visible  light.  These terrestrial beings also have areas on the skin of increased  electrical conductivity, the stimulation of which can alter physiological  function.  This strongly suggests that acupuncture points are phylogenetically,  simply the skin’s electric field sensory system, which is common in all things.




 It is known that the transmembrane potential of a neurone or other cell is in  the order of 90mV, and that it only takes an action potential of 20mV to trigger  a reaction.  Acupuncture points are bilaterally symmetrical, skin loci of  increased electrical conductivity, approximately 5mV more positive than the  surrounding skin with a range of from 2-42mV (Ulett 1989).


Therefore, one can now offer an electro-physiological theory for the function of Acupuncture, both as a triggering mechanism and to explain the long term  function (McLaren M.App.Sc. Thesis 1996).


Under the skin is connective tissue, which is largely comprised of collagen.  Of  the 32 crystalline shapes known to science, 20 of these are so arranged that  pressure causes an electrical charge within the crystal.  This is known as the  Piezo-electric crystal effect.  Of these 20 crystals, 10 are also Pyro-electric,  that is heat causes an electric charge separation.  Collagen is comprised of  crystals which are both Piezo and Pyro electric.  Thus when the skin is touched  the body recognises both pressure and warmth.  This information is conveyed to  the brain electrically via the nerves.


When an acupuncture point is stimulated with a needle it produces pressure, and  via the Piezo-electric effect stimulates the brain, via the nerves.  The  inflammatory reaction and immune response occasioned by needle insertion is  highly localised, incidental and not of importance, where as the induced  electrical current known as the discharge of injury, is important.


The electrical stimulation of the brain is not just a momentary effect, as the  change in electrical potential of the cells at the acupuncture point, changes  the energy level of the surrounding tissue for some 32 to 48 hours.


If cells are grown on an agar plate in an incubator in the dark, on exposure to  light (and return to the incubator), it will be noticed they grow at a greater  rate for anything up to 3 or 4 generations.  If the cells are examined  immediately after exposure to light, little change would be noticed.  However  after 32 to 48 hours improvements in growth rate etc, can be demonstrated.    


When a light is shone on an acupuncture point it changes the electrical  potential of the cell’s walls and the energy level of the cells, in exactly the  same way as an acupuncture needle would do, without the problems associated with  skin penetration. 


Altering skin potentials via irradiation alters the electrical activity in the  brain and causal relationships have been shown to exist between the variations  in concentrations of the neurohormones, (noradrenaline, dopamine, 5HT, cAMP, and  Ca++), the concentration of DNA and RNA synthesis (Martelly and Franquinet  1984).  Laakso (1995) showed transcutaneous stimulation of human skin increased  blood endorphin levels.  


Acupuncture may be shown to be a therapeutic modality which is as effective as,  or in some cases more effective than Western medicine (Bensoussan 1991), yet the  number of people seeking Acupuncture as a method of first choice tend to suggest  that it has remained relatively unpopular as a treatment.  This may be due to a  number of factors including the fact that Acupuncture, like chiropractic or  physiotherapy, requires a series of treatments for best results.  The  unpopularity may also be partly due to the strong dislike a large number of 

people have of needle insertion (Mann 1977, Le Bars et al. 1987), or the risks  associated with skin penetration (Waylonis 1988).  Also it may be due in no  small measure, to the difficulty of TCM theory, not being easily equated by  qualified medical personnel, with their own scientific, knowledge base.  


The problems related to understanding photonic Acupuncture are significant to a  more complete scientific understanding of Acupuncture.  A unifying theory to  explain a common mode of action for all of Acupuncture’s various methodologies,  invasive and otherwise, will help explain Acupuncture to the medical scientists,  open for debate some of the firmly held dogmas now perceived as truths, and  reduce the requirement for teaching needle techniques to that associated with  other ancient, invasive and potentially dangerous methodologies.


Acupuncture is not a static method, but has changed as it has been developed  over thousands of years.  A theory to explain Acupuncture in a scientific manner  may allow it to develop further, and with photonic techniques eliminating the  need for skin penetration acupuncture’s popularity may be enhanced. 




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Red Light Therapy provides temporary relief if pain persists check with your primary health practitioner. As the method of application in using the light is out of The Original Red Light Therapy Company's control no Liability is accepted for any treatment effects after use of the Torch. NO warranty is given or implied as towards the effectiveness or otherwise of the formulae offered.