This ancient Chinese anatomical atlas changes what we know about acupuncture and medical history

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20 / 06 / 2024


20 / 06 / 2024


08 / 07 / 2024

Post-pandemic era: TCM goes global. Follow it This ancient Chinese anatomical atlas changes what we know about acupuncture and medical history
photo: TCM
flag 27 / 10 / 2020

The accepted history of anatomy says that it was the ancient Greeks who mapped the human body for the first time. Galen, the “Father of Anatomy”, worked on animals, and wrote anatomy textbooks that lasted for the next 1,500 years.

Modern anatomy started in the Renaissance with Andreas Vesalius, who challenged what had been handed down from Galen. He worked from human beings, and wrote the seminal “On the Fabric of the Human Body”.

Scientists from ancient China are never mentioned in this history of anatomy. But our new paper shows that the oldest surviving anatomical atlas actually comes from Han Dynasty China, and was written over 2,000 years ago. Our discovery changes both the history of medicine and our understanding of the basis for acupuncture – a key branch of Chinese medicine.

There is an ever increasing body of evidence-based research that supports the efficacy of acupuncture for conditions as varied as migraine to osteoarthritis of the knee. The most recent draft NICE guidelines, published in August 2020, recommend the use of acupuncture as a first line treatment for chronic pain.

During an acupuncture treatment session, fine needles are inserted into the body at specific points (acupoints) in order to promote self healing. This happens because the needles (somehow) create balance in the life force or “Qi” of the person. How this happens is the subject of much research. The underlying assumption is that acupoints have some as yet undiscovered physiological property that is probably neurologically based.

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