Meridian Energy – The Truth And Theory

 What is Meridian Energy?

In the vitalistic perspective meridian energy is basically the energy that flows in esoteric channels called meridians.

In this esoteric perspective meridians are channels through which our life force flows. While the concept of meridians is primarily associated with chinese medicine,  the concept  is present in nearly every ancient system of healing. For example the ancient hindus called those channels ‘nadis’.

In those esoteric traditions  diseases were essentially  thought to be  caused by blockages in those meridian energies.

This made great  sense back then because people in the past used metaphors of water and other elements  to imagine the workings of the human body and mind. So the idea of a current of a unseen water-like substance  that flows  through the body, and that’s only present in living beings, made a lot of sense to them.

But because nowadays we have very advanced equipment that allows us to look inside our bodies and observe in detail the anatomical structures in our them, the concept that there’s something that we can’t see in our bodies becomes much less appealing, especially to the western mind, this is why numerous people tried to create more ‘biological’ theories explaining the meridian system. But the truth is that none of these theories and hypotheses is really ‘proven’. They are just biologized explanations made to satisfy the desire of the western mind to have a biological explanation. One has to remember that just because something references something biological it doesn’t have to be scientific

In this article I’ll show you all the modern theories about the meridian energy system and end it with the most likely interpretation of what the meridian energy system actually is.

Most People Agree That  Acupressure Does Has a Biological Basis

Acupuncture, which is one of the main ways in which meridians were used in therapy, was first officially used in 200 b. c. In the proceeding decades acupuncture was tested through trial-and error for centuries. Most researchers  generally conclude that the findings of acupuncture very much correlate with those of modern science, and that meridians stimulation induces a very real biological response, and not only an ‘esoteric’ response.    Although the exact way in which energy meridians work in our body still isn’t clear, because they do not appear at all in death organisms, it seems that they are a physiological system and not a anatomical system.

This actually makes a lot of sense if you consider the fact that the 5 elements in chinese medicine and pretty much everything in it is concerned with processes and not with matter. The truth is that eastern medicine   is generally concerned with processes, and not matter.  The ancients elements of the east: Fire, Water, Wood, Metal and Earth did not symbolize substances, they symbolized processes (fire was for example ‘burning’ etc, while water was flowing) while the elements of the west :fire, water, earth and wind symbolized substances. This is the basis of the differences between the east and the west- the focus on processes instead of substances.

This is why the energy meridian theory is more accepted in the east. They are a physiological process and not an anatomical structure.  This is not to say that they are any less real. They are just very hard to observe.

Additionally there is debate weather the concept of ‘energy’ should even be used in chinese medicine.

At least a few experts have claimed that chinese medicine would be better off without refering to an energetic explanation

“The term ‘meridian’, introduced by Soulie de Morant in his rendering of the concept of jing, is one example among others of what might be called a creative reception of Chinese medicine in Europe and North America in recent years that disassociates itself from historical facts.”

And at least one practitioner of chinese medicine Chris Kresser, states that acupuncture could be explained in ways that do not use the concept of energetic meridians
And his view is actually consistent with how most medical doctors who use acupuncture view it.
In this view acupuncture relieves pain, reduces inflammation and restores homeostasis by stimulating the peripheral nervous system.
Instead of relying on the esoteric interpretation of the meridian energy system he proposes the following alternative interpretations of how acupuncture works:

  1. Acupuncture promotes blood flow
  2. Acupuncture stimulates the body’s built-in healing mechanism, by creating micro traumas that stimulate the body’s ability to heal itself
  3. It forces the brain to release neurotransmitters which act as painkillers
  4. It induces relaxation

So  it is important to understand that every technique that relies on being explained by ‘meridians’ can be now explained in purely biological terms.  Whether or not those biological explanations explain ‘everything’  is up to debate, that’s why I’ll explain alternative explanations for the meridian energy system further along in this post.  I’ll just quickly summarize this interpretation now:

One interpretation of the meridian energy system is that it’s just a metaphor that was used to describe something that can be now explained biologically.

There is Some Evidence That There’s Something Similar to Meridians in the body

The study of meridians is difficult because there really is no tissue that’s present when dissecting the human body that’s similar to the channels shown in chinese medicine in any way.  This doesn’t mean that scientists that support the ‘energetic’ explanation of meridians don’t do studies. They do, they are just really hard to do. And  in  china schools of acupuncture that support the ‘energetic’ theory of acupuncture  try to find the mechanism of it through studies that are just as serious as any other, and this is why they would probably scare off any new ager who just wants to dream.   

Various invasive techniques (which can only be ethically used in a  very limited extend) such as electrical impedance measurement, infrared spectrum analysis, infrared thermal imaging , and functional magnetic resonance imaging  were used to determine weather or not  meridians or at the very least something very similar, does in fact exist

A 2007 study has  shown  that there’s a some  difference in the optical transport properties of meridians as compared to non-merdians .  Another study found out that meridians  have a very noticeable difference in the wave propagation of mechanical vibrations. Meridians transferred them at 4 m/s while non meridian regions transferred them a 8.5/ms.Additionally there is research that there are  differences in electrical conductivity in meridians as compared to non-meridians.   So there’s some proof that something real and physical is taking place on meridian sites.

This to me makes sense, since the physiological process in our body (such as the action potential in neurons) are very often electrical. So it seems very likely that meridians are just a not completely explored facet of cellular communication in our body. 

Additionally studies using an fMRI   have very distinctly shown that stimulating acupuncture points produces a very different response than stimulating other points on the body.   The studies have shown that stimulating on acupoint  will  activate the primary somatosensory area of the cortex and the cerebellum, while on the other hand stimulating a fake acupuncture points won’t have that effect. Those findings we then confirmed in a subsequent  2010  study on laser acupuncture 

Interestingly enough the same study found out acupoints on different meridians activated different portions of the brain. Stimulating the liver meridian  evoked an activation at the parietal lobe, while acupuncture stimulation of points of the stomach meridian evoked an activation at the frontal gyrus. So different meridians stimulate completely different regions of the brain. Although this could be interpreted as ‘different acupoints simulate different regions of the brain”, and the fact that putting a needle someplace else stimulates different parts of the brain just makes sense.

This actually might be  one explanation as to why stimulating acupoints on different meridians has a beneficial effect in techniques such as EFT or TFT, although those studies have only shown that different parts of the brain respond to the simulation of different acupoints, not that they have a different healing effect. And it definitively doesn’t support the theory found in TFT that you have to stimulate acupoints in a precise sequence in order to get an effect, which I’ll discuss in future articles.

So there are various conflicting hypotheses on what are the exact processes that take place in meridians to give them their odd  properties  

The  most likely biological cause of the abnormal electrical potential in meridians.

Many researchers have tried to integrate modern biochemistry with the eastern chinese concept of Qi, and to do that they tried to find out what exactly causes the differences in electric resistance and potential in meridians. At the time of writing this the most accepted hypothesis is that transmission of qi along the meridians is based on informational molecules that travel via an intercellular communication system.  And that acupuncture enhances the flow of the signaling molecules through it. Nitric oxide is suggested as a candidate for such a signalling molecule . Many researchers also claim that the biochemistry of nitric oxide can shed light on the biology underlying chinese medicine, because that chemical has a very wide-ranging effect which  might be linked to the immense power of acupuncture.

Nitric Oxide is a signaling molecule that is responsible for blood pressure regulation, immunes responses and proper neurotransmission. So it wouldn’t be too far fetched that it was this molecule that’s responsible for the wide-ranging effects of acupressure and acupuncture.

How Nitric Oxide Shows That Meridians Exist In Animals

Other studies on nitric oxide show that meridians are   not an exclusively human phenomena. Rats  might have the same meridian channels as humans.  And actually one study done  on rats gave us insight as to why the unconventional electrical potential in meridian  is present. It seems that meridian channels have increased levels of nitric oxide, and higher levels of expression of Nitric Oxide synthase. The higher levels of this protein might be associated with the lower levels of electric resistance in meridians. You can read the full study by clicking here. 

Of Course Nitric Oxide Is Not The Only Candidate For Being the “Biological Meridian”.  Gap Junctions Are Another One

As with everything that isn’t fully explained there are many theories that propose an explanation. It was the same in the case of  how neurons work and it’s the same here. One researcher proposed that the increased electrical resistance in meridian is caused by a greater number of gap junctions in their cells.  Gap junctions are another means through which cells communicate, so it’s not to far fetched to say that they are involved in the meridian system, which in itself was used as a form of communication between the body and the mind. Especially considering a study on rats done in 2005 demonstrated an increase in the expression of gap junction proteins at acupuncture points in rats. 

Biophotons  Are Also Another Explanation

Biophotons are essentially weak light emitted by our cells. Fritz Albert-Pop and numerous other researchers have found  it to be a likely candidate for the biological basis of ‘subtle energies’, and it’s one of the things that researchers that support the existence of subtle energies use to prove their point. One  author called Gabriel Cousens actually used biophotons to explain the rationale of the raw food diet. He essentially claimed that since only ‘living foods’ emit light and that we are ‘beings of light’, we need ‘light’ in our diet. And as such he claimed that a diet ‘deficient in biophotons’ is responsible for many of our modern diseases. Of course this is purely speculation on his part, and there are no studies that prove that biophotons have anything to do with nutrition.

Yet another alternative proposed by yet another chinese guy is that meridians are pathways of volume transmission.   Every educated person knows that neurons communicate through neurotransmitters, but the thing is that those neurotransmitters do not have to be directly send by the neuron-  they can  also be  send by a system called volume transmission, in which neurotransmitters diffuse  from the extracellular fluid. And at least one researcher proposed that as the true nature of meridians..

So let me summarize the second explanation:

Meridians are real but they are essentially a form of yet unexplored intercellular communication the manipulation of which could influence our health.

Now we’ll proceed  to talk about the more ‘woo’ explanations of  meridians.

 And As Always Physicists Will Also Talk About Meridians

Of course a scientific analysis of the meridian system would not be complete without going into  physics. Because meridians have electric properties they often get the attention of various physicists. This might also be the case because statistically  many physicists are religious and or spiritual and the concept of a meridian system is very much connected with many spiritual beliefs in asia such as taoism.

One researcher  proposed that the meridian channel is an equivalent off an electromagnetic transmission line and the Qi is the electromagnetic standing wave riding on the line, with acupoints as its nodes. This might be or might not be true- we simply don’t have enough evidence to say either way. One has to remember that in science the exact mechanism of how many things work is explored way after we discovered how to use them. We did psychotherapy for centuries, but only now we’re discovering the details of how our brain works.

Of course this is not the only physics based explanation. People have linked energy meridians with everything from quantum entanglement to the holographic principle.  Many spiritual teachers essentially claimed that meridians were a ‘holographic replica of the physical body’ and that by ‘correcting disturbances and blockages in it you’ll  heal your body’. Of course this is nothing more than mere speculation covered in romantic folklore and dreams

This leads us to the third explanation of energy meridians

Another explanation is that energy meridians are composed of  a real ‘energy’ that one can manipulate with intention. Essentially the same kind off energy you see in anime. 

It’s kind off like the energies in dragon ball. Just for realz.


Those kinds of theories very often don’t even give an explanation for the scientific nature of those energies. Most new agers who propose this kind of explanation just use very adult arguments like
“Energies are real. Shut up”
“I feel energies, and therefore they are true”
“A healer adjusted my chakras and now my dick gets hard again, so it has to be true”
“I feel energies flowing out of me while I pee, so I believe in meridians”
“Meridians are beyond the understanding of science. My intuition told me they are real. It also told me the lottery numbers are 9-6-3-7-9, and oh baby I feel lucky tonight”
Most authors don’t really care about the ‘true nature’ of energies. And I think most consumers don’t care neither. They just enjoy acupuncture,qigong and yoga, and for them the aura of exoticism that comes from the unexplainable ‘energetic’ explanation is cool and alluring. In the same way that cults, vampires, and werewolves are alluring to some girls

 Meridians Are Most Likely Just A Metaphor For Subjective Experience

When someone touches you in the good place, meaning when someone does acupressure on you , you very often feel ‘energetic’ sensations. This is normal from a physiological perspective, because stimulating acupuncture points tells your body to relax which essentially makes you feel tingly all over.

In the same way when you enter a room with someone who’s depressed the mirror neurons in your brain kick in and you’ll feel a tiny trickle of depression in your body. This  might essentially be the biological mechanism behind ‘auras’.

So since during acupuncture stimulation one often feels paresthesia, tingling, and numerous other ‘energetic’ sensations, it is very much likely that people would call them that. In the same way we intuitively say that ‘oh this person has a bad vibe yo’. It seems that energy meridians are just metaphors for subjective experience that can be used for self-suggestion 

The 3 Explanations Summarized

So there are essentially 3  potentially plausible interpretations of the meridian system.  One is that it’s nothing more than a yet undiscovered form of cellular communication, whether it’s based on nitric oxide or biophotons. Another theory explanation is that it’s just a metaphor for the subjective experience caused by other factors that happen during acupressure. For example during acupressure and during many other ‘energetic’ rituals one has a feeling of paresthesia, tingling, etc which back then could have been interpreted as proof of a ‘vital force’ which then was linked with ‘energy channels’ (One has to remember that we always find proof to verify the beliefs that we already have, and that back then vitalism was the dominant perspective on life, and as such the scientists of that time  would see it everywhere). Another ( least likely) explanation is that there really is some form of ‘transcendental’ energy which is beyond our materialistic word, which I personally find very unlikely.

Okay so let’s put this into a neat list shall we?. We’ll start from the most plausible to the least plausible

  1. Meridian Energy is nothing more than a metaphor for subjective experience caused by known biological phenomena behind all the ‘energetic  modalities’ such as acupuncture and through self-suggestion.  Probability of being right: 70%
  2. Meridian Energy is a metaphor for a yet unexplored form of cellular communication. Probability of being right 20%
  3. Meridian Energy really is some kind off ‘transcendental’ energy that’s beyond the physical world, an energy which can be manipulated through intention. (Essentially this is the new age interpretation of the whole thing)  Probability of being right: 5%
  4. There is nothing of value to the energy concept whatsoever. And people interested in it are just deluded. (Hey, it’s also a possibility! And this is the position most skeptics take) Probability: 5%, because there have been studies that show the efficiency of acupressure, qigong, yoga and related approaches

 

 

 

 

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Hello I’m Matt Pepliński, the lies in alternative medicine have literary given me psychosis and as such I created this site to take the pseudo out of pseudoscience to make it actually useful in your life.