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What are meridians and are they real from blog

What Are Meridians And Are They Real?

“What are meridians and are they real” is a question newcomers to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) often ask. From the western perspective, if something can’t be proven, it’s disregarded. Here’s how both TCM and modern science validate energy channels….


Can it really be that we have a network of pathways that transport energy throughout our body? Is this microscopic pipeline really responsible for our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being? And can we really correct imbalances in our bodies using herbs as well as stimulating points with needles that coincide with these pathways?  

Ancient cultures believed in these pathways and did indeed fix imbalances by adjusting the amount of energy that flows through these energy pipelines within the body.

The ancient Siamese (Thai) culture called them ‘sen’ lines. The ancient yogis who established Ayurvedic medicine referred to these energy pathways as ‘nadis.’ And traditional Japanese, Tibetan, and Chinese physicians called them ‘channels’ or ‘vessels.’ Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners also referred to them as what can be translated as the now-popular term ‘meridians.’ It’s likely every ancient society that developed their unique healing philosophy had a term synonymous with ‘meridian.’

What are meridians?

A basic TCM definition of meridians is that they are a network of ‘energy channels’ in the body. You’ve probably seen an anatomical chart of meridian points in an acupuncturist’s treatment room, or other type of healer. When you take a look at this chart, it appears that these meridians are superficial, appearing just below the skin. Meridians can go much deeper than skin surface, as we’ll come back to in a bit.

Meridians are thought to connect the surface of the body with the internal organs. As long as Qi (energy) can flow through the meridians in the proper amount, not too much and not too little, disease can be averted.

Every organ and major region in the body needs energy in order to function. Energy comes from the nutrients we eat from food, and from free-flowing blood. There are six pairs of meridians (12 total major meridians), each affecting a corresponding Yin/Yang organ.

Ancient acupuncture techniques confirm modern scientific knowledge

Long before Benjamin Franklin experimented with electricity (his kite flying experiment is probably more myth than reality; he would have likely died from electrocution), ancient Chinese physicians knew that the human body contains charged particles. Even 2000 years ago, Chinese medicine doctors likely knew that the body’s vessels (meridians) could store and produce electrical charges to provide electricity. They may have not been familiar with ‘ATP’ or Adenosine Tri Phosphate, which is what glucose (blood sugar) breaks down into to provide us with energy. However, it seems they were well aware of the full physiological workings of nerves, capillaries, blood vessels, arteries and veins.

As doctor of veterinary medicine, Narda Robinson, points out in Veterinary Practice News, acupuncturists in ancient China were using meridians to activate what modern-day researchers would use to generate nerve or neuronal function.

Robinson states, “These neural centers process the incoming signals and adjust endogenous regulation that results in improved circulation and organ function, analgesia, muscle relaxation, and normalized immune function, among other effects.”

Just like the acupuncturists of many centuries ago, a modern medical acupuncturist studies the nerve connections and “selects sites according to the desired neuromodulatory outcomes,” says Robinson, adding, “Medical researchers and physiologists are now in agreement that the peripheral and central nervous systems constitute the most rational basis for defining meridians.”

What are meridians and are they real? Proof exists!

Research from China published in the Journal of Electron Spectroscopy and Related Phenomena, concluded acupuncture points have a higher density of microvessels. In addition, they also contain a large amount of involuted microvascular structures. The non-acupuncture points did not exhibit these properties.*

In the study the researchers observe specific acupuncture points. These points reveal microvascular densities with two branches existing around thick blood vessels. These points contain fine structures with more large blood vessels that are significantly larger in size. The researchers also determine that meridian (acupuncture) points possess a higher density of vascularization of vessels.

Modern research has provided significant proof that acupuncture meridians are visceral. In fact, this research employs several techniques, including MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), infrared imaging, LCD thermal photography, ultrasound and other CT imaging methods. Other studies, such as this one published in Bioelectromagnetics, define meridians as “special conduits for electrical signals.“

Could it be that modern science has recently confirmed what the ancients knew all along?

*Chenglin, Liu, Wang Xiaohu, Xu Hua, Liu Fang, Dang Ruishan, Zhang Dongming, Zhang Xinyi, Xie Honglan, and Xiao Tiqiao. “X-ray phase-contrast CT imaging of the acupoints based on synchrotron radiation.” Journal of Electron Spectroscopy and Related Phenomena (2013).



  • Stefano Marcelli

    Here below the link to a scientific paper about the comparative anatomical approach to research in acupuncture, where I described the first significant coincidences (not correlations), which allowed me to create e new, scientifically more stable, theory about the Acupuncture Meridian System,
    Here below the simple clinic test I devised to make clinical acupuncture more logic, regard to the choice of points to treat:
    Kind regards,
    Stefano Marcelli

    • Sheldon Li

      Thank you for your perspective.

  • Martin Eisele

    More than a few times I have read articles about scientific research attempting to determine exactly what meridians are or if the even exist. The problem with articles about science is that people assume that most of what they are reading is science, or the scientific study itself. While I agree with most of this article (I am a practicing Licensed Acupuncturist with 18 years of experience), the premise being that researchers are closer to figuring out exactly what meridians are, or more appropriately, what the ancients were referring to, there is always some place where articles like this lose credibility.

    Most readers will not follow the links or looks closer at the research. If you look at this sentence: “Other studies, such as this one published in Bioelectromagnetics, define meridians as “special conduits for electrical signals.“” Actually, the study did not define anything. The sentence in the study stated, “According to conventional wisdom within the acupuncture community, acupuncture points and meridians are special conduits for electrical signals. ” It was simply the opening statement of the study. That study actually concluded that there was not enough data to reach a conclusion, other than to follow up on the initial results of some small studies. “Based on this review, the evidence does not conclusively support the claim that acupuncture points or meridians are electrically distinguishable.” When coupled with the statement that modern research has “provided significant proof” that acupuncture meridians are visceral, the author is reaching Trumpian levels of inference, at least with this link. The danger is that readers will assume the author read the studies cited, and that articles like this one will be used as science.

    • Sheldon Li

      Well stated. Thank you for your thoughts.

  • susan froehlich

    I appreciate this view point and agree that the nervous system is involved, but I rather agree with the fascial system of meridian development and movement. The fascia is just now (in the last 10-20 years!) being uncovered by new anatomists, who have painstakingly dissected this visceral layer – fat later – and identified 12 major fascial lines, in almost the exact placement of our channels/meridians. Please see research by Helene Langevin, Jason Yandow, or Fascia Research Society’s info. Dr. Daniel Keown has also written a book – The Spark in the Machine – that also gives insight into this theory of TCM, meridians. . .the transmission of energy through these fascial lines/planes is faster than any nerve transmission – similar to fiber optics! That is possible why when one needles points on the feet to treat a headache, the HA goes away almost instantly.
    Thank you for writing about a topic of interest to many of us!