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The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, Vol. 35, No. 2, 231–240 © 2007 World Scientific Publishing Company Institute for Advanced Research in Asian Science and Medicine

Appearance of Human Meridian-Like Structure and Acupoints and Its Time Correlation by Infrared Thermal Imaging

Hong-Qin Yang, * Shu-Sen Xie, * Xiang-Long Hu, Li Chen * and Hui Li * * Key Laboratory of OptoElectronic Science and Technology for Medicine of Ministry of Education, Institute of Laser and OptoElectronics Technology, Fujian Normal University Fuzhou 350007, China Fujian Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Fuzhou, 350003, China

Abstract: The meridians and acupoints of human bodies at natural condition are investigated among 30 healthy volunteers by infrared thermal imaging technique. The results give clear evidence of the existence of infrared radiant tracks along human meridian courses. The time dependent evolution of the infrared radiant track is observed for the first time. The time rhythm of acupoints is also studied. Our findings not only support the view that infrared radiant tracks along human meridian courses is a normal vital and physiological phenomenon appearing in human beings, but also offer a potential method for noninvasive diagnostic by studying the physiological function and pathological change of meridians or acupoints by means of thermography.

Keywords: Infrared Imaging; Acupuncture Meridian; Natural Appearance; Time Correlation; Appearance Laws.

Introduction

The meridian theory is an important component and the guiding principle for the clinical practice of traditional Chinese medicine. It has achieved good results over the last two thousand years. It has also recently begun to gain wide acceptance in the West. However, it has still failed to achieve the recognition within the mainstream medical circles because evidence for the existence of acupuncture meridians is inadequate or elusive. Many studies over the past 40 years have shown that electric conductivity on acupuncture points is lower than that of neighboring points (Johng et al., 2002; Zhang et al., 2004). Other attempts to visualize the course of human meridians by means of different physical-technical methods are presented (Li and Li, 2003; Wang, 1984). However, these methods are mainly

Correspondence to: Professor Shu-Sen Xie, Institute of Laser and OptoElectronics Technology, Fujian Normal University, Fuzhou, 350007, China. Tel: (+86) 591-8340-8080, Fax: (+86) 591-8346-5373, E-mail:

ssxie@fjnu.edu.cn

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invasive and inconvenient. According to traditional Chinese medicine, the vital energy flows through a system of channels connecting the surface with internal organs which are called meridians. Infrared imaging technique is particularly suitable for studying the meridians from the view of energy or function point, and has drawn wide attention in recent years. However, to the best of our knowledge, most of the researchers mainly focus on the temperature measurement of the acupoints and its application in thermal disease diagnose or evaluation, but not the meridian structure (Lo, 2002; Ovechkin et al., 2001 and 2003). Schlebusch et al. (2005) recently reported the meridian structure of the body after moxibustion. We have examined the infrared radiant characteristics of the meridian-like channels and acupuncture points by thermal imaging technology since 1993, and reported some preliminary results (Hu et al., 1996 and 2001). However, no further studies have been reported and the hypothesis of the meridian and acupoints requires more experimental supports with more advanced techniques. The new infrared imaging technique (Yang et al., 2005) has provided a good way to explore the existence of the meridian and acupoints. However, there are no detailed and direct studies on the physiological function of the meridians and acupoints by the infrared imaging technique. In this study, we apply the infrared imaging technique to study the meridians and acupoints on human body. Our results are compared to previous studies and new findings are reported.

Participants and Methods

Participants

Thirty healthy volunteers (18 males, 12 females) were recruited from different departments of Fujian Normal University (mean age ± SD, 24.0 ± 3.0 years). The subjects had no history of chronic diseases and were healthy at the time of enrolment. The experimental protocol was approved of by the Key Laboratory of Optoelectronic Science and Technology for Medicine of the Ministry of Education, Fujian Normal University and Fujian Normal University Hospital. All subjects agreed to participate in the study and provided written informed consent.

Experimental Devices

The infrared thermal imaging device used in this study (Bioyear Group INC. Beijing) consists of two parts, the data obtaining and analyzing system put in one room and the infrared sensor detecting system put in the dark room, as shown in Fig. 1. The device operates at a wavelength ranging from 8–12 µm and temperature ranging from 10°C to 50°C, which has the temperature sensitivity of 0.05°C and the spatial resolution of 1.0 mrad at temperature 30.0°C. The device is ready for use within 30 sec and the heat radiation from human body can be recorded and analyzed online. The temperature of the examination dark room is 27.0 ± 1.0°C. A black body device (HFY-15, Beijing) was used to calibrate the device before making measurements on subjects.

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Figure 1. The infrared thermal imaging system. (UNESP) on 01/21/14. For personal use only.
Figure 1. The infrared thermal imaging system.
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Experimental Procedures

In order to maintain thermal equilibrium, each subject must stay alone in the examination dark room undressed around 30 min before taking the thermograms. Investigations were conducted without any heat source disturbance from outside, namely the under natural condition, at the Key Laboratory of OptoElectronic Science and Technology for Medicine of Ministry of Education, Fujian Normal University. The operator guides the subject to start the experiment and make some specific postures for studying via a special-line talkback.

Results

Some typical natural appearances along meridians drawn in an acupuncture textbook (Cheng, 1999) were displayed by use of infrared thermal imaging technique, as shown from Fig. 2 to Fig. 9. In these pictures, the color code is white for the hottest, followed by red, yellow, green and blue, with black representing the coldest temperature. Figure 2 shows the infrared radiant track along the Lung Meridian of Hand-Taiyin and the Heart Meridian of Hand-Shaoyin and the Liver Meridians of Foot-Jueyin on a 19-year- old healthy man. Figure 3 gives the infrared radiant track along the Spleen Meridians of Foot-Taiyin on a 21-year-old healthy man. Furthermore, from Fig. 3, the Conception Vessel can also be visualized. Figure 4 shows the infrared radiant track along the Conception Vessel and the Stomach Meridians on a 26-year-old healthy man. Figure 5 displays the infrared radiant track with low temperature along the Governor Vessel on a 25-year-old healthy woman.

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M e d . by UNIVERSIDADE ESTADUAL 234 H.-Q. YANG et al. Figure 2. Infrared radiant

Figure 2. Infrared radiant track along the Lung Meridian of Hand-Taiyin, the Heart Meridian of Hand-Shaoyin and the Liver Meridians of Foot-Jueyin on a 19-year-old healthy man.

Liver Meridians of Foot-Jueyin on a 19-year-old healthy man. Figure 3. Infrared radiant track along the

Figure 3. Infrared radiant track along the Spleen Meridians of Foot-Taiyin on a 21-year-old healthy man.

Meridians of Foot-Taiyin on a 21-year-old healthy man. Figure 4. Infrared radiant track along the Conception

Figure 4. Infrared radiant track along the Conception Vessel and the Stomach Meridians on a 26-year-old man.

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MERIDIAN A ND ACUPOINTS BY INFRARED THERMAL IMAGI NG 235 Figure 5. Infrared radiant track with

Figure 5. Infrared radiant track with low temperature along the Governor Vessel on a 25-year-old healthy woman.

Figure 6 to Fig. 9 show the infrared radiant tracks change versus time and the reproducibility of the appearance of meridian. Figure 6 and Fig. 7 were obtained from a 26-year-old man (a master student), while Figure 8 and Figure 9 were obtained from a 22-year-old man (a senior student). Figure 6 and Fig. 8 show the Governor Vessels of the two persons at four different time in the daytime respectively. Figure 7 and Fig. 9 give the reproducibility of the appearance of infrared radiant track along the Large Intestine Meridian acupoints on these two persons respectively (the former from 29 March to 28 April 2006; the latter from 23 May to 28 June 2006).

to 28 April 2006; the latter from 23 May to 28 June 2006). Figure 6. Infrared

Figure 6. Infrared radiant track along the Governor Vessel changes versus time in the daytime on a 26-year-old healthy man.

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M e d . by UNIVERSIDADE ESTADUAL 236 H.-Q. YANG et al. Figure 7. The reproducibility

Figure 7. The reproducibility of the appearance of infrared radiant track along the Large Intestine Meridian of Hand-Yangming acupoints in one month on a 26-year-old healthy man.

acupoints in one month on a 26-year-old healthy man. Figure 8. Infrared radiant track along the

Figure 8. Infrared radiant track along the Governor Vessel changes versus time in the daytime on a 22-year-old healthy man.

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MERIDIAN AND ACUPOINTS BY INFRARED THERMAL IMAGING 237 Figure 9. The reproducibility of the appearance of

Figure 9. The reproducibility of the appearance of infrared radiant track along the Large Intestine Meridian of Hand-Yangming acupoints in one month on a 22-year-old healthy man.

A 36.4 B 36.2 C 36.0 D 35.8 35.6 35.4 35.2 35.0 34.8 34.6 34.4
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Temperature

Time

Figure 10. The time rhythm of the temperature fields of acupoints and non-acupoints on one subject in the daytime.

The time correlation of the temperature fields of acupoints in one meridian channel and different meridian channel and non-acupoint in the daytime is also studied. Figure 10 gives the time rhythm of the temperature of the Jianyu point, (LI15, black line B), Binao point, (LI14, red line C) on the Large Intestine Meridian of Hand-Yangming (LI), the

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Shenque (RN8, blue line A) on the Conception Vessel (RN) and the non-acupoint outside the meridians (green line D) respectively.

Discussion

A commonly raised argument over the meridians is whether the mechanism of acupuncture

and moxibustion lies in the nervous system. However, the nervous system cannot be used to the objective existence of the famous phenomena of generating-sensation along the meridian (Zhu et al., 2002), especially the blocking characteristic of generating-sensation

by the external pressure or local cooling. Furthermore, meridians and acupoints, being

the earliest evolved and also the most fundamental system, will definitely utilize the later evolved systems, such as the nervous system, immune system, etc., to accomplish the task of coordinating the whole body. If we focus only on one system, such as the nervous system, the body would be difficult to coordinate parts that do not have nerves. Therefore, we believe that the effect of acupuncture is based on the meridian theory. In spite of the successful application of the infrared thermal imaging technique in acupuncture meridian research to a certain extent, some people still believe that the infrared radiant track with high temperature along meridian courses over human body surface may be the thermal image of blood vessel, including superficial vein or the artery (Wang, 1984), which, as a matter of fact, can be distinguished by many ways, such as by Chinese acupuncture charts, observing the thermogram changing with time, and changing the postures for imaging etc. Our study demonstrated that the infrared radiant track had little to do with the thermal images of blood vessels based on the following facts. Firstly, the thermal images of blood vessels look regular and continuous, while the radiant tracks along meridians may change with time. Secondly, it is well-known that there are no any vertical blood vessel on the body back and around the abdomen areas, where several infrared radiant tracks along meridian courses can be observed, as shown in Figs. 3 and 4. Furthermore, in our study, we found that the infrared radiant track sometimes takes on

a lower temperature strip, as shown in Fig. 5, which cannot be explained in terms of the

physiology of blood vessels. Finally, the thermal image of blood vessel will change little

in time. The temperature over the meridian lines or acupuncture points compared to the

surrounding areas can be hyperthermic, hypothermic or isothermic (Ovechkin et al., 2001).

It is up to the temperature gradient between the meridian lines or the acupoints and its

surrounding skin areas. If it is isothermic, it cannot be observed in thermogram. As shown

in Fig. 10, the time rhythm of the temperature field of the acupoints and non-acupoint is

similar to the time rhythm of the body. However, the change pace of the temperature varies from different acupoints and meridians. In addition, the change extent of nonacupoint is greater than that of the acupoint, and this is the reason that the meridians or acupoints can be visualized at some time, but not at some other time. From the above analysis, we may come to the conclusions of the laws of the appearance

of human meridians, as follows:

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MERIDIAN AND ACUPOINTS BY INFRARED THERMAL IMAGING

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1. The Governor Vessel, the Large Intestine Meridian and the Three Yin Meridians of Hand show higher appearance rates of all the main fourteen meridians under natural condition. The appearance rate of the Governor Vessel, in particular, is about 71.12% in our study.

2. Even for the same meridian or acupuncture point, the appearance of meridian-like or acupoints varies from individuals. Some can have one meridian course over skin surface, others can have two or more meridian courses in one thermogram, or others may have no obvious meridian courses sometimes. Also the length of the infrared radiant tracks varies from person to person, and it can change in time as well, which may be attributed to the body function status of the individual.

3. Under natural condition, the observation of the meridian-like structure and the acupoints by infrared radiant track depends on the subjects, the time, the specifications of the thermal imaging system and the surrounding conditions, and so on.

4. The temperature distribution over the acupuncture points or meridian lines cannot remain constant, it changes with time. For the same subject, it can be reproducible.

In conclusion, we have found that some parts of human meridian-like structure and acupoints can be visualized or displayed by means of the advanced and sensitive infrared thermal imaging technique under natural condition. The infrared radiant track indicates time correlation, which suggests that the infrared radiant track along human meridian courses is a normal vital and physiological phenomenon appearing in human being. Compared with other researchers’ works (Lo, 2002; Schlebusch et al., 2005; Hu et al., 1996 and 2001), the results in this study are unique, reliable and reproducible. In short, this study for the first time gives the direct evidence of the existence of the meridians and acupoints structure from the body physiological function, and may be a reliable basis for further clarifying the physical nature of the merdians and acupoints.

Acknowledgments

This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China under grant No. 60578056 and No. 30572309, the Science Research Foundation of Ministry of Health & United Fujian Provincial Health and Education Project for Tackling the Key Research of China under grant No. WKJ2005-2-004.

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