By: Christina L. Ross, PhD, BCPP
Wake Forest Center for Integrative Medicine
Medical Center Boulevard, Winston-Salem, NC 27157
Energy Medicine has been defined as a branch of integrative medicine that studies the science of therapeutic applications of subtle energies. For centuries, allopathic or Western medicine, has investigated the body’s internal systems – from organs, tissues and cells, to the current understanding of hormones and peptides. While modern medicine focuses mainly on physiology, the human organism has many aspects that are not physical – aspects that generate and absorb massive amounts of information. Physiology interacts with its environment via ambient fields such as light, sound, electricity, magnetism, and with all other living organisms to generate massive amounts of information in the form of energy fields. Voltage potentials (VPs) across cell membranes direct ion flux, modulating cell function. VPs are reported to be involved in the therapeutic effects of pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) on immune function and tissue regeneration; on organ-associated frequencies instrumental in the endocrine/chakra systems; and on the regulatory mechanisms of neurotransmitter conversion of external fields into chemical or electrical energy involved in mind-body function known as psychoneuroimmunology (PNI). The subtle energies involved in these systems exhibit the internal and external aspects of the human being described as the human biofield or human energy field (HEF). To both understand and treat the entire human being, current practices in Western medicine must expand concepts of healing to incorporate physics of the HEF into modern medical practice. Knowledge of the existence of and effects on the HEF will determine the future of medicine by opening new medical paradigms, integrating Western medicine with Eastern medical practices that have been time tested for thousands of years.
Current practices in Western medicine measure different types of energy in diagnostic procedures. These include sonograms, x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), electrocardiogram (ECG), electroencephalogram (EEG), computed tomography (CT), and positron emission tomography (PET) scans involved in nuclear medicine. These devices image subtle energy emanating from the human body known as biophoton emissions1. Once the diagnosis using quantum mechanics is completed, current treatments revert to biochemistry instead of using treatments involving the subtle energies that made the original diagnosis. Quantum physics teaches us there is no difference between energy and matter. All systems in an organism, from the atomic to the molecular level, are constantly in motion – creating resonance. This resonance is important to understanding how electromagnetism (radiation/light) can have different effects on the body. While all matter resonates, there are signature resonant frequencies, emitting unique characteristic signals from the nuclei of their respective atoms2,3. Most biomedical researchers agree that electromagnetic fields (EMF) surround and flow through the body in the form of electricity, with the heart registering the highest electrical activity, emitting 2.5 Watts, producing 40 – 60 times more electricity than the brain4. The electrical activity of the heart and nervous systems interact and affect one another, with the heart being correlated with the highest magnetic activity5.
Classic body systems include the nervous/enteric system, the circulatory system, the immune/lymphatic, digestive system, skeletal system, respiratory system, integumentary, endocrine, urinary/renal, and reproductive systems. Each of these systems is a channel for energy communication. Wisneski and Anderson suggest these energy communication channels effect emotions as well as our sense of self6. For example, the nervous system transmits information to the proper part of the brain to be assimilated and sent back to a part of the body it intends to influence. Cerebral spinal fluid carries information that affects the endocrine, immune, and the central (CNS), sympathetic (SNS), and parasympathetic nervous systems (PNS). Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), the relationship between the psyche (thoughts), neuroscience (CNS, SNS and PNS), and immunology, incorporates psychology with neurology, immunology, physiology, endocrinology, and rheumatology7. Research suggests the mind and body communicate in a bidirectional flow of hormones, neuropeptides and cytokines8,9. In the immune system, protein molecules known as cytokines are the principal mediators of communication between the immune and neuroendocrine system, which also results in immune system modulation, particularly regarding inflammation and infection10. Activated immune cells can permeate the blood-brain barrier and secrete cytokine mediators11-13. Cytokines play an enormously important role in system homeostasis during immune challenges14. Both immune and neuroendocrine systems share signaling molecules, primarily neuropeptides and cytokines, which promote communication with and between the systems of the body. These are examples of how the body has the capacity to function in a similar manner, with separate, yet fully interactive parts, maintaining homeostasis. There is a substantial body of evidence to suggest that perceptions of one’s environment can be profoundly immune enhancing or immune suppressive8. Leukocytes not only modulate neuroendocrine peptide production via the CNS, but are capable of producing stress-associated peptides and hormones previously thought to reside exclusively in the CNS15. Current medical science uses this biochemical model of molecules, cells, tissues and organs to focus on an organized structure-function relationship of health and disease. This model needs to be expanded to deeper levels that include electromagnetic and quantum processes that play a major role in how nature organizes itself.
Energy Medicine Defined
Energy Medicine (EM) is the use of known subtle energy fields to therapeutically assess and treat energetic imbalances, bringing the body’s systems (neurological, cardiovascular, respiratory, skeletal, endocrinal, emotional/psychological, etc.) back to homeostasis. Knowledge of the existence of the HEF is the first step to understanding integral physiology, which unites body, mind, and spirit to treat the entire human being – not just the physiology16. The HEF has been described as a complex dynamic of electromagnetic fields that include individual oscillating electrically-charged moving particles such as ions, biophotons, and molecules, which create standing waves17. Disturbances in the coherence of energy patterns of the HEF are indications of disease and aging18. When these energy particles are exposed to energy medicine in the form of coherent energy patterns (e.g. Polarity Therapy, pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMF), vibrational medicine, acupuncture, healing touch, etc.), the disturbed resonant patterns return to their original, coherent, harmonic vibrational state (homeostasis). If Western medicine applied the principles of modern physics, it would understand human beings are composed of information (energy) interacting with other energy (environment), to profoundly impact our physical and emotional health. The HEF has been investigated in scientific laboratories where photon emissions were detected using photometers and color filters19-22. Human energy vibrations were recorded at 1000 times higher in frequency than the electrical signals of nerve and muscle, with continuous dynamic modulation unlike the pulsing signals of the nervous system18. Energy in the HEF is typically referred to as subtle energy23, which is electromagnetic in nature. It is a system of wave-particle matter, transmitting and receiving vibrational information governing the physical matter of the body. Healing is achieved by directing coherent, harmonic energy into distortions caused by stressors and disease.
For many years Western medicine rejected the possibility that an EMF could affect biochemical mechanisms with such weak electrical fields. Biochemistry, however, is based on an understanding of the flow of energy that drives chemical reactions24. Physical properties of molecules can be combined to express internal energy and thermodynamic potentials, which are necessary for equilibrium and homeostasis in spontaneous processes6. New models of biophysics emphasize cooperative electrical activity of highly ordered elements at all levels of physiology: cells, tissues, organs, organ systems, as well as the entire body. Laboratory research with in vivo (animal) and in vitro (cell and tissue cultures) has shown important effects caused by low-frequency or weak EMF therapies, causing changes in cell proliferation, alternations in membrane structure and function, changes in nucleic acids, protein phosphorylation and adenosine triphosphate (ATP synthesis), as well as entrainment of brain rhythms and conditioned brain response25-27. Parameters of these fields include frequency, amplitude (field strength), waveform, and time of exposure. Recognition of physiological sensitivities to exogenous EMF came from the observation of internal endogenous electrical processes6. An example of this is the piezoelectric properties of bone that use electromechanical control to determine which cells become osteoblasts or osteoclasts. By modulating cellular processes with pulsed EMF28, windows of opportunity for therapeutic application have been discovered for regeneration of osteoblasts to bone before becoming osteoclasts29. All cells produce electromagnetic fields because the human body produces complex electrical activity in all the body’s 210 different cell types. Neurons, endocrine cells, and muscle cells are all referred to as “excitable cells”. These cells produce current (via electron transfer), magnetic field (via moving charges), a pulsed frequency, as well as pH, oxygen, carbon dioxide and light (via biophotons)30.
Detailed clinical research in biophysical stimulation has identified specific cellular processes responding to electromagnetic forces. Selective pathways at the cell plasma membrane are activated depending on the PEMF applied. These include voltage-gated calcium channels activated by capacitive coupling27, intracellular calcium flux modulated with inductive coupling31, and inositol phosphate by mechanical stimulation32. Basic research on cells, animals, and clinical studies have reported therapeutic dosimetries for frequency, amplitude (field strength), waveform, orientation and time of exposure needed to activate specific processes in specific cells25. Processes activated by PEMF signals have been reported in the plasma membrane’s cell surface receptors through the cytoplasm into the nucleus and genes, where transcription factors affect translation of cell function33,34. Externally applied EMF can affect orientation, migration and proliferation of cells, playing key roles in healing31.
Modalities of Energy Medicine (EM)
There are several modalities of EM that interact with the subtle energy of the body. These include, but are not limited to, pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy, Polarity Therapy, acupuncture, Healing Touch, Therapeutic Touch (TT), Reiki, homeopathy, Qi Gong, and applied Kinesiology. New medical paradigms can bridge the gap between conventional/allopathic and energy medicine. For instance, PEMF and acupuncture have plausible electromagnet modes of action.
Research shows PEMF at extra low frequencies (ELF) is beneficial to immune system modulation35, as well as tissue regeneration27. PEMF can pass through the skin into the body’s conductive tissue, resulting in reduced pain and edema, and stimulation of wound healing shortly after trauma31. Electromagnetic therapies can affect cell signaling systems through the modulation of cytokine function35, second messengers such as cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP)36, transcription factor nuclear factor kappa B (NF-кB)35, and tissue regeneration29, without cytotoxic or genotoxic effects37. EMFs oscillate at various frequencies, however, extra-low frequencies (< 100 Hz) are most commonly used for therapeutic purposes. Currently there are several types of EMF therapies being used in Western medicine. They include Laser surgery to resect hepatomas, metastatic tumors and colorectal liver metastases38; transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) to relieve acute and chronic pain39; cranial electrical stimulation (CES) for the treatment of neuroendocrine imbalance and chronic stress-associated diseases40; and pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy, which has been approved by the United States Food and Drug Association (FDA) for the treatment of non-union fractures, muscle re-education and relations of muscle spasm41. PEMF has also been used to treat osteoarthritis42, peripheral nerve pain39, wound healing43, spinal cord injury44, and cartilage repair27. Targeted pulsed magnetic fields are being used to treat depression in the form of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)45. This therapy targets key areas of the brain that are underactive in people with depression46. Inefficient production of brain neurotransmitters (chemical messengers that send signals between brain cells), are brought back to homeostasis47, without the adverse effects of anti-depressants48.
PEMF medical devices are available to purchase, but expertise is needed to assure the patient is using the optimal frequency, field strength and time of exposure for the tissue type being treated. These devices can be applied in two different ways – either by capacitive or inductive coupling. In capacitive coupling there is no contact with the body, whereas direct coupling requires the placement of opposing electrodes in direct contact with the surface of the targeted tissue. With inductive coupling (non-direct capacitive coupling), electrodes do not have to be in direct contact with the tissue because the electric field produces a magnetic field that, in turn, produces a current in the conductive tissues of the body41,49,50. PEMF therapy is based on Faraday’s law, a basic law of electromagnetism that predicts how a magnetic field will interact with an electric circuit to produce an electromotive force known as electromagnetic induction. EMF has been stigmatized as a cancer causing agent, however, it is the ionizing EMF that emit high enough energy states to dislodge electrons from atoms51. It is the non-ionizing EMF that is used for therapeutic purposes.
Acupuncture can be considered an electromagnetic phenomenon due to the ionic charge between two acupuncture points. This has been demonstrated by Mussat et. al. and others52-54. Acupuncture needles with one metal (copper, silver, bronze, or an alloy) for the shaft and another metal for the handle, form tiny batteries6. Some acupuncture therapies use additional electrical stimulation (2 – 4 Hz) applied to the needles. From this electrical perspective, each organ in the body is like a battery housed in a sac of electrolytes, with a positive potential on the surface of the sac that is the aggregate result of electrical processes in the tissues of the organs6. The positive potential at the needle tip attracts negatively charged ions from the interstitial medium, until a saturation equilibrium is achieved55-57. The normal functions of an organ tend to generate stronger and more harmonic ionic effects than organs with trauma or disease58. Acupuncture is considered a wiring system in the body, as is the analog perineural nervous system59, and ion transfer within blood plasma60. It is difficult to use a voltmeter to measure the voltage in organs because voltages pulse in the body. It is common to use an ohm meter to measure the voltage and convert ohms to volts using Ohm’s Law (voltage = ohms x amps). Table 1 shows frequencies that correspond to organ function. Assuming amperage is constant, then ohms = voltage61.
Table 1. Frequencies associated with normal organ function.
Human Touch Therapies
Touch therapies work using touch, interaction, and certain protocols to modulate energy imbalances in the HEF. Along with touch, Polarity therapy adds aspects of exercise with nutrition to increase health and wellness. Healing Touch, Therapeutic Touch, Reiki, Cranial-Sacral Therapy, Trager, Bowen, and Brennan Healing Science all use similar techniques for bringing the HEF back to homeostasis. The subtle energy of the HEF is easily modulated by the therapist’s hands. The client and practitioner work together using breathing techniques to move stagnant or blocked energy from the cells, across the tissues and through the organs. Human touch therapies are patient-practitioner oriented, where both the giver and receiver of the energy treatment must work in tandem for beneficial results to occur. The practitioner grounds and centers his/herself, meaning all thoughts, emotions and physical sensations are neutralized. During optimal healing states our bodies resonate at certain frequencies (0.3 – 100 Hz), which correlate with delta, theta, alpha and beta brain waves62 (see table 2).
Table 2. Brain wave states and their correlated frequency and physiology
|BRAIN WAVE||Frequency (Hz)||Physiology|
|Gamma||30 -100||Peak performance|
|Beta||12-30||Awake – normal alert consciousness|
|Alpha||8-12||Relaxed, calm, lucid, not thinking|
|Theta||4-7||Deep relaxation and meditation, mental imagery|
|Delta||0.3-4||Deep dreamless sleep|
Touch therapies bring distorted frequencies of brain waves, organ resonance, and endocrine/chakra systems back into balance by modulating the subtle energies of the HEF. Practitioners detect and manipulate the subtle energy and provide a resonating template for the patient’s biofield to follow. In this state, body-mind-spirit is optimal for bringing the body back to homeostasis energetically.
The future of energy medicine depends on the ability of Western medicine to merge physics with biochemistry. As mentioned earlier, Western medicine uses physics to diagnose, then immediately reverts to a biochemical model to treat. It is widely accepted that quantum physics drives the energy behind diagnostic equipment63,64. Biophoton emissions, as well as signal transduction and cell signaling communication systems in the body are also widely accepted in today’s medicine65. However, the idea of a cellular and molecular global communication system involving energy fields is beyond the central dogma of Western medicine. Future perspectives include bridging the gap between allopathic and energy medicine. This bridge would include the crossover between the following: a) understanding cellular voltage potentials and how they relate to health and wellness; b) understanding the overlap between the endocrine and chakra systems; and c) understanding how energy medicine therapeutically enhances psychoneuroimmunology (mind-body medicine).
Cellular Voltage Potentials
The human body is controlled primarily by physics, that drives the chemistry and biology61. Therefore, to understand how the body works, it is important to understand physics and electronic applications of cellular structure. Endogenous voltage potentials control cell behavior and instruct pattern regulation in vivo66. Cells are designed to operate with a pH between 7.35 and 7.45. This equates to a voltage of between -20 and +125 mV61. The minus (-) sign denotes electrons are being donated (alkaline), and the plus (+) sign denotes electrons are being taken (acidic). An alkaline environment is more beneficial. For example, a free radical is a molecule with missing electrons, and an antioxidant is a molecule donating electrons. Health is maintained with vital immune function and cell regeneration. A voltage of -50 mV is required for regenerating cells61. Jerry Tennant, MD, reports that a -50 mV energy state is necessary for maintaining good health, and – 70 mV is optimal. Without this balanced voltage potential, aging and chronic disease occurs61. This baseline can be achieved through healthy diet and keeping the body’s subtle energy balanced. Cells contain a process for turning fatty acids into glucose. They are processed through a series of chemical reactions known as the Krebs Cycle. The Krebs cycle converts adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to adenosine diphosphate (ADP) conversion. As ATP provides electrons to keep the cell functioning, it becomes a discharged/rechargeable battery called adenosine diphosphate (ADP). If voltage drops, the voltage potentials go from electron-donor to electron-stealing status. This will cause a change in polarity. When voltage drops to +30 mV, disease sets in61.
To produce voltage, cell membranes are made up of opposing layers of fats called phospholipids. They are composed of phospholipic heads, which are round, and phospholipic tails, which look like legs (Figure 1).
Figure 1. A healthy cell has a membrane potential of approx.
-70mV, meaning that the potential inside the cell is 70mV less than the potential outside due to a layer of negative charge on the inner surface of the cell wall and a layer of positive charge on the outer surface. This effectively makes the cell wall a charged capacitor. (see Ross, et. al. 2015 for more detail).
Anytime two conductors are separated by an insulator, they create a capacitor, and this can be observed in the cell’s plasma (outer) membrane67. Capacitors are designed to store electric charge (electrons). The plasma membrane allows electromagnetic field to permeate into the cell to affect cellular mechanisms such as cytokines, and second messengers (transcription factors), to carry information from the plasma membrane through the cytoplasm, into the nuclear membrane to affect genetic function. The plasma membrane contains voltage-gated ion channels that open and close depending on the voltage supplied27. If they become hyperpolarized, then ions such as calcium (Ca2+), potassium (K+) and sodium (Na+), cannot flow freely in and out of the cell. This causes increases in the pain-related neurotransmitters and inflammatory/immune functions of cells10. In his book, The Body Electric, Robert O. Becker, MD, discusses the direct current (DC) system of glial cells involved in regenerating electrical feedback loops that influence the production and transmission of these voltage-gated action potentials in nerves68. For example, glial cells are non-neuronal cells that maintain homeostasis, form myelin, and provide support and protection for neurons in the brain, and for neurons in other parts of the nervous system (such as the autonomic nervous system)69. Nerve cells are constantly releasing neurotransmitters into the synaptic gaps between themselves and the neurons they contact. The direct current carried over these cells energetically effects the nerves they surround by influencing the pre-synaptic sites. Thus, the plasma membrane voltage potential determines the responsiveness of each neuron in releasing neurotransmitters on cue. These signals can be modulated by exogenous fields such as electromagnetism27,31.
Endocrine and Chakra Systems
The pathway from the physical body through the hormones to the psychological and emotional body is through the endocrine system, which is closely associated with the chakra system. The major glands of the endocrine system are the hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal, pineal and reproductive organs (generatives). The pituitary cells are neuronlike – they express numerous voltage-gated sodium (Na+), calcium (Ca2+), potassium (K+), and chloride (Cl–) channels, and fire action potentials spontaneously, accompanied by a rise in intracellular Ca2+. In some cells, spontaneous electrical activity is sufficient to drive the intracellular Ca2+ concentration above the threshold for stimulus-secretion and stimulus-transcription coupling. In other cells, the function of these action potentials is to maintain the cells in a responsive state with cytosolic Ca2+ near, but below, the threshold level. Some pituitary cells also express gap junction channels, which could be used for intercellular Ca2+ signaling in these cells. Endocrine cells also express extracellular ligand-gated ion channels, and their activation by hypothalamic and intra-pituitary hormones leads to amplification of the pace-making activity and facilitation of Ca2+ influx and hormone release. These cells also express numerous G protein-coupled receptors, which can stimulate or silence electrical activity and action potential-dependent Ca2+ influx and hormone release70. Other members of this receptor family can activate Ca2+ channels in the endoplasmic reticulum, leading to a cell type-specific modulation of electrical activity71. These same physics phenomena are seen in the other glands of the endocrine system72.
Overlapping the endocrine system is the chakra system, which contains seven vital energy centers that run from the base of the spine to the top of the head, centered on the spinal column. They include the following: 1) root chakra – associated with the adrenals; 2) the sacral chakra – associated with the generatives (ovaries for women, testes for men); 3) the solar plexus chakra – associated with the pancreas; 4) the heart chakra – associated with the thymus; 5) the throat chakra – associated with the thyroid; 6) the third eye (located between the eyebrows) – associated with the pituitary gland; and 7) the crown chakra – associated with the pineal gland. Table 3 shows the correlation between the chakra location and its associated frequency73.
Table 3. Chakra location and correlated frequency
|CHAKRA LOCATION||Frequency (Hz)|
Chakras produce energy vortices which, when healthy, provide the energetic information by which all the systems of the body create a global information system. More empirical data is needed to determine if energy medicine therapies can heal endocrine diseases/distortions through the subtle energy in and around these glands. Endocrine disorders include glucose homeostasis disorders, thyroid disorders, calcium homeostasis disorders, metabolic bone disease, pituitary gland disorders, sex hormone disorders, and tumors of the endocrine glands, to name a few. These conditions affect the quality of life of millions of people around the world. When the information exchange between hormones, peptides, neurotransmitters, cells, tissues, organs and regulatory systems in the body break down, the most efficient way to bring this exchange of information back to health is through energy in the form of electromagnetic information. The directives of subtle energy treatments realign the HEF back to homeostasis or default mode. The HEF information system is similar to the interconnection of all global computers that form the internet, with each cell representing an individual personal computer constantly uploading and downloading information to the World Wide Web. Once there is an understanding of the human organism/being as a global information system of cell communication, signaling transduction and energetic instruction sets, medicine will begin to treat the entire human, body-mind-spirit, with physics as the lowest common denominator, instead of biochemistry.
Mind-Body Medicine (Psychoneuroimmunology)
Many aspects of the human endocrine system are associated with mind-body medicine, also known as psychoneuroimmunology (PNI). PNI explains the connection between the mind/thought and the immune and nervous systems. Life experience such as stressors and depression induce immunological activation, associated with cytokines and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is the central stress response system74. Accessory cells, such as macrophages, which are essential for the modulation of immune response, mitigate both acute and chronic stress states having calcium-dependent biochemical mechanisms affecting T-cell proliferation and signal transduction pathways75. PNI studies exact mechanisms through which specific brain immunity effects are achieved. Evidence for nervous system/immune system interactions exists on several biological levels. The immune system and the brain communicate with each other through signaling systems of the body linking the HPA axis and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The activation of SNS during an immune response is triggered to localize the inflammatory response76,77. The HPA axis responds to physical and mental challenges to maintain stability in part by controlling the body’s cortisol level. Imbalances in the HPA axis are the cause of many stress-related illnesses78. HPA axis activity is linked by inflammatory cytokines that stimulate adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol secretion, while glucocorticoids suppress proinflammatory cytokines. Cytokine regulation of hypothalamic function is an active area of research for the treatment of anxiety-related disorders79. Complex interactions between cytokines, inflammation and adaptive immune responses maintain homeostasis in the body to protect against disease. As discussed earlier, PEMF has been reported to significantly down-regulate key cytokines involved in neuroinflammatory diseases80, and provide critical results in treating dysfunction of neurotransmitters in severe stress and depression with TMS. Volumes of evidence have been published supporting the integration of mind-body medicine with endocrine/chakra systems and energy medicine for the benefit of Western medicine6,81.
Without the crossover applications of human touch and device-based energy medicine treatments well integrated and easily accepted in Western medicine, today’s medicine will continue to lack the missing piece of science so desperately needed to complete the human cycle of existence. Physics must be blended with biochemistry to effectively treat the human being without adverse effects. It is clear that science and technology have resulted in vastly improved understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of disease, but the emphasis on biochemical treatment over quantum/energy-based technology is creating adverse events in today’s healthcare16. The healing of a patient must include more than the biology and chemistry of their physical body; by necessity, it must include the mental, emotional and spiritual (energetic) aspects. Energy medicine is on the forefront of accepting this challenge.
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Christina L. Ross, PhD, BCPP