Though there remains some skepticism among patients and medical providers as to the true benefit and actual effects of acupuncture, it is starting to be recognized as an effective treatment for a variety of ailments. Research shows that acupuncture can reduce pain and inflammation, affect hormonal balance, encourage neurotransmitter release and balance, and stimulate a variety of areas in the brain. For some conditions, acupuncture may be as or even more effective than conventional treatments. Although there is increasing research on the use of acupuncture, when to use acupuncture versus other treatment modalities remains an open question.
Acupuncture, which is just one aspect of Chinese medicine, is a whole body treatment that balances qi (pronounced “chee”), the body’s energetic entity or vital force to promote healing and wellness. In Chinese medicine, disease is a result of an imbalance in the qi—a dysfunction or disharmony in the body’s optimal functioning. Imbalances in the flow of qi can arise among the meridians, organs and five elements, as well as due to other factors affecting the body internally and externally—such as hot, cold, dampness or dryness. Acupuncturists use thin sterile, single-use needles on points of the body to elicit changes in the body’s energy, function and channel or meridian balance to restore or encourage balance.
In today’s modern world, we are surrounded by stress. With our “go go” mindset, we sometimes push ourselves as hard as we can for as long as we can. Although it may have benefits for careers and society as a whole, it is also creates imbalances in your mind, body and spirit. From a conventional medicine standpoint, this can affect the psycho-neuro-endocrine-immune system—your psyche, mood, emotions, hormones, immune response and/or neurotransmitters.
Our nervous system has a sympathetic response (fight or flight) and a parasympathetic response (rest and digest). A balance in the nervous system of these responses is ideal. But the stress of your modern lives can cause an overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, which, in turn, causes excess hormones and neurotransmitters to be produced and released in the body. These stress-induced biological changes can lead to sleep/wake cycle disruptions, anxiety, insomnia, reduced mental focus, high blood pressure, addictive behaviors and cravings, among other problems.
Even though the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are always on, one of the systems will tend to dominate based on mental, emotional and physical states. This domination can leave the body more prone to imbalance and disease, such as the chronic diseases listed on the following page. Acupuncture is an effective tool for restoring the harmonious balance in the body.
Chronic Conditions Affected By Stress
Allergies: skin reactions, asthma
Heart disease: angina, irregular heart rates
High blood pressure
Heartburn or indigestion
Frequent colds or infections
Insomnia or restless sleep
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Stomach or duodenal ulcers
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Menopause symptoms: hot flashes, Insomnia, foggy or unclear thinking
Memory loss or forgetfulness
The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes that acupuncture is effective or has a therapeutic benefit for several common disorders such as:
Ears, nose and throat: Toothaches, earache, sore throats, sinusitis, allergic rhinitis, runny nose
Respiratory: Upper respiratory infections: Colds/flu; allergies, asthma
Gastrointestinal: Nausea/vomiting, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, colitis, abdominal pain
Circulatory: High blood pressure, low blood pressure, high cholesterol levels
Gynecological: Menstrual irregularity, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), infertility
Musculoskeletal: Tennis elbow, neck pain or neck stiffness, frozen shoulder, TMJ dysfunction, sciatica, low back pain, joint pain/ arthritis, fibromyalgia
Mental and emotional: Anxiety, depression, insomnia
Neurological: Headaches/migraines, tinnitus
Although this list of conditions is not comprehensive, it illustrates the multifaceted and broad treatment spectrum that acupuncture offers.
Frequently Asked Questions about Acupuncture
My condition is not on the WHO list. Can acupuncture still help me?
Regardless of your underlying condition, acupuncture will be of some benefit to you even if it does not address your specific condition. At the very least, acupuncture will increase your relaxation response, reduce stress response and improve overall wellness.
Does it hurt?
Acupuncture needles are not much thicker than a human hair. As the needles are pushed into the skin, there is, at worst, a little pinch; most insertions are almost completely painless. Typically, any sensation disappears within in a few moments following needle insertion.
Can acupuncture help with addictions and cravings?
Yes. There have been many studies showing acupuncture to be helpful in various drug dependencies including opium, cocaine and heroin. It has also been shown to be helpful with smoking cessation. Problems with addiction or cravings are associated with low levels of dopamine and can also be addressed by acupuncture by reducing stress and thereby improving dopamine levels.