What is Acupuncture? How does acupuncture work?
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese therapy which promotes body’s self-healing process by stimulating acupuncture points. Traditional Chinese medicine is based on the philosophy that body remains healthful when two opposing forces, Yin (Universe) and Yang (Body), are in balance. There is a constant flow of energy along specific path (meridians) through 350 Acupuncture points of the body, this keeps Yin and Yang balanced. When the flow of energy is disrupted, body experiences pain/illness. Acupuncture releases blocked energy and helps in bringing Yin and Yang back to a balance, thus enhances self-healing process of the body.
Native to China, Acupuncture therapy has recently gained popularity in Europe, the US and Canada for innumerous health benefits that it provides. Acupuncture is believed to enhance self healing mechanism by:
- Improving the speed of transmission of electromagnetic signals in body. This releases endorphins, natural painkillers of the body, or releases immune system cells in the body.
- Enhancing release of Opioids, chemicals known to lessen pain and promote sleep.
- Changing chemistry of the brain by alternating release of Neurotransmitters and Neurohormones. While Neurotransmitters stimulate/dampen impulses of nerve, Neurohormones could affect activity of a body organ.
The common Acupuncture method for stimulation involves insertion of fine needles in patient’s skin at different points in body. These needles are inserted to different depths through patient’s skin. Heat, Pressure and electric stimulation could further enhance effects of acupuncture. Other techniques for Acupuncture point stimulation include manual massage, cupping, heat therapy, and application of herbs. Acupuncture points are located on meridians through which flow of vital energy happens. Since there is limited scientific proof for existence of such meridians or acupuncture points, the modern scientific community is divided on benefits of Acupuncture therapy.
Acupuncture therapy is considered very safe and has very few side effects. Several studies/ research have established beneficial effects of Acupuncture on Nervous system, Immune system, cardiovascular system, Endocrine and digestive system. Acupuncture is also beneficial in pain management, improving sleep and enhancing overall wellbeing. Acupuncture is known to benefit in alleviation of symptoms in conditions of Stress, Osteoarthritis, High Blood Pressure, Nausea caused by chemotherapy, Headaches/Migraines, Hypertension, Fibromyalgia, Hot Flashes – during menopause and Xerostomia - severe dry mouth. As per WHO (World Health Organization), Acupuncture effectively treats 28 conditions. In practice, however, conditions which could be treated through Acupuncture could be many more.
Acupuncture for Weight Loss: Acupuncture therapy is known to help people lose belly fat. Ear Acupuncture therapy is useful for enabling weight loss. Sections of the outer ear represent different body parts. An Acupuncture therapist either inserts one needle in the part of the ear which is linked to hunger/ apetite or inserts five needles in different parts of the ear. While hunger acupuncture is very convenient, continuous five point acupuncture is more effective for people suffering from central obesity.
Acupuncture for Back Pain: Back pain is among top reasons for people to seek acupuncture. This is in line with research findings which suggest that acupuncture is effective in treating chronic lower back pain. In recent times, a review of 22 research studies indicated that acupuncture is effective in providing short-term relief from chronic back pain. Results of these studies showed that people who were given acupuncture treatment experienced more relief from pain compared to those given sham treatments. Few studies also suggested that people who were given sham treatments also experienced as much relief from pain as those given actual acupuncture treatment. American Pain Society and American College of Physicians recommend that acupuncture be given as an alternate therapy to patients who have not been benefitted from regular treatments.
Acupuncture for Fertility: Acupuncture along with herbal medicine has been used for centuries for treating problems related to fertility. Acupuncture works by addressing underlying problems which affect Fertility. Acupuncture could be used for treating spasmed tubes, which could be de-spasmed through acupuncture. Blocked tubes, however, do not respond to acupuncture. Acupuncture is also used, in combination with herbal remedies, to treat unexplained infertility, elevated level of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), luteal phase defect, PCOS, Hyperprolactinemia. Acupunture is also effective in treating men affected with sperm-DNA-fragmentation.
Acupuncture also improves conditions such as Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism which are known to impact fertility. Evidently, all causes of infertility cannot be cured solely by Acupuncture. For instance, acupuncture may not work for improving tubal adhesions caused due to endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease. Acupuncture and herbs could still help the patient by improving blood flow into endometrial, thus facilitating a rich lining. Also, acupuncture and herbs could benefit the patient by improving ovarian and follicular function.
Typically patients are given acupuncture treatment for three to four months prior to insemination, IVF, or donor-egg transfer. The process/pacing seems to have positive therapeutic effect. According to a study conducted by Stener-Victorin et al from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology Fertility Centre, Scandinavia and University of Gothenburg, acupuncture treatments are recommended for women before and after embryo transfer.
According to the Berkley Center for Reproductive Wellness, fertility treatments are most effective when a combination of acupuncture, herbal medicine and traditional medicine is given. Acupuncture treatment is typically continued for first three months after conception since most miscarriages occur within three months of conception.
Acupuncture for Stress: Acupuncture is known to alleviate chronic stress. Experiments performed on rats suggest that acupuncture has similar results as antidepressant drugs, according to a report published in journal Endocrinology.
Acupuncture for Headaches/Migraines: A study conducted by Technical University of Munich, Germany, suggests that Acupuncture is beneficial in alleviating Headaches/Migraines.
Acupuncture for Xerostomia: According to a small study conducted by M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, The University of Texas, Acupuncture helped in relieving debilitating symptoms of severe dry mouth, Xerostomia, among patients who were treated for head and neck cancer with repeated therapeutic radiation. While saliva substitutes and prescribed medication provides short-term benefit in this condition, twice weekly Acupuncture treatments provided statistically significant improvements in symptoms.
Acupuncture for Fibromyalgia: Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread pain and tenderness. It affects approximately 5 Million Americans, of which 80 to 90 percent are women. According to a study, although there is no cure for this condition, Acupuncture brings some respite.
Risks from Acupuncture: Although quiet safe, Acupuncture may have some risks associated which one must be aware of before taking any treatment:
- Incase patient is suffering from bleeding disorder or taking blood thinners, it may be dangerous
- Acupuncture may cause bleeding, soreness at points of insertion.
- Very rarely, a needle might break while inserted
- If needles are not sterilized properly, it may cause infection
- If a needle is inserted very deeply inside chest/ upper portion of back, it may rarely lead to lung collapse.