Whenever I tell people I’m an acupuncturist, I immediately get asked the following question, “Can acupuncture help with _ (insert a very common problem or the most obscure issue you’ve ever head of here).” However, no matter the issue, the answer is usually yes and here’s why.
Acupuncture involves sticking hair-thin needles into muscle and fascia, which increases blood flow and oxygenation to the tissue. Simplified, It balances the body.
This concept sounds vague until you think about what it truly means. The human body has so many systems that rely on a series of chemical cascades to be regular. An example of this is the circadian (or sleep) cycle, which is regulated by cortisol, melatonin, prolactin, and thyroid-stimulating hormone.
These levels rise and fall over a 24-hour period not only determining if one feels tired or energetic, but also how deeply that person sleeps. When this system falls out of balance, the result is one that I see in about 70% of people who walk through my door…difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up exhausted, and feeling low energy throughout the waking hours.
Acupuncture can rebalance the system by increasing melatonin secretions at night allowing for longer and deeper sleep. In a clinical study on melatonin release, the acupuncture recipients also reported lower levels of the anxiety that was causing their insomnia in addition to higher melatonin levels (Spence, 2004). If you regularly pop melatonin pills at night, know that your body is capable of producing these hormones on its own; it just needs a gentle push in the right direction.
The majority of patients who come into my office are stressed out to varying degrees and, again, acupuncture can help with that. When a person feels stress the body goes into a sympathetic state (this is the fight or flight response).
If you are running from a bear, this is beneficial and can save your life. If you are trying to get a proposal to your boss by a certain deadline, this reaction is not helpful and can actually cause damage. We all know how stress can interfere with our daily lives, but it can also be a component in cardiac problems, organ dysfunction, and hormone regulation.
Acupuncture works by easing the body back into a parasympathetic state, the rest and digest response. Needling into specific areas helps regulate the stress hormone cortisol, slow the heart rate, and increase peristalsis in the intestines.
The vagus nerve induces this parasympathetic state and can be stimulated by needling a point called Shen Men in the upper part of the ear. Clinical trials have shown reductions in stress levels as well as relief for epilepsy, tremor, depression, and pain conditions (Da Silva, 2014).
When you hear people say acupuncture makes you “zen out”, this is what they mean: your body is literally forced to relax when these points are needled. You can try this out at home with acu-pressure the next time you feel overwhelmed. Just place your thumb over Shen Men and squeeze from the back of the ear. Take a couple of deep breaths and enjoy the magic of vagus nerve release.
I see many women in my clinic with different hormone imbalances including problems with menstruation, infertility, weight gain, menopausal symptoms, and depression. All of these issues are signs of imbalance.
Acupuncture releases afferent signals that travel to the brain and cause a release of neuropeptides and hormones. Some of these heavy hitters are endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin, gonadotropin-releasing hormone, and acetylcholine (Yu, Zeng & Hsieh, 2013).
These chemical cascades balance hormones to create a healthy uterine environment whether you have awful PMS, are trying to have a baby, or are suffering from monstrous hot flashes. Acupuncture right over the uterus actually stimulates blood circulation to the area, which can alleviate cramps within minutes.
If you are someone who has to call out of work on the first day of your cycle each month, have a pre-standing appointment with your acupuncturist for that day plus regular treatments and I promise you won’t need to use more of that well-earned PTO.
When people ask me if acupuncture can help them, it’s a longer response than simply the fact that it has worked for 3,000 years so of course it will get rid of your migraines or ease your chronic backache. The answer lies in complex chemical reactions within the body.
Generally speaking, most issues stem from some sort of unbalance that can be recalibrated over several treatments. Have doubts? Schedule an acupuncture appointment to experience first hand the endorphin rush and alleviation of your symptoms. Then when people ask you the same question I get asked all the time, you can confidently say, “Yes acupuncture can fix that.”
Re-post from Flourish Acupuncture & Integrative Medicine