How exactly does acupuncture work? There’s a complex series of physiological events that occur when you’re resting on a treatment table with thin needles stuck in your body. Acupuncture is not magic. Research is demystified the biophysical effects of acupuncture and demonstrating that it acts on several systems including your central nervous system and endocrine system. Acupuncture elicits an anti-inflammatory response, triggers the release of hormones, neurotransmitters and complex cellular communication throughout your body.
Nearly half a century later, acupuncture is now one of the most popular and effective holistic therapies for treating fertility and chronic pain issues. You will find acupuncture incorporated into integrative pain clinics, cancer centers and fertility centers around the country. You may have recently heard that the American College of Physicians now recommends acupuncture, among other non-invasive modalities, for the treatment of chronic back pain.
Boost endorphins for pain control
When a needle is inserted into your skin you may feel a slight pinch and then a radiating tingling or sensation of heaviness in your limb. The ancient Chinese described this feeling as the movement of “qi” throughout your body. You can think of qi as your breath, your circulatory and cardiovascular system. Qi gives you energy and vitality (your “oomph”). Health is achieved when qi flows smoothly throughout the body. Conversely, disease arises when the flow of qi is disrupted, for example, by stress, emotional or physical trauma, poor diet or infection. How does this movement of qi translate into our understanding of Western medicine?
Research shows that acupuncture triggers your nervous system to release beta-endorphins, your “feel good chemicals.” These are important in pain management because they produce a morphine-like effect. When beta-endorphins are released, they are attracted like a lock and key for a receptor in your body that helps to decrease your perception of pain. Beta-endorphins flood your system and cause you to feel pleasure, relaxation and even a sense of euphoria. You’ve likely experienced a quick rush of endorphins during exercise, eating chocolate or when laughing uncontrollably. Your beta-endorphin level remains elevated twenty-four hours after an acupuncture session. Therefore, if you suffer from chronic pain issues, having treatments a few days apart will give your body the boost it needs to heal.
Researchers are investigating acupuncture using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to see how acupuncture affects regions of the brain. Most recently an fMRI study demonstrated that acupuncture decreased pain from carpal tunnel syndrome.
Acupuncture supports a wide range of women’s health issues from irregular menstruation, painful periods and polycystic ovary syndrome to name a few. Acupuncture acts on your hypothalamus-pituitary-axis (HPA)—your brain’s master controller of hormone function. The same beta-endorphins involved in pain relief also trigger a cascade of reproductive hormones from the HPA. This has a direct involvement in the balance of two specific hormones—follicular stimulating hormone, and luteinizing hormone—that control your menstrual cycle.
Acupuncture is effective for fertility issues because it normalizes reproductive hormones and increases blood supply to the uterus making the uterine lining an optimal environment for embryo implantation.
Calming the stress response
It’s quite common to feel deep relaxation during an acupuncture treatment, to fall asleep or experience a lull in mind racing thoughts. Acupuncture works to calm your nervous system, again, through the release of beta-endorphins and various other mood enhancing chemicals. Acupuncture is known to reduce cortisol levels (your stress hormone) and to elevate serotonin levels, the chemical that boosts your mood, improves digestion, sleep and cognitive function. There are some studies that suggest that acupuncture may alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. According researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine acupuncture should be considered for treating depression during pregnancy.
While acupuncture is rooted in ancient traditional medicine it is now also making a mark on conventional medicine. Research confirms that acupuncture exerts a physiological effect to promote healing. The demand for holistic medicine has increased and people are seeking non-invasive, non-pharmacological interventions for treating chronic health issues.
Acupuncture should be an essential component to your treatment plan if you are dealing with chronic pain, trying to overcome fertility issues, or suffer from constant stress.