Eastern medical philosophies are starting to become more common in the West. What many alternative and Eastern philosophies have in common is the idea that the body works as a whole, and that the body can work to heal itself. Many alternative practices have come to the US, including acupuncture.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture originated in ancient China. The basic concept is that patients are manipulated with “thin, solid needles” that enter certain points of the skin. These points direct the flow of “qi” through “channels known as meridians” and help the body come into balance.1 Qi (“chee”) coordinates balance in the body between the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual states. Acupuncture can help balance “yin and yang”, the opposing forces in the body. When balance is achieved, the body is in “harmony”. Acupuncture needles are thin and cause little to no pain. Patients may report feeling “cramping, tingling, numbness, warmth, or heaviness”.2 Many patients may feel “energized” after treatment, or even “relaxed”. As long as the needles are properly placed, patients shouldn’t feel pain or soreness. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the needles used in acupuncture. Some acupuncture practitioners use “other forms of stimulation”, including pressure (acupressure), friction, suction, heat, and electromagnetic energy impulses. Acupuncture is thought to affect the body by stimulating the nervous system and releasing chemicals into the body that can help it self-regulate.3
Research into acupuncture has shown that it is “more effective than placebos” for certain treatments, such as reducing nausea after surgery. The US National Institutes of Health, UK National Health Service, the World Health Organization, and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) have endorsed acupuncture for “certain conditions”. Acupuncture has been determined to be safe, as long as practitioners are properly trained and use sterile needles.4 The FDA has even noted that Americans make up to “12 million visits per year” for acupuncture. One-third of the 10,000 certified acupuncturists practice in the US. Acupuncture can be every effective in reducing pain by working on the stimulation of endorphins and opiates within the body, and it can help by “releasing hormones, neurotransmitters, and other chemicals” that can help the body heal and regulate itself.5 Acupuncture can help the body conduct electromagnetic signals (to release “pain-killing biochemicals”), activates the opioid system of the body, stimulates the pituitary gland and hypothalamus in the brain (which regulate sleep, temperature, appetite, and hormones), and changes neurotransmitter and neurohormone secretions.6 According to a report from Reuters Health, “acupuncture may ease cancer-related fatigue”. It can also help to alleviate anxiety and depression.7 “These are very promising results which suggest acupuncture could reduce fatigue symptoms and improve the quality of life of many former breast cancer patients.”8 Many conditions may benefit from acupuncture, including the following: digestive, emotional, eye issues, ear problems, throat disorders, gynecological, musculoskeletal, neurological, respiratory, and even blood pressure, athletic performance, and the immune system. To choose a practitioner, patients should consult with their primary physician, choose a licensed practitioner, and examine their insurance coverage benefits.9 CAM health care, including acupuncture, can even be found in certain hospitals, such as the University of Colorado Hospital’s Center for Integrative Medicine.10