What are your first thoughts on acupuncture? What do you really think when you hear that term? I've heard a few first impressions and they go something like this; Voodoo, placebo, fake, "I hear it's good for pain", "I hear it's good for fertility", needles, no thank you, I don't believe in this 'alternative medicine stuff', the list goes on. And that's why I'm writing this post. When I tell people that I'm an acupuncturist they inevitably ask me if it really works. I always wonder why people ask me this, especially since I spent 4 long years of my life in graduate school studying this medicine, crying over the loss of my twenties and getting a new head of grey hairs. Believe me, it isn't an easy skill to learn. And what I inevitably end up saying is, "Of course! Why would I spend so much time in school learning this medicine if it didn't work!" That's when I realized that the majority of my job is not necessarily treating people, but educating people. The public is just unaware---unaware of the history, unaware of the thousands of years of success, unaware of the current research, etc. And it's my job to help you understand. So here goes...
As far understanding how acupuncture works and the exact mechanisms behind its success, no one is really quite sure. But there are numerous theories running around that seem to explain some of the wonderful benefits that acupuncture provides. What's more, is they are discovering new things about acupuncture and the other techniques involved with Chinese medicine every day. It's an exciting time to be involved in the field, and an exciting time to be sharing all the research with you all.
Chris Kresser, an acupuncturist out of San Francisco points out that in the most basic sense, acupuncture is able to provide 3 primary effects:
1) Relieving Pain
2) Reducing inflammation
3) Restoring homeostasis
Under these three broad headings, the effects of acupuncture goes much further. Acupuncture has been shown to reduce stress which may be one of the broadest effects of the technique. It is known to release oxytocin, the hormone which creates the mother-child bond as well as the bond between sexual partners. But more recently, oxytocin has been shown to reduce fear and treat anxiety disorders. In the journal of Biological Psychiatry researchers have found that oxytocin may be used to help reduce fear and overwrite painful histories, for example PTSD. That's one of the reasons why acupuncture has been used successfully to treat PTSD. Oxytocin reinforces extinction-- the act of overwriting a memory--which is important in the treatment of anxiety disorders.
Acupuncture has been also shown to promote blood flow which is significant for a multitude of reasons, but mostly because everything in the body needs blood in order to heal properly. Restoring proper blood flow is necessary to maintain good health. Not only this, but proper blood flow is important for fertility success. A number of studies show that poor uterine and ovarian blood flow can be an important--often undiagnosed factor--in infertility, miscarriage and IVF failure. Research shows that blood flow may be at the root of 'unexplained infertility' too. This may be one of the reasons why acupuncture can obtain such a high success rate. A recent study from Tel Aviv university found that when combining IUI with Traditional Chinese Medicine treatments, 65.5% of the test group were able to conceive compared to 39.4% of the control group who received no herbal therapy and no acupuncture.
Furthermore, acupuncture has been found to 1) stimulate the body's built in healing mechanisms, 2) release natural painkillers, 3) reduce both the intensity and perception of chronic pain, and 4) relax shortened muscles. And this is only the beginning. As I said before, the more research that's done about acupuncture and herbal medicine, the more we are finding out about its amazing effects.
In the next post I'll take a further look into the research that's been done on acupuncture, and the major report of findings. Stay updated by following my blog, and on twitter!
Tel Aviv University study