Acupuncture (a branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine) is a practice 3,500 years older than Traditional Western Medicine. It works by applying needles, heat and pressure to specific points on the body. The theory is that invigorating these points releases or redirects the body’s natural energy known as chi or qi because illness and pain come from blockages or imbalances of this vital life force.
How does it works
Traditional Chinese Medicine explains that health is the result of a harmonious balance of the complementary extremes of “Yin” and “Yang” of the life force known as “qi” pronounced “chi”. Illness is said to be the consequence of an imbalance of the forces.
Qi is said to flow through meridians, or pathways, in the human body. These meridians and energy flows are accessible through almost 350 acupuncture points in the body.
Inserting needles into these points with appropriate combinations is said to bring the energy flow back into proper balance.
Some evidences suggest that acupuncture points are seen as places where nerves, muscles and connective tissue can be stimulated. The stimulation increases blood flow, while at the same time triggering the activity of the body’s natural painkillers.
But the acupuncture treatments carried out in hospitals and other health care facilities in the west today are not based on the same principles that were established in ancient Eastern texts, according to Bao. Western scientists have been trying to study the mechanism of acupuncture foe years and have come up with several hypotheses, she said.
One major hypothesis is that acupuncture works through neurohormonal pathways. Basically, you put the needle through specific points in the body and stimulate the nerve. The nerve actually sends signals to the brain, and the brain releases neural hormones such as beta- Endorphins. By doing that, the patient may feel euphoric, or happy and this increases the pain threshold and they feel less pain.
Kylie study, an acupuncturist and traditional Chinese medicine practitioner at Beaumont Hospital, agrees that current research shows that acupuncture probably excites the biochemical responses in the human body via the nerves. Acupuncture itself does not directly release feel- good chemicals that can aid in inflammation, stress and so forth, according to Study, but it works higher up the chain such as affecting the pituitary gland to produce the extra hormones.
Another hypothesis is that acupuncture works by reducing pro- inflammatory markers, or proteins in the body. Some animal and human studies suggest that by doing acupuncture, you can significantly decrease these pro- inflammatory markers including TNF and IL- 1beta- which decreases inflammation and reduces pain. One such spot is just below the knee (known as stomach 36), according to study. This point is used in a wide variety of treatments that involve inflammation anywhere in the body, as well as for increasing energy and the immune system, in turn also help to decrease inflammation.
Yet another hypothesis applies specifically to how acupuncture can be used to treat nerve damage, such as chemo- induced peripheral neuropathy, a condition that often causes numbness or weakness in the feet and hands.
The idea is that by putting the needle in, you stimulate the brain to secret some nerve growth factor, and then that helps the nerve to regenerate, Bao said.
Acupuncture is also commonly used in conjunction with other fertility treatments. Study said that acupuncture actually increases the effectiveness of many common drugs that are taken to increase fertility by naturally increasing the hormone levels that travel to the ovaries.
There has been increased research on women who have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), for example, and who have difficulties getting pregnant due to the syndrome. A summary of several studies between 2006 and 2014 on this topic by HealthCMI found that acupuncture can help balance out hormones, such as lowering testosterone levels and regulating ovulation, all of which lead to as much as a 33% increased chance of a successful pregnancy.
A 2017 paper by researchers in Germany and Switzerland studied the effects of acupuncture on patients with allergic asthma. The researchers showed through a large, randomized trial that acupuncture added to the patients routine did significantly improve asthma symptoms within the three- month trial period. One limitation to the study, however, was that patients and practitioners were not blinded to the study so there may be an element of bias in the results.
Limitations and misconceptions
Increasingly, mainstream doctors and medical practitioner are accepting the practice of acupuncture, particularly the treatment of pain and nausea. A 2013 review, for example, found that acupuncture could reduce vomiting and nausea among patients receiving chemotherapy, according to Cancer Research UK.
The World Health Organization maintains an extensive list of diseases and conditions (mostly pain related) possibly treatable by acupuncture. Many doctors now donot discourage their patients from receiving acupuncture when conventional medicine fails them or when conventional treatment entails too many adverse side effects.
There is a growing body of research exploring whether acupuncture also can be used to treat depression, sleep disturbances and drug addiction. In general, however, acupuncture is considered complementary to conventional treatments, and it is likely most effective when implemented along with certain healthy lifestyle habits.
Usually, when people are more health conscious, they pay attention to diet, they exercise more, they think about a mind- body approach to decrease stress, and they might also use acupuncture. Ideally, these things should all come together, rather than having the goal be to use acupuncture to treat everything. That does not necessarily work.
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