This is a common question from people who come to try acupuncture for the first time.
“When you put the needle in, what is it actually doing?”
There are two ways to answer this, the Eastern way and the Western way. The simplified version of the Eastern is that the needles are stimulating points along the energy pathways of your body. Stimulating the points helps regulate the flow of energy throughout the entire body and improves how your body functions.
The Western version can be summed up as the following. We aren’t entirely sure why acupuncture works, but we have noticed through research that it seems to do certain things consistently. It stimulates and regulates the nervous system; it shifts the chemical balance in your body; and it alters circulation.
Below is a summary of what we have seen with acupuncture and the nervous system. Additional blogs will summarize what acupuncture does with your chemicals and circulation.
One major effect of acupuncture on the nervous system is to regulate the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of your autonomic nervous system. These are the two complementary sides of the autonomic system. The sympathetic is the system responsible for the fight-or-flight response, when your body and mind think you are in danger of some sort and need to react quickly. The parasympathetic is the mode responsible for slower and more relaxed responses, such as digestion. Acupuncture balances and modulates which mode you are in, which explains the happy “side effect” of acupuncture: most people get very relaxed during and after the treatment and many fall asleep while resting on the table.
The ability to shift people into a more relaxed state is thought to be how acupuncture can treat diseases associated with too much activity of the sympathetic nervous system. Issues such as cardiovascular problems, anxiety and nervousness, digestive disorders (like IBS), and fertility issues all have a nervous system component. Acupuncture has been shown to be clinically effective in all these conditions.
Stimulation of acupuncture points has also been associated with altered activity in certain areas of the brain. For instance, points that are clinically indicated for vision and eye problems have been shown to increase blood flow to the occipital lobe, which is an area associated with vision.
Recent studies in acupuncture for Alzheimer’s and dementia have suggested that acupuncture also increases communication between different parts of the brain (which is compromised in these conditions).
An important fact to remember is that acupuncture has been shown to influence not just the parts of the brain responsible for the perception of pain and physical sensation, but it has also shown an influence on the part of the brain responsible for how you emotionally and mentally process the world. This explains how acupuncture can be used for both physical and mental illness.
Finally, remember that acupuncture regulates, and for that reason it is very safe. We are using your body’s own resources, and the body tends toward balance. Unlike pharmaceuticals or surgical intervention, we are not imposing change on the body. We are stimulating the body’s innate healing mechanisms so it can regulate itself.
Stay tuned for the next blog about the chemical changes acupuncture makes in your body.
If you have questions about how acupuncture and Chinese medicine can help your health, please call us at 619-818-5267.