The many benefits of acupuncture

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Eastern medicine is everywhere. From the use of herbs, essential oils and traditional massage to more extreme techniques like cupping and gua sha, Eastern medicine has caught on in the mainstream. You probably know someone who participates in at least one of these methods – including acupuncture.

Acupuncture benefits are wide-ranging and proven by science, making it one of the most popular Eastern medicine techniques. Celebrities like Fergie and Mariah Carey used acupuncture during pregnancy, and Kim Kardashian even made a now-famous Instagram post of facial acupuncture. But how does acupuncture work? And what exactly does it treat? Could it help you live your healthiest, most energetic life?

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that has been practiced for thousands of years in which the practitioner inserts ultra-fine, sterile needles at specific points throughout the body. The acupuncture points differ depending on the condition being treated, but the goal of acupuncture is always to restore the body to a harmonized, balanced state.

How does acupuncture work? The acupuncture points are set along the body’s meridians – channels in the body that form a network connecting the body’s organs – and the needles are believed to trigger the body’s natural healing abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being.

Only in the last few decades has the United States started to uncover the benefits of acupuncture, but in recent years, thousands of physicians have started to incorporate acupuncture into their practices. And while there is still a relatively small number of American adults who visit acupuncturists — about 1.4% of adults make an appointment each year — alternative practices such as this are fast-becoming an accepted supplement to Western medicine.

What are the benefits of acupuncture?

Acupuncture benefits include pain relief from migraines and back pain, reduced stress, improved immune system function, allergy relief, regulation of the digestive system and increased energy. Acupuncture can benefit your overall health and well-being, even if you do not have a particular condition you’d like to treat. It promotes balance and alignment in the body, one of the top principles for gaining the healthy mind and body you desire.

Researchers have followed the shifting tide of acupuncture’s popularity. Every year, a number of new studies are published documenting acupuncture benefits for everything from depression to fertility issues. Acupuncture is now even covered by many insurance policies as a viable option for treating pain.

How does acupuncture work?

So how does acupuncture work? Why is it so effective? The Chinese believe that there is a vital life energy that exists within every single being. They call this force the “qi” (pronounced chee). The qi flows the body’s meridians. Some of these meridians are negative in orientation, while others are positive. The Chinese refer to these as the Yin and the Yang.

In a healthy individual, the qi flows smoothly through the meridians – circulating the blood, warding off disease, helping the body function correctly, keeping our minds uncluttered – and the Yin and Yang are in a state of equilibrium. But when the qi becomes obstructed or disrupted, the Yin and Yang become unbalanced, and the body will experience physical and emotional illness. Acupuncture benefits the body by “clearing” these meridians and restoring balance.

From a Western perspective, it’s been a challenge for science to determine exactly how acupuncture works. Like much Eastern medicine, it combines a number of mental and physical components. One theory is that the needles stimulate the body’s nerves to release certain hormones that provide the benefits of acupuncture, like decreased pain. Another theory is that it reduces “pro-inflammatory markers” in the body, reducing inflammation.

What does acupuncture treat?

While it’s exact mechanism is still unknown, acupuncture’s benefits for a variety of conditions have been proven in study after study. Whether you suffer from one of the conditions below or just want to improve your mental and physical health overall, acupuncture could be for you.

Header image credit ©AndreyPopov

Psychological issues

Many patients are not helped by the traditional western approach of psychotherapy and medication. One study even found that antidepressants worked no better than a placebo. It’s no wonder that mental health patients are turning to acupuncture – and seeing results. One study found promise in using acupuncture for major depression, and acupuncture benefits for stress relief and mood enhancement are undeniable.

Neurological and muscular disorders

One of the most well-known benefits of acupuncture is pain relief, including migraines, back pain, muscle inflammation and osteoarthritis. Acupuncture is particularly effective for low back pain relief, and is even recommended by the American Pain Society and the American College of Physicians as an approach to try for chronic pain in this area.

Respiratory disorders

The lungs are tasked with getting oxygen into the blood, and acupuncture stimulates blood flow, making this a match that was meant to be. What does acupuncture treat in this part of the body? Studies have shown the benefits of acupuncture for patients with COPD as well as asthma, chronic bronchitis and breathlessness. Other Eastern medicine techniques like herbal treatments and massage may help these conditions as well.

Digestive disorders

Acupuncture benefits have been shown for irritable bowel syndrome, chronic gastritis and more. How does acupuncture work for digestive disorders? This is another area where its stress-relieving benefits come into play. Many chronic digestive disorders, like irritable bowel syndrome and gastritis, are exacerbated by stress. Acupuncture has also been shown to help regulate gastric acid secretion, which helps a variety of digestive disorders.

Urological disorders

One of your body’s most essential functions is the ability to expel wastes and toxins – and when that function is inhibited, it’s a serious problem. Acupuncture can treat urological disorders by increasing blood flow and inhibiting various functions in the urinary tract. Studies have found promising acupuncture benefits for urinary stones, urinary tract infections and even incontinence.

Fertility issues

Up to 12% of couples have problems with infertility, and more and more are turning to acupuncture. Acupuncture treatment for infertility is a newer field, but is already showing promise. This could be another function of its ability to reduce stress – as putting stress on the body can exacerbate infertility – or to increase blood flow or regulate hormones.

If acupuncture seems too good to be true, rest assured, it’s not. Even though we’re not sure how acupuncture works, what we do know is that it is very effective. This relatively recent phenomenon is simply what happens when Western medicine meets Eastern philosophy – and humans get to reap all the acupuncture benefits that result.


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