Drug-free pain and anxiety relief

Researchers looking into how acupuncture works on the human body have had a hard time explaining how it affects emotions and the sensation of pain. But now scientists have evidence that it in fact works on the same biological pathways that drugs do — without the side effects.

A laboratory test at the Georgetown University Medical Center shows that acupuncture produces profound changes in the body and can calm sensations of pain and stress.

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), acupuncture is a healing art that involves the insertion of very thin needles into the skin that are supposed to balance the body’s energy as it travels through invisible channels called meridians.

The study at Georgetown entailed using an acupuncture needle inserted into a point called “stomach meridian point 36” and then applying a very small amount of electric current to the point (a technique known as electroacupuncture).

The researchers found that the electroacupuncture reduced activity in what is called the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis is involved with chronic pain, mood changes and immune system function.

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When the scientists hindered activity in the HPA axis with acupuncture, fewer stress hormones were released.

“Some antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs exert their therapeutic effects on these same mechanisms,” says researcher Ladan Eshkevari.

According to TCM practitioners, disease and mood problems can arise when the life energy (called qi or chi) that flows through the body become blocked or unbalanced. From this perspective, inserting acupuncture needles into important points along the energy pathways (the meridians) can help the body rebalance its energy and overcome chronic pain and mood difficulties.

I have had limited experience with acupuncture, but during the few times I have used it, I found, as this study shows, it has profound effects.

If you decide to try out an acupuncture treatment:

  • Get recommendations from people you know for a trustworthy acupuncturist.
  • Determine the qualifications of local acupuncture practitioners. Many states require acupuncturists to be licensed and qualified by taking a test from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
  • Talk to the acupuncturist before you start treatment. Inquire about his technique and why he thinks acupuncture can help your problem.

Additionally, acupuncture can be used for many other health problems ranging from fertility to hay fever. Click here for more on acupuncture from Easy Health Options, including helpful tips from our resident expert on oriental medicine, Dr. Mark Wiley.

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Carl Lowe

By Carl Lowe

has written about health, fitness and nutrition for a wide range of publications including Prevention Magazine, Self Magazine and Time-Life Books. The author of more than a dozen books, he has been gluten-free since 2007.