Acupuncture is gaining great popularity, and is likely the most common complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapy that is recommended by conventional physicians today. It is now even covered by many medical insurance plans. What is it, how does it work, and should you consider it?
Acupuncture has gained a lot of attention from the medical field and media in the last ten years, seemingly used to assist in treatment of everything from headaches to hot flashes in modern medicine. However, it is certainly not a new method of healing. In fact, it’s one of the oldest procedures in the world, performed for nearly 2000 years.
What Is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is likely the most common complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapy that is recommended by conventional physicians today.
Having originated in China during the Taoism and Confucianism eras, acupuncture was created with a great emphasis on nature, a key concept of the two philosophies. It is focused on the theory of harmony and balance both within the human body and our relationship to nature. Therefore, it grounds its beliefs on some key concepts within the idea of nature, including the importance of yin/yang and the five elements (fire, earth, water, wood, and metal).
This technique has evolved throughout time in the last 2,000 years to include various methods, but currently most commonly involves the insertion of very fine metal needles through the skin, targeting anatomical areas of the body that reflect organs and health conditions that are "out of balance." There are traditionally 365 injection sites on the body, all following 14 channels that connect the body referred to as “meridians.”
How Does Acupuncture Work?
There are various theories in regards to how acupuncture works. No one knows for certain.
The proposed main method of action involves endorphin release, our body’s “feel good” chemical. Think of that moment of rush when your child was born, or every time you run into that secret crush who makes your heart flutter, or when you dance to your favorite music. Endorphins are being released by your nervous system in all of these moments, and their effects transmitted to other nerves that send that feeling of a “high” to your brain. Similarly, acupuncture is thought to also stimulate the release of these chemicals, and therefore combat and negate any sensations of pain.
Various clinical trials have reported that acupuncture may be just as effective as sham acupuncture. Therefore, acupuncture's results may partially or completely be a result of the placebo effect.
What Medical Conditions Does Acupuncture Treat?
There are more studies on acupuncture than we can currently count. However, some of the better quality trials currently support a potential benefit in the treatment of the following conditions only:
· Chronic and acute pain
· Headaches, especially migraine headaches
· Hot flashes due to menopause
· Nausea and vomiting
· Seasonal allergies
· Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Selecting an Acupuncturist
When selecting an acupuncturist, make certain that:
· You are referred to a practitioner within your medical insurance network if you have any acupuncture coverage.
· They are licensed and certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) or the American Board of Medical Acupuncture (ABMA)
· The practitioner is willing to work alongside your medical professionals, not as a separate entity.
· They use sterile technique and needles.
Here’s my take on acupuncture with what we know about it at this time:
Given that acupuncture risks are minimal (as long as both proper and sterile techniques are being used by a well-trained and experienced practitioner), there's not much to lose in trying it for those medical conditions that have shown potential benefit from it.
However, I would only recommend it as an aid to traditional therapies; it should work alongside your physician and Western medicine, not replace it.
And even if it may be a placebo, does it matter as long as it is effective?
Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.