Earlier this year, I was working with a 36-year-old patient who was having trouble getting pregnant. She did not want to put any medications into her body, and she asked me if there were alternatives to hormonal therapy.
I asked her a question I once never would have thought to ask: Had she considered acupuncture?
I attended medical school at The Ohio State University, steeped in a Western practice known as allopathic medicine. Any exposure to Eastern medicine was limited. Which brings me back to my original point (pun intended).
After several months of treatment with one of our acupuncturists, she stopped me in the hallway one day and almost jumped into my arms to share the news. She was pregnant. She was also thankful that I had respected her concerns about hormonal therapy and found an integrative approach that worked for her.
That one patient encounter helped me to really appreciate the value of Eastern medicine practices – especially acupuncture.
For more than 3,500 years, acupuncture has been providing relief to people around the world. Originally developed and practiced in China, this soothing therapy is today embraced by patients who seek to alleviate symptoms caused by ailments that range from arthritis to migraines to the aftereffects of chemotherapy. It has even been proven effective in helping people stop smoking.
Acupuncture draws on the belief that an energy called Qi (pronounced chee) circulates through our body, from the top of our head to the soles of our feet. When we experience good health, this energy flows unobstructed along pathways in the body called meridians. Each meridian is believed to be connected to a specific organ system, and when an energy flow is disrupted by a disease or an injury, illness or pain occurs. Acupuncture is then used to balance the flow of Qi and stimulate our body’s natural ability to heal.
An Electrical Sensation
Acupuncture treatments involve placing hair-thin needles of varying lengths into certain areas of the skin. The number of slender needles – as few as three, as many as 20 – and the length of time they are kept in place depends on the ailment being treated
During the treatment, the needles may be twirled, warmed or electrically energized to intensify healing effects. Sessions with the acupuncturist take up to 60 minutes. Patients lie on a padded table, and soothing music plays in the background, allowing for deep relaxation. Some patients may feel an electrical sensation during a treatment, which is good – that means healing energy is moving through the body.
How does acupuncture work to provide relief for so many painful conditions? Most acupuncture points are near nerves. When stimulated, the point sends a message along the nerve to the brain and spinal cord. This causes the release of serotonin, dopamine and endorphins – chemicals our own body produces that alter or eliminate the message of pain being delivered to the brain. The release of these “feel-good” mood-regulating chemicals makes people feel better physically and emotionally. And when someone’s emotional outlook improves, their quality of life improves.
Clinical studies have shown that acupuncture bolsters the body’s nervous and endocrine systems, and has an anti-inflammatory effect. And for my faithful readers, you know how much I preach about lowering inflammation to reverse disease. Acupuncture decreases the inflammation associated with different diseases and relieves muscle spasms and strain.
I have referred patients with emotional disorders such as depression, anxiety, stress and insomnia for acupuncture – and have seen great success. Many of my oncology colleagues will refer patients for acupuncture to assist in reducing adverse reactions to chemotherapy, including fatigue, generalized pain, dry mouth, peripheral neuropathy, nausea and vomiting.
I think it’s important to remind ourselves that acupuncture is not intended to replace Western medicine practices. My practice is a “bridge” between the best of Western and Eastern practices. Acupuncture and traditional medicine complement one another. In many instances, patients appreciate that integrative medicine like acupuncture can work as an adjunct to a traditional treatment plan.
Going back to my original example, my patient who used acupuncture to conceive will now see my colleague trained in allopathic medicine for her prenatal care and eventual delivery. For me professionally, this is a beautiful complement between two very different practices of medicine.
Until next time, be well.