The Power of Acupuncture

The Power of Acupuncture

You may not like the idea of being needled, but acupuncture has been a go-to therapy for over 5,000 years. And this Chinese healing art, which uses hair-thin needles to stimulate points in the body that affect chi or qi, the life energy, has been in the news lately. Not just because celebs use it, but because modern medicine is discovering more and more about the powers of acupuncture to heal the mind and body.

The World Health Organization says acupuncture may help ease the following health problems:

  • Digestive problems like constipation and diarrhea
  • Chronic sinus and lung infections
  • Pain from headaches and migraines to neck pain, back pain, and osteoarthritis
  • Infertility
  • Urinary and menstrual problems

At the Cleveland Clinic where Dr. Mike is Chief Wellness Officer and there are more than 10 certified acupuncture practitioners in the Wellness Institute’s Center for Integrative Medicine, a review of the best research found good evidence that it works to ease gastroesophageal reflux, nerve pain, and post-surgery pain.

No wonder the number of North Americans trying acupuncture jumped from 2 million in 2002 to more than 14 million in 2007. And now at least four states include health-insurance coverage for acupuncture under the Affordable Care Act, and people in many more have plans that do the same.

So, if you’re one of the folks who like the idea, here are some insights into what acupuncture can do for you:

  • Work as a stress-reliever: Levels of neuropeptide Y -- a combo of 36 amino acids that acts as a neurotransmitter and constricts blood vessels -- skyrockets when you’re tense, triggering the fight-or-flight response. Acupuncture helps control levels of neuropeptide Y, lowering blood pressure and relaxing muscles.
  • Be a pain soother: In a new University of California San Diego study, after 31 kids (ages 2 to 17) had tonsillectomies, acupuncture muted their throat aches within minutes.
  • Serve as a hot-flash cooler: A new review of 12 studies involving 869 menopausal women concludes that acupuncture reduces the number and intensity of this annoying menopause symptom.  
  • Function as a pound melter: When 91 overweight people followed the same healthy diet and got real or sham ear acupuncture, those who got the real thing lost weight.
  • Work as an energizer for cancer patients: In two recent University of Pennsylvania studies, women receiving chemotherapy for early-stage breast cancer reported reduced tiredness, anxiety, depression, and joint pain after receiving acupuncture.

Before trying acupuncture, use these four ways to get the most out of this healing therapy:

  1. Talk with your doctor first. Don’t stop medications or other treatments on your own. Instead, ask your doctor about combining the two.
  2. Check your insurance. Some plans cover it, others may offer a discount if you use certain providers. If you have a health spending account, you’ll probably be able to use it for acupuncture, too.
  3. Find a certified practitioner. There are 27,835 acupuncturists in the US who’ve been certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Find one at Medical doctors with acupuncture training are listed by the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture at Ask if your practitioner is certified and state-licensed; a requirement in 42 states and Washington, DC.
  4. Know what to expect. Needles are thin, sharp and sterile -- only disposable, prepackaged needles should be used. You may feel a twinge or nothing at all when they’re inserted. Depending on your health, you may need 1 to 10 treatments or visits that continue for several months. 

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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