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How does acupuncture work?

Western medicine is increasingly recognizing acupuncture as a complementary therapy to be used alongside more conventional treatments. The traditional understanding of how acupuncture works is that it balances the flow of energy throughout the body. In Western science, doctors haven't been able to find an equivalent of how to explain that in scientific terms, but they do know that there's a release of endorphins and other neurotransmitters, and this brings healthy blood flow to an area of injury.

Most commonly, acupuncture can help relieve symptoms associated with conditions like allergies, digestive diseases, menstrual cramps, migraines and the nausea associated with chemotherapy.

The needles, when inserted in specific locations, are usually not painful. The needles are left in for about five to 20 minutes at a time, and then they're removed. You should use acupuncture in conjunction with a conventional therapy because of the few side effects. It's definitely worth a try if you are experiencing serious side effects from other drugs or medications that you are not able to tolerate.
According to traditional Chinese beliefs, acupuncture works by affecting the flow of energy, called qi, through pathways that run through the body. The practitioner inserts very fine needles at specific points along these pathways, or meridians. Although acupuncture has many variations, it typically involves four to 10 needles that are left in place for 10 to 30 minutes. A course of treatment may include six to 12 sessions. Most people report that acupuncture needles cause little or no pain.
Dr. Daniel Hsu, DAOM
Alternative & Complementary Medicine

Acupuncture achieves the desired results by stimulating specific points near or on the surface of the skin - acupuncture points - that have the ability to alter biochemical and physiological conditions in the body.

Because acupuncture points are designated areas of electrical sensitivity, inserting needles at these points stimulates sensory receptors. This in turn stimulates nerves that transmit impulses to the hypothalamic-pituitary system in the brain. The hypothalamus-pituitary glands are responsible for releasing neurotransmitters and endorphins, the body's natural pain-killing hormones (thought to be some 200 times more potent than morphine).

Endorphins play a significant role in the hormonal system, which is why acupuncture is effective in treating back pain, arthritis, PMS and infertility. The substances released as a result of acupuncture relax the body, and also regulate serotonin in the brain, which affects emotional states. Other physiological effects include increased circulation, decreased inflammation, relief of muscle spasms and increased T-cell count, which supports the immune system.


Western science posits that acupuncture triggers three primary mechanisms in the body:

1. Activation of opioid systems: Research has found that several types of pain-reducing opioids may be released into the central nervous system during acupuncture.

2. Changes in brain chemistry:
 Studies have shown that acupuncture may alter brain chemistry by altering the way in which neurotransmitters and neurohormones are released. Acupuncture has also been documented to affect sensation and involuntary body functions, such as immune reactions and processes involved in regulating blood pressure, blood flow and body temperature. Modulation of subcortical structures of the brain may be an important mechanism by which acupuncture exerts its complex multisystem effects.

3. Changes in blood flow:
 Acupuncture and Oriental medicine affects the circulation of blood to the affected area, which helps to remove pain-causing chemicals and restore normal function.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.