Acupuncture is an ancient healing technique practiced all over the world. It is believed acupuncture treatment originated in China over 2,000 years ago, and is to this day a common part of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Acupuncture differs from Chinese herbal treatment in that it treats the root cause of the condition – the internal imbalance caused by the exposure to external stress – rather that the emergent symptoms. Such stress, if untreated, can lead to what’s called an “energy blockage”, resulting in difficulty sleeping, fatigue, anxiety and depression.
The technique is utilized for a wide array of conditions, but often lends itself to ailments like depression, anxiety, stress, fatigue and Fibromyalgia.
In 1998, the National Institute of Health (NIH)’s Office of Alternative Medicine funded a University of Arizona study on 34 severely depressed women. Acupuncturist Rosa Schnyer and John Allen PhD developed a standard treatment plan for the study that targeted certain “depression points” on the body, and then devised a so-called “dummy” treatment that placed needles in nonspecific places. The acupuncturists administering the treatment had no idea if they were using the real plan or the dummy plan.
Following the treatment, the depression groups experienced a 43% reduction in their symptoms, compared with a 22% reduction in the dummy group. Over half no longer met the diagnostic criteria for clinical depression.
In Western terms, the interpretation would be that the acupuncture points stimulate the central nervous system (CNS), releasing chemicals into the muscles, brain and spinal cord, thus promoting the body’s own natural healing abilities. The NIH says, “Studies have shown that acupuncture may alter brain chemistry by changing the release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones in a good way.”
While acupuncture treatment will not alter the circumstances of a person’s life, it can prove useful in combating stress. Acupuncture is primarily concerned with regulating our life force, called ‘qi’ (pronounced as chee). Treatment with acupuncture has a relaxing, calming, somewhat tranquilizing effect that is especially helpful for people suffering from stress. It can relieve feelings of anxiety and depression, which may be serious handicaps from people coping with stressful life situations. Acupuncture can also improve one’s sense self-confidence and well-being and relieve the tension associated with chronic stress and anxiety.
Acupuncture treatment is also used clinically to treat other anxiety-related conditions like panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Anxiety disorders, as a group, are the most common mental illness in America. Over 19 million American men and women suffer from these debilitating illnesses every year, as well as children and adolescents.
A recent study by researchers at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Minnesota and Florida has found that acupuncture may relieve symptoms of fibromyalgia, especially the anxiety and fatigue often associated with the condition.
Fibromyalgia is a syndrome with characteristics such as fatigue, sleep problems, and widespread aches and pains. There is no known cause, and no medications specifically approved to treat it. Instead, treatment usually involves combining several methods, such as painkillers, antidepressants and exercise therapy.
In the new study, 50 fibromyalgia patients were randomly assigned to either an acupuncture or placebo group. The patients underwent six treatment sessions over a two-to-three week period, receiving either acupuncture treatment or having a dull surgical instrument pressed against the skin in order to mimic acupuncture. They were placed so that they were unable to see which treatment they were receiving.
Overall, the acupuncture patients showed a much greater improvement in their symptoms than the placebo group – especially in the areas of fatigue and anxiety. As far as acupuncture’s therapeutic effects on the syndrome, Dr. David P. Martin, one of the study’s authors, said “the trend in the evidence is tipping toward a benefit. I think people can try it, because there are really no bad side effects.” He went on to say that many people may be able to tolerate acupuncture better than commonly-prescribed drugs used for the condition.
It’s not clear, Martin says, why the fatigue and anxiety symptoms in particular improved, just as its unclear why acupuncture works at all. Recent research suggests that the technique, used for over 2,000 years in many parts of the world, may work by altering signals in nerve cells or affecting the release of various neurochemicals in the central nervous system.
There has been some controversy surrounding the efficacy of acupuncture, with some clinical studies yielding conflicting results on whether the ancient method actually has substantial benefits. However, many people around the world continue to seek help from acupuncturists, and as its use grows in the West, many report benefits and improvements on a wide range of conditions.
In America, it’s estimated that there are 20,000 certified acupuncturists, with a third of those being medical doctors. According to 1993 Food & Drug Administration (FDA) figures, Americans were visiting acupuncturists 9 to 12 million times per year and spending upwards of $500 million to have the fine needles strategically placed along the invisible latitude and longitude lines (called meridians) of their skin.