By Kate Harveston — Acupuncture is one of the oldest forms of medicine known and practiced worldwide, and when I first decided to give it a go, I did so for little other reason than that I figured any type of healing with that kind of shelf life must have something to offer. Little did I realize at first the plethora of health benefits I’d reap from having my chi, or qi stimulated by needles.
At first, I shared the same fear many people express for not trying acupuncture — I don’t like needles, and even routine blood draws have the potential to make me woozy and faint. But what practitioners claim is true: The needles are so micro-thin that you don’t feel them at all. What you do feel is a whole lot of relief for a whole lot of symptoms you might not realize are even ailing you.
Here’s what I love the most about getting regular acupuncture and how you can benefit from the practice too.
1. Sleep Better at Night
My brain has been stuck in “on” mode for as long as I can remember, and I’m no stranger to sleepless nights spent tossing, turning and mentally replaying every mistake I’ve ever made. What struck me most about my first acupuncture experience, other than the painlessness of the needles, was falling into a deep, dream-filled slumber for the first time in memory without the assistance of a prescription sleep aid (or at least a heavy dose of Benadryl).
Given my phobia, the last thing I imagined myself doing as I lay on a table with God knows how many needles in me was taking a nap. But nearly the moment my eyes closed, I fell into a colorful dream-scape. I don’t recall the substance of those dreams to this day, but I do remember how incredibly vivid they were.
Results from acupuncture can take a while to reach maximum effectiveness, though most people report some relief from whatever ails them with their first treatment. After adding regular acupuncture treatments as part of my monthly routine, I fall asleep much more readily at night and stay asleep longer without subjecting my liver to meds.
2. Manage Weight
Since my mind tends to spin a mile a minute during my waking hours, like most Americans, I struggle with my weight. I have a slightly different issue than many commonly complain of — often, I used to neglect eating during the workday. I work two jobs and one is very physically demanding so I would forget to eat until coming home. On top of that, my anxiety often causes a nauseous feeling in my stomach, so most days I didn’t feel like eating anyway. When I would come home, I’d be more likely to grab something unhealthy but quicker to make if I was hungry.
Acupuncture helped me to break my bad eating habits and fall out of underweight territory by stimulating my appetite. But some scientific evidence supports the efficacy of acupuncture in aiding with weight loss as well. One study found that those who complemented other weight loss modalities such as exercise and dietary changes lost significantly more pounds than those who did not undergo treatment.
Acupuncture alone won’t maintain a healthy body weight — in the end, it comes down to calories in versus calories out. However, many western researchers believe acupuncture works by stimulating nerves in certain areas, meaning it could regulate hormone levels by stimulating the nerves surrounding certain glands, making weight loss (or gain, in my case) easier.
3. Keep Stress at Bay
Although I normally don’t think of myself as unusually stressed, acupuncture helped make me aware of how much tension I carry in my body. Even though I usually remain unaware of the way my shoulders often hunch up, my acupuncturist noticed the imbalance in my body right away and took measures to treat it. I started feeling much more relaxed in my day-to-day interactions after adding regular acupuncture treatments into my life.
Acupuncture works by stimulating the flow of qi (sometimes spelled “chi” in the west), or vital energy, through the human body. More than 350 different acupuncture points exist throughout the body, and practitioners balance energy by directing it where it needs to go. Though western science lacks a picture of what these energy meridians look like, more than 2,000 years of practice and various research studies indicate the efficacy of acupuncture.
Most western scientists do agree that high levels of stress can lead to adverse health outcomes. Although researchers remain unclear about the exact relationship between stress and heart disease, most feel that high-stress levels can increase risk. Stress stimulates the release of adrenaline, which raises blood pressure, and chronic stress can lead to other negative behaviors like overeating and smoking that further increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.
Those with a lot of stress in their lives would do well to seek out a licensed acupuncturist. While it’s true that most acupuncture sessions last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, some practitioners design shorter appointments — though needles usually need to remain in for at least 15 minutes. Taking the time for adequate self-care decreases stress too, so making time to go is of benefit in itself.
4. Feel Less Depressed
Many adults suffer from some form of depression during their lifetime. Although I consider myself a positive person who looks at challenges as opportunities, we all experience times when we get the blues — or worse, develop a mood disorder.
Multiple studies have investigated whether acupuncture effectively alleviates clinical depression, and the results have shown promise. While acupuncture alone may not stave off a major depressive disorder, those with milder forms of the disease report relief. Acupuncture shows great promise in treating pregnant women who develop depression due to fluctuating hormonal levels but who wish to avoid antidepressants while carrying.
Acupuncture likewise can serve as a protocol that’s complementary to treatment with antidepressants and talk therapy. Some therapists have incorporated acupressure, which works on similar principles as acupuncture, into their practices to teach patients natural ways to improve their moods. One such pressure point is located right between the center of the eyes. Gently tapping the area when you feel particularly sad can help some people combat anxiety and depression. I’ve tried this myself, and it does help. You might look a bit silly for a few moments, but hey, laughter is a great medicine too!
5. Control Chronic Pain
The greatest benefit I reap from acupuncture is relief from chronic pain. After I was diagnosed with chronic migraine and chronic lower back pain, my physician started me down the road to becoming a scientific guinea pig by throwing every known pill for treating the conditions at me in the hopes that one would stick. I endured some pretty severe side effects as a result — one medication commonly prescribed to treat nerve pain made me feel like I could move mountains for about 30 minutes followed by a devastating crash into complete muscle weakness, cold sweats, and shakes. After taking only one pill, I never risked duplicating the results.
I admit I will reschedule an acupuncture appointment if I’m in the midst of a particularly bad flare of pain. I haven’t gathered the requisite courage to see if getting treated while the pain is at its worst helps or exacerbates the pain. But since getting regular acupuncture treatments, I’ve noticed a marked decrease in the length and severity of such flare-ups when they do occur.
Usually, when a bad flare occurs, I’m mostly bed-bound. My trigger points in my mid-back make anything from standing to sitting upright impossible. Since getting regular acupuncture, I’ve experienced fewer lost days due to the disease.
And I am not alone. Chronic pain patients suffering anything from rheumatoid arthritis to lupus to spinal stenosis report relief from acupuncture treatments. And when patients combine acupuncture with certain traditional western remedies, they often experience an even greater sense of relief.
6. Enjoy More Energy
Be honest: How often do you find yourself remedying office yawning with a moan of, “I’m so tired” or a trip to the break room snack machine for chocolate? Even Americans who don’t suffer from insomnia often complain of lack of energy from overwork, practicing bad habits or both.
Since acupuncture is all about the flow of energy in the body, it offers a natural way to treat these doldrums. I notice huge increases in my overall energy levels after beginning a regular acupuncture treatment regimen. Sure, part of that is explainable by the improvement in my sleeping habits, but I no longer drag as much at the end of a typical workday either.
To get a natural energy boost at the office while looking like you’re doing nothing more than pondering a tough problem, press on the groove between your nose and lip about a third of the way from your nostrils. Press and hold for 10-15 seconds for a natural energy boost that will have your cubicle mates wondering what your secret is.
7. Give Myself Top-Quality Self-Care
Psychiatrists tell us that paying attention to caring for ourselves regularly is vital to our psychological well-being, but far too many of us prioritize everything else first. Making the time to go to an acupuncturist at specific intervals is an ideal way to make ourselves feel better.
As the saying goes, it’s impossible to pour from an empty pitcher. When we put off making ourselves feel special, our relationships with those we love most start to suffer. Even career-minded folks who shun most social activities need time to unwind and relax.
Employers can do their employees — and themselves! — a big-time solid by covering acupuncture as part of their health plan. If budgetary concerns make paying for acupuncture care for employees unreasonable, remember that allowing them time off periodically to go on their own costs nothing and can create significant payoff. If you work in HR or in a managerial capacity, ask yourself if you’d rather have an exhausted and unproductive employee for 40 hours a week or an energized, healthy employee for 39.
Anyone Can Benefit from Giving Acupuncture a Try
Even people who are squeamish about needles (like me) can do well to set their fears aside and give acupuncture a try. I’m living proof that even those who go to an acupuncturist to treat one health condition can reap additional benefits. The procedure is safe, effective and 100 percent natural, so all you really have to lose is what ails you!
About the Author
Kate Harveston is a health and wellness writer from Pennsylvania. She is passionate about teaching people how to live more all-natural and sustainable lives. You can find more of her work at sites like Greatist, Care2 and the Environmental News Network, as well as at her blog, So Well, So Woman.