During a time when stress is inevitable (relationships, work, and life stuff always intensify around the holiday season, right?), we continue to look for helpful ways to take care of ourselves. One of those ways is acupuncture. While we’ve been told it can be helpful for our minds, bodies, and, in some cases, our souls, we thought it appropriate to get to know the specifics a bit better.
“We have channels on both sides of our body that run bilaterally and connect to our organ systems,” says Nicholas Barlow, the man behind Los Angeles–based acupuncture office The Barlow Clinic. “Acupuncture is the insertion of micro-fine, medical-grade needles into the patient’s skin over those specific channels. It’s a way we can positively impact our organs.”
“With acupuncture, so much happens in a single moment once a needle is inserted,” Mona Dan, acupuncturist, herbalist, and owner of Vie Healing acupuncture in Beverly Hills, told me. Of course, there’s a visceral response. The tiny needles stimulate a jump-start to your nervous system.
Why is that important? “Your nervous system is what controls every single aspect of your body,” Dan says. “The way your heart beats, the way your blood flows, your digestion, your energy, your mood, your pain tolerance—these are all nervous responses.” The way our nervous system is stimulated (or not stimulated) works like our muscles do; some areas are stronger than others.
Below, find five benefits of acupuncture, as explained by experts in the treatment.
“Acupuncture helps reduce pain by promoting the release of endorphins,” says Yunuen “June” Beristain, founder of Amplify Acupuncture, MTCM, LAc. “One way to alleviate pain is using points locally or distally. One popular combination of points is Four Gates, which are two different points on the body done bilaterally. There is one point on each hand and one point on each foot.”
“Pain is generally caused due to inflammation. However, aside from reducing inflammation, with acupuncture we learn how to properly needle polar areas of the body, which are deeply connected to each other through nerves, to move blood through areas of pain, which creates relief,” adds Dan.
Addiction & Recovery
“The National Acupuncture Detoxification Association protocol uses five points in the ear,” says Beristain. This cluster of insertion points is meant to go to the root of the problem to help curb addiction and minimize the behavior leading to the compulsion. The needles remain there 30 to 45 minutes.
Of course, the procedure functions as an adjunct within a comprehensive treatment program that offers other therapeutic elements, including counseling, education, family involvement, support group involvement, and supportive healthcare. According to NADA, clients and clinicians have reported improved program retention, a more optimistic and cooperative attitude toward the process of recovery and reductions in cravings, anxiety, sleep disturbance, and need for pharmaceuticals.
“In addition,” Beristain says, “acupuncture helps with circulation, which brings many of the necessary healing agents to an injured area. When we get injured, we expect our body to automatically begin the healing process, but depending on our health, the body’s healing efforts might not be efficient. Acupuncture helps give the body the kick it needs to bring those healing agents to the pained area. The Great Ravine point, which is on the ankle, helps to deeply strengthen the body’s healing mechanism.”
“Cortisol is the first hormone to help us respond to stress,” says Dan. “When the acupuncture needles are inserted, both the stress responders and the process responders of our bodies wake up to see what’s going on. This natural push is relaxing. At this point, we digest food better, sleep better, and feel better all together.”
Beristain adds, “Acupuncture releases feel-good hormones (like endorphins) that help handle stress. Stress relief is a very popular benefit of the holistic practice. Depending on the individual and their needs, we might use the chest center point, which regulates chi, or the seal hall point in between your eyebrows to help with deep relaxation.”
“It can also be mood stabilizing,” says Dan. “In Chinese medicine, we believe that in our blood we carry our emotions, so when blood starts flowing better, our emotions feel happier and less stuck. Also, with proper blood flow, the brain and other organs can send the proper chemicals more freely to assist in behavior.”
Immunity & Anti-inflammatory
“There are a lot of nerves and connective tissues around our body, so when we insert acupuncture needles, we stimulate the electric activity, which sends healing messages throughout us,” says Beristain. “This helps promote immunity.
“Another benefit of acupuncture is that it has anti-inflammatory effects. As everyone is different, we must evaluate the nature of the inflammation before deciding which points to use to relieve the condition. As an example, the moving between point (one on each foot) and the outer pass point (close to each wrist) are great points to release heat from the body, reducing inflammation.”
"Plus, because the needles are made of stainless steel and our bodies are primarily water, the connection of these two entities create a natural electrical stimulation. This process boosts blood flow,” Dan adds.
Spiritual & Emotional Development
“Acupuncture can help with an individual’s spiritual and emotional development in several ways, one of which is using the points along the heart or pericardium channels, which are on your arms,” says Beristain. “Traditional Chinese medicine teaches that there is a highway of energy going throughout the body, which all links together. In TCM, each organ system has its own spirit that can be supported through acupuncture. Going to an acupuncturist for emotional development is like going to a psychologist or an energy healer—you go to help your mental state.”