Written by Lauren Young
Integrative medicine focuses on holistic healing of the whole person through various fields of health. One of the most popular forms of integrative medicine is acupuncture, which originated in China in 100 B.C. In the United States, acupuncture is classified more as complementary medicine rather than alternative medicine because it is suggested to be performed in combination with conventional Western practices. The practice of acupuncture involves stimulating specific areas of the body by penetrating the skin with thin needles. Throughout history, it has been believed that the qi, or disruption of energy flow, is what causes diseases. Acupuncture is thought to help displace the qi by stimulating nerve endings and altering brain function through neurohormonal pathways. This in turn allows the brain to release hormones such as endorphins that deal with pain tolerance and pain inhibitory mechanisms . However, acupuncture should not be confused with being able to “cure” diseases. Rather, it indirectly affects different areas of our bodies, such as the pituitary gland, to produce hormones that help us heal.
Acupuncture can be grouped into three different methods: needle insertion, needle manipulation, and needle removal. Needle insertion requires 5-20 small needles of approximately 0.25mm in size inserted at various depths past the epidermis. Needle manipulation is performed when the physician moves the needle around to apply heat or electrical pulses. Lastly, needle removal is when the needle is left in the skin for about 10-20 minutes .
There are emerging findings about the benefits of acupuncture. Acupuncture has been known to treat nausea, pain, and nerve damage. One study discovered the potential for electroacupuncture to be effective in reducing shoulder pain and improving upper limb function in ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke survivors . There has also been recent research about acupuncture’s effect on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and allergic asthma. A notable finding involved prenatal acupuncture and its treatment for infertility. Acupuncture can increase hormone levels that travel to the ovaries, lower testosterone and increase estrogen levels, and improve polycystic ovary syndrome. In another study, a 39-year-old Mexican woman was infertile due to a fallopian-tube obstruction that was diagnosed as a Deficiency of Spleen and Kidney Qi. After 28 treatment sessions of acupuncture alongside a cupping treatment, she was finally able to become fertilized .
With any set of benefits, there is also a set of potential side effects and risks. Although acupuncture can be used to stimulate fertility and labor, it may result in premature delivery of the fetus. In addition, using needles may cause bruising to the epidermis layer for those with sensitive skin or blood disorders . Nevertheless, acupuncture is still a novice technique that needs to be looked further into to discover all its true advantages. It may help us appreciate the slow emergence of integrative medicine into Western society.
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