Acupuncture to Treat Stress

Today's Wall Street Journal has an excellent article about acupuncture -- providing a great introduction to the ancient therapy, its common uses, effects, and the science behind it.

Here are some of the highlights:

What's at the root of acupuncture?
It holds that an invisible life force called qi (pronounced chee) travels up and down the body in 14 meridians. Illness and pain are due to blockages and imbalances in qi. Inserting thin needles into the body at precise points can unblock the meridians, practitioners believe, and treat everything from arthritis and asthma to anxiety, acne and infertility...

To treat stress, practitioners stimulate five specific points (pictured below) that they believe are associated with its causes.


What are the effects?
As fanciful as that seems, acupuncture does have real effects on the human body, which scientists are documenting using high-tech tools. Neuroimaging studies show that it seems to calm areas of the brain that register pain and activate those involved in rest and recuperation. Doppler ultrasound shows that acupuncture increases blood flow in treated areas. Thermal imaging shows that it can make inflammation subside.

What are the common uses? What does it typically cost?
The most common uses are for chronic pain conditions like arthritis, lower back pain and headaches, as well as fatigue, anxiety and digestive problems, often when conventional medicine fails. At about $50 per session, it's relatively inexpensive and covered by some insurers.

In a 2007 survey, 3.2 million Americans had undergone acupuncture in the past year—up from 2.1 million in 2001, according to the government's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.


Does it work?

While scientists say further research is essential, some studies have provided evidence of acupuncture's effects.

  • Arthritis of the Knee: Acupuncture significantly reduced pain and restored function, according to a 2004 government study.
  • Headaches: Two 2009 reviews found that acupuncture cut both tension and migraine headaches.
  • Lower Back Pain: Acupuncture eased it in a big study last year, but so did a sham treatment where needles didn't penetrate the skin.
  • Cancer: Has proven effective in reducing nausea and fatigue caused by chemotherapy.
  • Infertility: Improves the odds of pregnancy for women undergoing in-vitro fertilization, according to a 2008 review of seven clinical trials.
  • Addiction: Often used to help quit smoking, drinking, drug use and overeating, but there is no conclusive evidence that it works.


You can read the entire article (which I highly recommend) at the Wall Street Journal here.
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