The biggest causes of disease, aging, and illness are inflammation, stress, pain, and poor nutrition. If you want to counter these factors, feel your best, age gracefully, and heal from illness or chronic disease—then you may want to try acupuncture.
Let’s take a closer look at each of those factors.
A little bit of inflammation is a natural part of life. It’s the body’s natural defense against damaged cells, viruses, bacteria, and stress. When you catch a cold, for example, you may experience inflammation in the form of a fever as your body tries to protect itself and rid itself of harmful invaders. Or when you sprain your ankle and it swells up and gets red, hot, and stiff as your body tries to protect and support the ankle.
That kind of inflammation is "good," but the modern epidemic of chronic, low-grade inflammation is harmful to your body and health and makes you more susceptible to aging and disease. It’s one of the driving factors of almost all disease: arthritis, asthma, autoimmune disease, all kinds of pain, bronchitis, chronic pain, diabetes, depression, eczema, fibromyalgia, gallbladder disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, infertility, neuropathy, and the list goes on…
Acupuncture has been shown in numerous studies to reduce inflammation. This article discusses the research showing that acupuncture influences adenosine, which is known to moderate pain and inflammation and the immune system. This study showed that acupuncture has an antidepressant-like effect thought to be due to anti-inflammatory mediators in the brain regions.
Another thing you can do to reduce inflammation? Exercise. It doesn’t need to be intense. Just a simple walk or some relaxing yoga can help your body with circulation and detoxification. I like to remind my patients that the lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump, the way our circulatory system has a heart to move blood through our body. You can help your lymphatic system get moving with exercise to help to circulate your lymph and help your body detoxify. This in turn will reduce pain and inflammation as well as mitigate the effects of stress.
Imagine a cave woman 20,000 years ago sitting in the bushes and peacefully eating berries, when suddenly a saber-tooth tiger leaps out and threatens her. All the resources in her body shift away from digesting the berries and toward escaping the tiger. Her heart rate speeds up, her reflexes quicken, her blood glucose levels rise to supply energy to her muscles, her blood clots more readily in case she is slashed by the tiger. She experiences the classic fight-or-flight response. Everyday maintenance functions, including digestive, immune, and hormonal functions, are temporarily put on hold.
In the modern world, escaping the tiger is an every-minute-of-the-day affair. Our phones keep us constantly alerted to news and the constant demands on us and our time up until the very minute we fall asleep. Our brains can’t tell the difference between "Uughhh I have so many emails to respond to and I don’t have time" and "Yikes, there’s a tiger chasing me." Stress is any thought, feeling, or belief that makes your brain feel threatened. So that includes getting chased by a tiger but also work stress, money worries, relationship struggles, and feelings of resentment, sadness, and anxiety.
A baseline level of chronic stress is much more common than people realize. Knowing that is one thing, but actually doing that is another thing entirely. In fact, nothing irritates me more than someone telling me to "just relax." The desire to be relaxed and stress-free can sometimes feel like another thing on my to-do list of achievement goals. If this feels like you, acupuncture can help greatly.
Acupuncture is proven to reduce stress and even reverse the effects of stress. Research shows that acupuncture stimulates the release of oxytocin, a hormone that signals and regulates the parasympathetic nervous system. Acupuncture also addresses the effects of stress, like high blood pressure, elevated blood glucose levels, and insomnia. Because it returns blood flow from the extremities back to the inner organs such as the digestive and reproductive organs, you often see a huge increase in fertility and pregnancy rates.
Deep breathing, joy, and appreciation all immediately slingshot you out of fight-or-flight mode, too, and into the parasympathetic rest-and-relax mode. It sends a signal to your brain that you are safe and it can relax. This in turn allows your body to heal from stress, pain, and inflammation.
People who suffer from chronic pain know how it can utterly disrupt life. Pain can rob the joy from even simple, everyday pleasures and make exercise and other healthy activities like cooking challenging.
Chronic pain is not all that well-understood or managed by conventional medicine. It’s not always a manifestation of an underlying injury or disease. There is often no objective evidence or physical finding to explain the pain. Often, an underlying cause for the pain can’t be found or addressed, leaving the patient with very few treatment options from doctors. Acupuncture is well-researched to relieve all kinds of pain from headaches to back pain to fibromyalgia and peripheral neuropathy.
Research shows that acupuncture is effective at treating pain for several reasons. For one, acupuncture releases the body’s natural painkillers. As shown in several studies linked above, inserting a needle into an acupoint sends a signal through the nervous system to the brain, where chemicals such as endorphins, adenosine, oxytocin, and norepinephrine are released. Some of these substances are 10 to 200 times more potent than morphine!
Inflammation, stress, and pain are three of the biggest factors driving illness, aging, and disease. The good news is you can control these factors to a large degree. All of these are things that can be reduced, improved, and even reversed with acupuncture and diet changes. By addressing and improving all of these health disrupters, your body will heal, stay healthy, and thrive. Give it a try! You might be pleasantly surprised.