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Acupuncture: Can needles help you stay healthy?

by Mihaela Schwartz (follow)
Complementary and Alternative Medicines (45)     
This form of alternative medicine which practices the insertion of thin stainless steel needles into the body is a complex branch of ancient Chinese medicine. The technique has been around for thousands of years and its practitioners claim it is efficient with a great number of illnesses like asthma, epilepsy, insomnia and rheumatic arthritis. Studies conducted have failed to prove all of the claims but there is a growing body of evidence supporting its efficacy. Scientists admit acupuncture’s effectiveness with symptomatic control of pain and nausea, as well as with certain conditions like infertility, pregnancy and childbirth.

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Although the acupuncture method may seem absurd to some, its practical principles are easy to understand. According to Eastern beliefs, the human body has 365 acupuncture points and fourteen major channels known as meridians. They conduct a flow of energy called qi through all the parts of the body. Qi is considered to be the essential force of life, the energy linking all body parts and making them function as a unit. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on the idea that any qi imbalance, deficiency or blockage will affect the person’s health.

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By carefully inserting and manipulating the needles, the acupuncturist touches specific points along the meridians. These points on our body are known as acupoints. Thus, the human body is stimulated to regain its equilibrium. Sometimes, acupuncture is accompanied by other related practices focused on sounds (sonopuncture or acutonics), electrical stimulation, or bare handed massage techniques.

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Western medicine likes to define exactly how things work and they have tried very hard to come up with a scientific explanation for the effectiveness of acupuncture. Western scientists do not subscribe to the Chinese theory of energy flows. Instead, some researchers suggest the needles stimulate the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers. Others say it affects the release of serotonin, a major contributor to the feelings of well-being and happiness. The third theory suggests it improves circulation by dilating blood vessels.

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Any acupuncture session will start with an assessment of how the energy flow and vital organs are. The first thing the acupuncturist will do is learn from the patient why he/she is there. Next, the pulse will be checked on both hands, thus obtaining information on how the energy is flowing through the body and if the two sides of the body are balanced. Tongue and abdomen exam gives information on internal organs. Only after applying the four diagnostic methods of Traditional Chinese Medicine (inspection, auscultation, inquiring, and palpation), will the acupuncturist decide upon the course of treatment.

You may have your doubts about acupuncture, but there are plenty of people who trust it completely. Actually, it works so well for some that in China it has been used in surgery as an alternative for general anesthetic.

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Thanks for the clear article, Mihaela. Acupuncture definitely helped me during different stages of life, especially during pregnancy - it relieved morning sickness, back pain and significantly eased labour. It really is an effective form of traditional medicine and the needles do not hurt at all.
by Lucy
Hi Mihaela

I've had fabulous results using acupuncture, it even saved me from having wrist surgery many years ago. I highly recommend it as a safe and effective health care treatment.
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