Acupuncture to Treat Anxiety Disorders

According to the National Institute of Health, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older.” In addition, according to the same source, women are 60% more likely to experience anxiety and the average onset of an anxiety disorder is age 11. However, only 42.2% of those with anxiety seek any kind of treatment, and of that only 33.8% are receiving minimally adequate treatment. The take away is that anxiety is something we all experience at some level and we are not doing enough to treat it.

Anxiety can be caused by many factors. From a specific event like an upcoming test, to an uncomfortable conformation with a loved one, to a more serious trauma, anxiety has many roots. Although the roots of the anxiety vary from person to person and must be identified and treated, the anxiety one experiences needs to be managed. Below are some of the bodily responses of anxiety:

•Physical symptoms such as an irregular heartbeat.
•Cognitive symptoms, which can cause negative thoughts.
•Behavioral symptoms, which may include uncharacteristic aggression or restlessness.
•Emotional symptoms, such as fear.

Acupuncture can be a good way to treat anxiety. According to Psychology Central, “In a comprehensive literature review appearing in a recent edition of CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics, it was proved that acupuncture is comparable to cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which psychologists commonly use to treat anxiety (Errington-Evans, 2011). Another study published in the Journal of Endocrinology in March 2013 discovered stress hormones were lower in rats after receiving electric acupuncture (Eshkevari, Permaul and Mulroney, 2013).” Science clearly agrees that acupuncture is a more than adequate way to help manage anxiety.

To understand how acupuncture helps relieve anxiety is to understand the thoughts behind Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM believes in a force called QI that regulates the body’s overall health. QI, like blood, moves through the body via pathways called meridians. When factors like stress or changes in environment disrupt the flow of QI, health issues follow, according to the University of Miami Health System. When an acupuncturist inserts needles at a specific point in the body, balance is restored to the QI and the body’s overall health, the University of Chicago Medicine states. This might seem hard to grasp, but if you consider that QI is just another way of describing chemical reactions taking place in the body, it makes more sense.

Acupuncture needles can affect the body’s chemicals reactions. For example, needles placed in the correct acupuncture point can cause the nervous system to produce painkilling chemicals. It can also jump start the body’s natural healing process or stimulate the part of the brain that controls emotions, including anxiety, according to Dr. Daniel Hsu, a Doctor of Acupuncture and Eastern Medicine. Specifically referring to how acupuncture helps with anxiety, researchers at Georgetown University led by Eshkevari used lab studies to demonstrate that acupuncture slows the body’s production of stress hormones.

One study, published online in the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies showed that participants who underwent acupuncture for anxiety saw improvements after just one 20-minute session. This means that after just one session, patients could feel relief from their anxiety, and because acupuncture changes the chemical balance in the brain, which makes the patient feel better, it may mean less medication is needed. As the chemicals in the brain are altered, medication, which does the same thing, may no longer have a role to play.

It is important to note that any acupuncture session comes with general, normal side effects. They include minor bruising and dizziness, both of which are minimal as opposed to psychotherapy drugs, which can have more serious side effects. In this sense, acupuncture is much safer for treating anxiety. Plus, unlike drugs that can lead to dependency, acupuncture is not likely to have the same addictive effect.

When it comes to trying acupuncture for anxiety, you have nothing to lose. With a licensed acupuncturist, the risks are almost non-existent and are outweighed by the potential benefits. After just a few sessions, you may even find yourself sleeping better and enjoying other health benefits. If already on treatment for anxiety, acupuncture can make a good addition to your regimen. If it works, you can speak to your doctor about limiting or reducing medication. It is a win-win situation for your health. Even just trying a treatment will make you feel better because you are taking action to alleviate the anxiety instead of worrying and increasing your anxiety level.

Like many medical diagnoses, there is not always a one-size fits all solution. Depending on the person and the individual diagnosis, treatment may vary. For some people, acupuncture alone may work. For others, a combination of therapy, medication, and acupuncture may be best. Consult with your doctor before starting any treatment and discuss a treatment plan that will work for you.

This article originally appeared on Above & Beyond Acupuncture.


Does Acupuncture Work by Re-Mapping The Brain?

Acupuncture is a form of traditional medical therapy that originated in China several thousand years ago. It was developed at a time bereft of tools such as genetic testing or even a modern understanding of anatomy, so medical philosophers did the best they could with what was available – herbs, animal products and rudimentary needles. In the process, perhaps, they stumbled on an effective medical approach.

In the past century, some modernisation has taken place. For instance, acupuncture has been paired with electrical currents, allowing for stimulation to be more continuous and to penetrate deeper into the body. This approach was termed electro-acupuncture and represents a convergence between the ancient practice of acupuncture therapy and modern forays into targeted electrostimulation delivered to the skin or nerves. Such approaches have attracted the attention of the pharmaceutical industry and are part of a growing class of neuromodulatory therapies.

So why all the rancour against acupuncture from some corners of the internet (and academia)? Shouldn’t we apply our modern research methods to see which classical acupuncture techniques have solid physiological backing?

It’s not as easy as it seems. Let’s look at the clinical research. A recent landmark meta-analysis threw together data from thousands of chronic-pain patients enrolled in prior clinical trials, finding that acupuncture might be just marginally better than sham acupuncture (in which non-inserted needles are used as a placebo control). The differences were statistically significant, but lack of a larger difference could be due to the clinical outcome measure that the researchers studied. Symptoms such as pain (along with fatigue, nausea and itch) are notoriously difficult for different people to rate in a consistent manner. Conventional wisdom says that these kinds of symptoms are improved by placebo, but what about improvements in the body’s physiology? For instance, in a recent study that assigned an albuterol inhaler for asthma to some patients and sham acupuncture to others, patients reported both as effective. But objective physiological measures demonstrated significant improvement only for albuterol. It’s clear that in evaluations of acupuncture, research should explicitly hunt for potential physiological improvements, in addition to patient reports.

While most chronic-pain disorders lack such established, objective outcomes of disease, this is not true for carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), a neuropathic pain disorder that can be validated by measuring electrical conduction across the median nerve, which passes through the wrist. Interestingly, the slowing of nerve conduction at the wrist does not occur in isolation – it’s not just the nerve in the wrist that’s affected in CTS. My own department’s research and others’ has clearly demonstrated that the brain, and particularly a part of the brain called the primary somatosensory cortex (S1), is re-mapped by CTS. Specifically, in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans, the representation of fingers innervated by the median nerve are blurred in S1. We then showed that both real and placebo acupuncture improved CTS symptoms. Does this mean that acupuncture is a placebo? Maybe not. While symptom relief was the same immediately following therapy, real acupuncture was linked to long-term improvement while sham acupuncture was not. And better S1 re-mapping immediately following therapy was linked with better long-term symptom reduction. Thus, sham acupuncture might work through an alternative route, by modulating known placebo circuitry in the brain, while real acupuncture rewires brain regions such as S1, along with modulating local blood flow to the median nerve in the wrist.

Where you stick the needle might matter as well. While site-specificity is one of the key features of acupuncture therapy, it has been controversial. Interestingly, in the S1 region of the brain, different body areas are represented in different spatial areas – this is how we localise the mosquito that’s biting us, and swat it. Different S1 areas might also pass along information to a diverse set of other areas that affect different bodily systems such as the immune, autonomic and other internal motor systems. As far as acupuncture is concerned, the body-specific map in S1 could serve as the basis for a crude form of point specificity. In our study, we compared patients receiving real acupuncture locally to the wrist with patients receiving real acupuncture far from the wrist, in the opposite ankle. Our results suggested that both local and distal acupuncture improved median nerve function at the wrist. This suggests that the brain changes resulting from acupuncture might not just be a reflection of changes at the wrist, but could also drive the improved median nerve function directly by linking to autonomic brain regions that control blood vessel diameter and blood flow to the median nerve.

This new research clearly demonstrates that bodily response is not the only means by which acupuncture works; response within the brain might be the most critical part. Once we better understand how acupuncture works to relieve pain, we can optimise this therapy to provide effective, non-pharmacological care for many more chronic-pain patients.

This article originally appeared on Aeon & written by Vitaly Napadow.

Acupuncture for Rheumatoid Arthritis and Inflammation

The Evidence is Promising

Poking needles under your skin doesn’t exactly sound soothing, but some people swear by the use of acupuncture for their rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Such anecdotal evidence suggests this therapy might be effective in relieving RA discomfort. Yet with few good-quality studies available, proving acupuncture’s safety and benefit has been a challenge.

Many reviews of studies done so far have not found a statistically significant benefit on pain, swollen joints or other measures of disease when compared to a control treatment. Many of the studies that did find positive outcomes weren’t well conducted. Yet there has been enough potential noted for this therapy that researchers say it warrants further study.

Acupuncture’s Effect on Inflammatory Markers

Acupuncture involves inserting tiny needles into a person’s skin. A version known as electro-acupuncture adds a mild electric current. The needles are inserted at some of the 2,000 mapped points along what are called meridians or channels.In Chinese terms, acupuncture restores the optimal flow of energy – called Qi (pronounced chee) – in the body.

In a 2011 Chinese study looking at electro-acupuncture and traditional acupuncture, both significantly lowered tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). “Both TNF-α and VEGF are associated with chronic inflammation,” explains Nathan Wei, MD, director of the arthritis treatment center in Frederick, Md. “In particular, TNF-α appears to play a pivotal role in the chronic inflammation and joint destruction that characterizes RA. That’s why so many of the biologic medications target TNF-α.”

In a 2008 Arthritis & Rheumatism review of eight acupuncture studies involving a total of 536 patients with RA, five studies reported a reduction in erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), three saw a reduction in C-reactive protein (CRP), and one study described a significant drop in both. Both ESR and CRP are markers of inflammation in the body. Several of the studies also reported decreased pain and a reduction in morning stiffness.

How acupuncture affects inflammatory markers like TNF-α is unknown. “No one has figured out one single mechanism for acupuncture’s effects,” says Jeffrey I. Gold, PhD, director of the pediatric pain management clinic at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles.

Gold explains that MRI studies show that acupuncture sites specifically induce responses in various portions of the brain. Acupuncture can possibly effect any organ or system: immunological, neurological, hormonal and psychological. “It doesn’t only block pain signals,” he says.

Experts do know that acupuncture relieves pain by stimulating the release of endorphins, the body’s own natural painkillers, says Jamie Starkey, lead acupuncturist for the Tanya I. Edwards, MD Center for Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. “We’re activating the peripheral nervous system, which then activates the central nervous system, so that the brain begins to release endorphins.” Acupuncture may relieve pain locally, she says, by not only releasing neurotransmitters, but also by having an anti-inflammatory effect. “How exactly it happens, we are still researching.”

Taking the Acupuncture Route

“The more studies that come in showing the drop in inflammatory markers through acupuncture treatments, the more rheumatologists will take note,” says Starkey. In a 2010 Mayo Clinic survey, 54% of rheumatologists said they would recommend acupuncture as an adjunct treatment. 

Here are some things to consider if you’re thinking of jumping on the acupuncture bandwagon:

Choose Carefully

“Find an acupuncturist who comes highly recommended by your rheumatologist or physician, family friends, and colleagues so you know firsthand what their experience was like,” says Starkey. If you don’t know anyone to ask, search The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture website for a certified clinician in your area. 

Acupuncturists have to be licensed by their state medical board, so you can check there as well. “Ideally, try to find someone who has experience working with RA patients,” says Starkey.  

Know What’s Covered

Some insurance companies cover acupuncture for certain diagnoses, but others do not. Prices for acupuncture vary, depending on your area and can run $75 to $200 per treatment.

Expect Several Treatments

“We tend to see substantial results within three to six treatments,” says Dr. Gold. But each patient responds differently and treatments vary depending on the stage of the disease.

Understand the Limit

Acupuncture doesn’t work on everyone, says Starkey. “In my clinical work, we see a 20% non-response rate.” But,acupuncture has many styles and practitioners. “If it doesn’t work right away, don’t dismiss the whole field of acupuncture,” says Dr. Gold. “Try a different style.”


This article originally appeared on and was written by Dorothy Foltz-Gray

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Acupuncture For Relieving Hot Flashes

As menopause approaches, approximately 85 percent of U.S. women experience hot flashes and up to 50 percent of them continue having them for several years.(1) The sudden flushing of the skin that often leads to sweating, and/or feeling very warm and sometimes, chilled, is a frustration that many women seek to find relief from.

Acupuncture helps provide relief from hot flashes

Acupuncture has been suggested as a way to help ease hot flashes, but now, a new study conducted by The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) reinforces its effectiveness.(2) Researchers assessed hundreds of other past menopause-related studies, looking at ones where acupuncture played a role in providing women with relief from hot flashes. They also studied women ages 40-60 who were currently experiencing menopause, observing them as they tried a variety of acupuncture techniques, ranging from traditional Chinese medicine acupuncture (TCMA), ear acupuncture, electroacupuncture, laser acupuncture and acupressure.(2)

They concluded " . . . that acupuncture positively impacted both the frequency and severity of hot flashes."(2) NAMS executive director Margery Gass, MD., says that "The review suggests that acupuncture may be an effective alternative for reducing hot flashes, especially for those women seeking non-pharmacologic therapies."(2)

It's thought that acupuncture may be helpful because it helps to reduce endorphins in the part of the brain that affects thermoreguation, which is related to core body temperature.(2)

The Mayo Clinic is on board with acupuncture as an alternative way to help manage hot flashes. In fact, according to the clinic, acupuncture, along with relaxation practices such as yoga and hypnosis, may be beneficial for women, as is maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding spicy foods.(3)

Foods that help minimize hot flashes

Foods that can help naturally fight hot flashes include drinking herbal teas like chamomile, eating nuts, and enjoying potassium-boosting vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower.(4)

Avoidance of alcohol and caffeine is also important as they can elevate the intensity and duration of hot flashes.

Sources for this article include:






This article originally appeared on and was written by Antonia.