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Study: Acupuncture Reduces Stress

By HERWriter
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Mental Health related image Photo: Getty Images

Acupuncture is thought to have different mental and physical benefits, and a new study adds support to the mental health benefits of acupuncture. According to study results at Georgetown University Medical Center, acupuncture seems to reduce stress. Specifically, acupuncture decreases levels of a type of protein associated with long-term stress in rats.

“It has long been thought that acupuncture can reduce stress, but this is the first study to show molecular proof of this benefit,” said Ladan Eshkevari, the lead author of the study, in a news release.

Dory Ellen Fish, a licensed acupuncturist, said in an email that she has been practicing since 1995, has a clinic in PA and recognizes the relationship between acupuncture and stress relief.

“Acupuncture is a powerful modality for reducing stress for many reasons,” Fish said. “First of all, an experienced acupuncturist understands that ‘stress’ can come from many sources and is able to design a selection of acupuncture points that directly corresponds to the patient's individual need.”

She said she can check where the issues are happening in the body through pulse diagnosis and other skills in order to treat the problem.

“Most of us experience experience stress, but it manifests in different ways depending on our constitution,” Fish said. “Also, I believe … many studies … show that acupuncture stimulates the production of endorphins and other neurotransmitters that create a relaxation response.”

The atmosphere can also add to the stress relief experience.

“The setting where acupuncture takes place also contributes to relaxation,” Fish said. “For example, when people come to see me, they often comment on the peaceful nature of the office.”

In her office, she uses comfy sheets, aromatherapy, soothing music and a “warming far-infrared table.”

“I see acupuncture as a opportunity to be known and cared for,” Fish said. “To my mind, it has deeper, longer-lasting results than massage and is much less work than psychotherapy.”

However, she thinks some people need to go beyond acupuncture for mental health issues.

“I refer to a therapist when someone has emotional issues that they are not comfortable processing or if they need more support than I can provide, or if I suspect medication might be needed,” Fish said. “Therapists refer back to me when patients are experiencing physical symptoms or seem ‘stuck.’”

Besides stress, other mental health issues acupuncture can help with include depression, psychosomatic pain, addiction and anxiety, she said.

“It is also good for easing side-effects from medications,” Fish said.

Donnielle James, a licensed acupuncturist, said that acupuncture patients have time to themselves to unwind and feel nurtured, there are minimal distractions and sometimes they even fall asleep during a session.

“In addition, the points chosen for treating stress may stimulate a variety of nerves,” James said. “For example, ear shen men, located inside the ear, is very powerful for stress and stimulates the Vagus nerve.”

She said it is common for acupuncture patients to experience stress with other conditions, so points of the body are targeted specifically for stress.

“Acupuncture needles are used to stimulate specific points, which as inserted in the skin, stimulate a response in the nervous system, as well as the release of endorphins,” James said. “In the foundational theory for Chinese medicine and acupuncture, the point selection is typically chosen on points that move [qi] and blood and calm the mind. It is said in classical theory that many diseases are caused by emotions that are held in, and they can be held at various levels in the body.”

She said acupuncture can be used to treat mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, eating disorders and addiction.

“Acupuncture can help by stimulating specific points with needles, that can reduce cravings, calm the mind, and resolve depression and grief,” James said. “In addition to needles, treatment may include herbs, traditional exercises, nutritional suggestions, and facilitating the patient in getting in touch with the root cause of the issue, and treating both the root and the branch (symptoms) in most cases.”

Acupuncture can sometimes be a last resort, or when patients just want to try something new.

“In many cases, patients try acupuncture after they are tired of everything else,” James said. “Often tired of being handed medications, side effects, and the effects on their quality of life, many of the patients I have treated are also in traditional therapy or support groups.”

Georgetown University. Protein linked to stress reduced by acupuncture in rats. Web. Dec. 27, 2011. http://www.georgetown.edu/news/acupuncture-stress-reduction-study.html

Fish, Dory Ellen. Email interview. Dec. 27, 2011.
James, Donnielle. Email interview. Dec. 27, 2011.

Reviewed December 28, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.