It’s acupuncture awareness week!
8 Benefits of Traditional Acupuncture
By Colette Assor Lic Ac MBAcC
A British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) initiative this week aims to:
- Raise the profile of acupuncture as a valid health care choice, used to manage a range of conditions.
- Highlight the role of the BAcC as the UK’s leading professional body for traditional acupuncturists, upholding high standards of training and safety in practice.
- Encourage prospective patients to visit the BAcC website to find an acupuncturist near them.
Traditional acupuncture is a healthcare system used in the East for over 2,000 years. Acupuncture adopts a holistic approach to healthcare, considering the mind and body as one, and is based on the idea that a blockage or disturbance in the flow of ‘qi’ (a concept from Chinese philosophy), can cause health issues. Traditional Chinese Medical (TCM) theory views pain and illness as an indication that the body is out of balance.
Traditional acupuncturists insert very fine needles into specific points throughout the body, along pathways known as ‘meridians’ to regulate body processes and promote relaxation. Treatment is based on in depth holistic consultation and discussion of medical history, diet, and lifestyle.
Benefits of Traditional Acupuncture include:
There is a growing body of evidence for the use of acupuncture when used to support anxiety and stress.
Acupuncture is shown in research to regulate levels of neurotransmitters ( or their modulators) and hormones such as serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, GABA and ACTH hence altering the mood’s chemistry promoting relaxation helping to lower feelings of anxiety and tension in the body. ( Lee 2009, Samuels 2008: Zhou 2008;Yuan2007)
Acupuncture may help to regulate the autonomic nervous system, reducing the body’s “fight or flight” response.
By reducing stress and promoting relaxation, acupuncture may help to improve sleep quality.
Overall, while more research is needed, acupuncture can be an effective treatment promoting relaxation and overall wellness. Acupuncture is ideally used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes lifestyle changes, exercise, mindfulness and counselling. Acupuncture can be used safely alongside conventional drug treatment to minimise side effects.
Meir Stolear CBT therapist says: “I have been sending patients with anxiety and stress for several years and have found the combination of acupuncture and CBT therapy to be very effective. “
Promotes a better night’s sleep
In TCM we know that a balanced body is a healthy body where disease and issues like insomnia cannot exist. Acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neurochemical messenger molecules. The resulting biochemical changes influence the body’s homeostatic mechanisms, promoting physical and emotional wellbeing.
Stimulation of certain acupuncture points has been shown to affect areas of the brain that are known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the ‘analytical’ brain, which is responsible for insomnia and anxiety (Hui 2010)
Research suggests that acupuncture may help to improve digestion function which can be helpful in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome and acid reflux. This occurs by regulating the autonomic nervous system, increasing blood flow to the digestive tract, and modulating the release of hormones and neurotransmitters that are involved in digestion. Several studies have investigated the effects of acupuncture on various digestive disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux and constipation. A systematic review and meta-analysis published in the world journal of Gastroenterology in 2021 found that acupuncture may be effective for reducing symptoms of IBS such as abdominal pain and bloating.
Another review published in the journal Gastroenterology in 2020 suggested that acupuncture may be effective for reducing symptoms of acid reflux, such as heartburn and regurgitation. However, more research is needed.
Pain relief during pregnancy
According to a study published in the BMJ open, Acupuncture can significantly relieve the lower back or pelvic pain frequently experienced by pregnant women.
“Acupuncture significantly improved pain, functional status, and quality of life in women with lower back/pelvic pain during the pregnancy. Additionally, acupuncture had no observable severe adverse influences on the new-borns,” the researchers concluded. “More large-scale and well-designed [randomised controlled trials are still needed to further confirm these results.”
Research suggests that acupuncture can be an effective treatment for headaches, particularly tension headaches and migraines. Studies show that acupuncture can be as effective as medication for relieving headaches with few side effects.
The NICE guidelines recommends “If you have tension‑type headaches on 15 days per month or more you may be offered a course of up to 10 sessions of acupuncture to help prevent future tension‑type headache.”
There have been several well-respected studies demonstrating that acupuncture in conjunction with IVF may help support IVF outcomes. One of the most comprehensive studies in this area a meta – analysis was published in 2018. This study included 30 randomized controlled trials with a total of 3,012 women undergoing IVF or ICSI. The results indicated that acupuncture significantly reduced stress and anxiety in women undergoing IVF or ICSI. It is important to note that this research is not conclusive.
Sophie a GP in London says “I had acupuncture treatment for both my IVF cycles and found it to be very relaxing and supportive. I would highly recommend acupuncture as a valid healthcare choice. “
A study published in the British medical journal states that a brief course of acupuncture may help ease menopausal symptoms.
Among women dealing with moderate to severe symptoms acupuncture was associated with reductions in hot flushes, excess sweating, mood swings, sleep disturbances and hair problems. The findings prompt the researchers to conclude that acupuncture offers a “realistic “treatment option for women who can’t, or don’t want to use hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Support for other medical treatments
Acupuncture may be used in conjunction with primary medical treatment to improve effectiveness and reduce side effects. For example, acupuncture may be used to manage pain and nausea in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
How to find a traditional acupuncturist
The British acupuncture council are the UK’s largest member led professional body for traditional acupuncturists.
All members belong to an accredited register, regulated, and approved by the Professional Standards Authority for Health & Social Care (PSA). The PSA protects the public by overseeing the regulation and registration of healthcare professionals – including statutorily regulated professions, such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council, and Accredited Registers like the BAcC. This offers a quality mark for high standards of training, safe practice, and professional conduct. It is advised to see an Acupuncturist on an accredited register. To find an acupuncturist in your area please go to www.acupuncture.org.uk
Colette Assor has been in clinical practise as a traditional acupuncturist in North London for 24 years and is on the Member services committee at the British Acupuncture Council.