By Pure Matters
The thought of receiving acupuncture, that ancient Eastern medicinal practice that involves sticking small pins in various points on one's body, may make some people cringe. But it's proven to be an effective treatment for a whole host of ailments, including two of the most common: headaches and anxiety.
How It Works
Acupuncture is based on the principle of energy and its flow through your body. If that flow is blocked, then pain or illness results, the theory goes. Acupuncturists try to reestablish the flow by gently placing up to 20 thin needles into specific "acupoints" on your body.
Western medicine is still working to understand the mechanisms of acupuncture. "There are many details we still don't understand, but essentially, acupuncture seems to stimulate specific muscles and nerves, activating changes that reduce pain and symptoms and promote healing," says Kwokming James Cheng, MD, who recently published a review in Acupuncture in Medicine that aimed to identify the neurological significance of common acupoints.
Easing the Tension
When it comes to tension headaches, some people can use aspirin, ibuprofen, or another over-the-counter pain reliever and nip the pain in the bud. But many others can't, possibly because these headaches aren't just a result of muscle pain but of neurochemicals as well.
That's where acupuncture can be another answer. "The needles appear to send signals to the brain to adjust the levels of these neurochemicals," says Dr. Cheng. A recent review from a researcher at Technical University Munich in Germany backed this up. After surveying 11 studies on tension headaches, the researcher found that nearly half of patients receiving acupuncture reported a 50 percent decrease in the frequency of their headaches; those who received painkillers reported a mere 16 percent drop.
An Answer for Anxiety
Doctors and researchers have seen acupuncture work wonders for patients with anxiety as well. Going under the needle can ease mild anxiety, like that caused by your car breaking down, and significant anxiety resulting from major events like job loss or divorce.
How? Similar to the needles' effect on headaches, acupuncture can soothe anxiety by triggering the release of neurotransmitters and other chemicals that affect your mood and stressed-out feelings, specifically when they enter your earlobes, hands, or feet. A recent study also found acupuncture to be effective for anxiety patients who can't tolerate Western anxiety medicine's side effects (which can include decreased sex drive). And acupuncture can be easily paired with other natural treatments -- such as herbal supplements or vitamins and minerals -- as needed.