By Izzy Rodney
Personally, acupuncture has always been something I have wanted to try which is rather ironic due to having a phobia of needles and injections. However, this ancient medicinal practice dates back to hundreds of years, approximately 3000 years ago, with the theory and practice originating in China. Keep reading to find out what acupuncture is and how it can help your mental and overall health.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture, derived from ancient traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), is a treatment where fine needles are inserted into the skin in specific placements on the body commonly used to treat pain. In recent years, it has become more of a practice to treat mental health conditions. The World Health Organisation now recommends acupuncture for over 100 conditions.
Acupuncture is believed to have originated in China, mentioned in documents that date back to the Common Era. The first document which researchers believe is referring to the practice of acupuncture is The Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, from the year 100 BCE. The ideas in this book focus on the topics of health, disease and treatment and how the key to life is maintaining a healthy lifestyle, following the natural way of the universe. Archaeologists have found sharpened stones and bones dating back to around 6000 BCE and have been interpreted as instruments for acupuncture treatment - although they may have also been surgical instruments!
Whilst Western medicines focus on treating diseases, TCM looks at your entire wellbeing and is made up of two components: Qi (pronounced ‘chee’) and Yin and Yang. TCM practitioners believe the human body has more than 2,000 acupuncture points connected by pathways or meridians. It is believed that these pathways create an energy flow, known as Qi, that runs throughout your body that gives you ‘vital energy’. Dr. Greg Sperber, a doctor of acupuncture and oriental medicine says that “Blockages of qi, deficiencies of qi, [and] too much qi are what cause illness. What we do with acupuncture, herbs, and all of Chinese medicine is we try to line up qi.”
Alongside this, Yin and Yang are two interrelated forces that are mutually exclusive and together form a whole; they are complementary energies which reflects a state of harmony and health when in balance and disease and illness when out of balance.
Doctors have claimed that you can tell if someone has a Qi deficiency. For example, those who appear outwardly healthy or can fight off an infection easily, have good immunity or even a healthy mind, are believed to have a good amount of Qi in their body. Those who do not have enough Qi, may face pain, illness or even mental health problems.
So How Does It Work?
Using fine needles, they are inserted into strategic points across your body - specifically areas on the body that may ache or have pressure. Most claim that there is minimal pain and that after the treatment they are left feeling energised or relaxed. The National Institute of Health have said that acupuncture can be used in combination with other therapies/treatments or alone to treat a variety of health conditions such as: nausea from cancer chemotherapy, headaches, osteoarthritis to even menstrual cramps and dental pain. What is good about acupuncture is that it rarely has any side effects (or are often rather mild); it is also a good alternative to pain medications and steroids.
AnxietyHealth has stated that through research, it shows that an estimated 822,000 workers are affected by work-related stress, depression or anxiety every year. Especially after the last three years, with Covid-19, many people - young and old - have been affected with depression and anxiety. These conditions are usually treated with drugs or therapy, which although can be helpful, are very subjective to the individual. However, with acupuncture having no long-term risks and overall being a safe, healthy practice, WHO and the AcupunctureEvidenceProject, recommend holistic treatments such as acupuncture to treat both anxiety and depression.
Acupuncture can help benefit depression and anxiety: by regulating neurotransmitters and hormones such as serotonin and dopamine (responsible for happy mood); thus altering the brain’s mood chemistry to combat negative thoughts; can act on areas of the brain which are known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress; and promotes and invokes relaxation in the body (Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, while acupuncture can activate the opposing parasympathetic nervous system, which initiates the relaxation response. (Arranz 2007))
It is important to note to always check with your GP before starting acupuncture. Moreover, to be aware of the risks:
- Always go to a licensed and well-trained practitioner, because acupuncture is based on specific pressure points, and if inserted incorrectly, it can puncture organs.
- Make sure sterile needles are being used. Your practitioner should always be using new needles that are thrown away after every use.
- Do not use acupuncture if you take blood thinners or have any bleeding disorder as you may have an increased risk of bleeding.
- Acupuncture should not be substituted as an alternative to doctors and healthcare. Still see your GP if you are feeling under the weather!