Alternative Stress Relief - Acupuncture Can Make Life Easier

By Tona Marquez on Apr 15, 2015 at 11:14 AM in Santa Barbara Alternative Healing

"Oh, you do acupuncture?"

"I heard that's good for stress"

We acupuncturists hear this all the time. Most people know that acupuncture is used to treat pain, especially back pain. A growing number of people now know acupuncture as a way to treat stress. And slowly science is catching up and beginning to unravel how acupuncture moderates the body's response to stress.

Alternative Stress Relief - Acupuncture Can Make Life Easier Needling Point He Gu (Bone Valley)

Stress relief – Acupuncture's success story could lead to mainstream acceptance

The wide majority of patients I treat in Santa Barbara, CA find that acupuncture provides great stress relief. Some of the patients I treat come in simply to find stress relief; while others notice stress relief as a positive acupuncture "side effect", as they progress through their treatment plan for ailments such as neck, shoulder and back pain, carpel tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, or sciatica. For either patient, acupuncture provides the support they need to experience a better quality of life.

"In a series of studies at Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC), researchers are demonstrating how acupuncture can significantly reduce the stress hormone response in an animal model of chronic stress. The latest study was published today in the April issue of Journal of Endocrinology."

'Many practitioners of acupuncture have observed that this ancient practice can reduce stress in their patients, but there is a lack of biological proof of how or why this happens,' says the study's lead author, Ladan Eshkevari, PhD, an associate professor of nursing at Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies, a part of GUMC. 'We're starting to understand what's going on at the molecular level that helps explain acupuncture's benefit.'

Eshkevari, a physiologist, nurse anesthetist and certified acupuncturist, designed a series of studies in rats to test the effect of electronic acupuncture on levels of proteins and hormones secreted by biologic pathways involved in stress response.

Eshkevari used rats because these animals are often used to research the biological determinants of stress. They mount a stress response when exposed to winter-like temperatures for an hour a day."

Stress, a profound influence on our health

Patient often come to me seeking acupuncture treatment for Adrenal Fatigue or feeling Out of Balance. They complain of symptoms such as trouble concentrating ("brain fog"), lack of energy in the afternoon, trouble sleeping, increased frequency of common digestive complaints, or worsening of pre-existing conditions such as allergies, migraines or high blood pressure. Additionally, women often complain of increased or more intense PMS symptoms, early onset of perimenopause, intense emotional episodes, or dream disturbed sleep.

These patients commonly deal with high levels of stress; stress that is both positive and negative. They frequently have "a lot on their plate"; demanding jobs, demanding home responsibilities, and/or demanding family responsibilities; and sometimes high demands of managing a chronic illness. But whether or not the type of stress is positive or negative, eventually high levels of stress have a negative impact on the body

"...researchers then measured blood hormone levels secreted by the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis, which includes the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the adrenal gland. The interactions among these organs control reactions to stress and regulate digestion, the immune system, mood and emotions, sexuality and energy storage and expenditure.

They also measured levels of NPY, a peptide secreted by the sympathetic nervous system in rodents and humans. This system is involved in the "flight or fight" response to acute stress, resulting in constriction of blood flow to all parts of the body except the heart, lungs and brain (the organs most needed to react to danger). Chronic stress, however, can cause elevated blood pressure and cardiac disease.

'We found that electronic acupuncture blocks the chronic, stress-induced elevations of the HPA axis hormones and the sympathetic NPY pathway' Eshkevari says. She adds that the rats receiving the sham electronic acupuncture had elevation of the hormones similar to that of the stress-only animals."

Acupuncture, providing stress relief in Santa Barbara

With frequent acupuncture treatment of 2 to 4 times a week (depending on each individual's needs) my patients report they can handle their stress loads without getting "stressed out." Some state an overall calmer mood, and make statements such as, "things don't bother me as much as they used to" or "my wife says she's notices that I'm more 'relaxed' since starting acupuncture." Others notice more physical changes such as better concentration and sleep, more energy to get through the day, and frequently an improvement of a symptom which they never mentioned to me before.

After a few treatments, patients that started off seeing me for pain relief often ask, "Does acupuncture effect your mood? Because I've been noticing I don't get pissed-off about stuff anymore." A patient being treated for neck pain reports a decrease in high blood pressure. Another patient being treated for hip pain reports an increase in previously low libido or a patient being treated for back pain notices an improvement with her asthma.

Often times when stress slowly builds up it is difficult for us to recognize how high our stress levels have become or how our stress may be effecting our body. Setting high goals for ourselves, working hard, striving to be our best, obtaining personal security all have positive and negative consequences over time. Recognizing high stress levels and taking action to manage stress, such as getting regular acupuncture treatments, can help everyone enjoy a higher quality of health and life.

"'We found that electronic acupuncture blocks the chronic, stress-induced elevations of the HPA axis hormones and the sympathetic NPY pathway,' Eshkevari says. She adds that the rats receiving the sham electronic acupuncture had elevation of the hormones similar to that of the stress-only animals.

Eshkevari says this research complements her earlier reported work that focused only on NPY. In that study, Eshkevari and her team found that NPY levels were reduced in the experimental group almost to the level of the control group, while the rats that were stressed and not treated with Zusanli acupuncture had high levels of NPY (Experimental Biology and Medicine Dec. 2011).

'Our growing body of evidence points to acupuncture's protective effect against the stress response,' she continues. Eshkevari says additional research is needed to examine if acupuncture would be effective in reducing hormone levels after the animals are exposed to the stress of cold temperatures, and whether a similar observation can be made in humans."

Acupuncture, Alternative Healing for Stress Relief and better health

Ongoing acupuncture research may slowly expand our understanding of how Acupuncture works or doesn't work. Either way, my patients take advantage of receiving acupuncture on a $20-$35 sliding scale and are glad that acupuncture helps them live with less pain, less stress, and better health; allowing them to work hard, strive to be their best and get another step closer to their personal goals in life.