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How Does Acupuncture Work? Part 3

Acupuncture reduces stress via its effect on the peripheral nervous system

From a systemic point of view, acupuncture has very powerful anti-inflammatory and modulatory effects on the various systems within the body: nervous, immune, endocrine, cardiovascular, and gastrointestinal systems.   It’s amazing to think that these systems coordinate with one another each and every day, mostly below the radar of our conscious awareness.  An increasing number of studies have shown that acupuncture directly affects autonomic nervous system (ANS) functioning and is therefore effective in treating a variety of conditions related to the ANS such as anxiety, epilepsy, infertility, and cardiovascular disorders.    The autonomic nervous system is a part of the peripheral nervous system that controls bodily functions that are considered automatic, such as our respiration, heart rate, digestion, temperature, and more.   It can be divided into the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).  When you are stressed, the SNS turns on, getting you ready for fight or flight mode.  Your heart rate increases, pupils dilate, your adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol, and blood gets shunted away from your digestive and reproductive organs in preparation for "battle!"  The PNS response is enhanced by acupuncture and is active when we are in a relaxed, meditative mode:  Our blood pressure and heart rate decrease, there is increased blood flow to both your digestive tract and reproductive organs, and we absorb and digest nutrients better due to increased intestinal movement. 

Many of us operate in a chronic SNS dominant, fight-or-flight mode.  We forget to be present in the moment; we are too caught up worrying about the future or distressing over past events.  Long-term stress can exacerbate many health problems, including:

· Increased risk for infections and colds

· Cardiovascular disease

· Autoimmune disease and inflammation

· Mental health-related issues such as insomnia, depression, and anxiety

· Gastrointestinal problems such as indigestion, diarrhea, constipation or IBS-like symptoms

· Headaches and general muscle tension

· Increased tendency towards premenstrual symptoms or premenstrual dysphoric disorder

· Sexual dysfunction such as impotence, loss of libido, infertility, and premature ejaculation

The good news is that acupuncture can help counter the effects of stress, resulting in less inflammation and more  chances for your body to rest, digest, and heal! 

Acupuncture relieves pain by stimulating the release of natural painkillers

When a person is injured, pain signals travel up the spinal cord to the midbrain, where enkephalins are released. Enkephalins, a type of endorphin, are the body’s natural painkillers and are six times stronger than morphine! When someone is in chronic pain, however, the strength of the pain signals to the brain becomes weakened, and thus enkephalins are no longer released. Acupuncture serves as a stimulus to reboot the proprioceptive nerve pathway.  The sensation that the needles creates helps to jump the neural threshold and stimulate the midbrain to release enkephalins. After a few hours, this signal strength will diminish. Repeated acupuncture will continue to jump the neural threshold until the body is able to remember and reestablish the normal threshold to signal pain.  The result: chronic pain is eliminated!



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