Acupuncture and Stress Relief Part 2: How acupuncture eases pain, improves mood, sleep, and body chemistry

We cannot eliminate stress from our live but we can learn to manage. That’s part of what we learned in Acupuncture and Stress Releif Part 1: How the Body Responds to Stress

Acupuncture is very effective in reducing stress and stress related conditions.

It is well documented that there is a strong connection between the mind and body. Clearly mental well-being is associated with physical well being. Acupuncture helps restore the imbalances of neurotransmitters and hormones brought on by chronic stress and thus help reduce stress and the harmful effects of chronic stress.

Acupuncture: How It Works

The modern scientific explanation is that needling stimulates the nervous system to release chemicals in the brain, spinal cord and muscles. These chemicals alter the experience of pain and also trigger the release of other chemicals, neurotransmitters, and hormones that influence the bodies own internal regulating system.

Acupuncture Decreases Cortisol and Other Stress-Related Hormones

Acupuncture is very effective in reducing stress and stress related conditions. It does this by modulating neurotransmitters and reducing stress hormones. Acupuncture needles stimulate the secretion of endorphins the body’s natural painkillers, as well as decrease cortisol – one of the major stress hormones.

In addition acupuncture increases serotonin, dopamine, and melatonin.  These neurotransmitters help reduce pain, elevate mood, relax the body, improve sleep and help with an increased feeling of over all well being. People feel extremely relaxed during and after acupuncture treatments. Post acupuncture treatments, patients feel completely relaxed and often report improved sleep.

Multiple acupuncture treatments appear to up regulate the secretion of neurotransmitter and hormones, which explains the long-term effects of acupuncture.   Acupuncture helps restore the imbalances of neurotransmitters and hormones brought on by chronic stress, and is a safe and effective way to treat stress and stress induced disorders.

What is Medical Acupuncture, and Who Can Provide It?

Acupuncture can be part of a doctor’s medical practice.  It is part of my practice at the Optimal Wellness Center, in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey. Not all acupuncturists are doctors.   A licensed acupuncturist can provide services without being a health practitioner.

As a professional medical doctor, I use acupuncture because the most effective treatment for some people uses contemporary Western medicine  combined with complimentary techniques, including acupuncture. Sometimes the best treatment for difficult conditions, such as fibromyalgia, chronic pain, or weight loss, uses both acupuncture treatments and modern medical treatment. This is what integrative medicine is all about.

If you find that traditional medicine alone has not helped improve health for you, you may want to speak with a doctor who takes in integrative approach.

Acupuncture and Stress Relief Part 1: How Your Body Responds to Stress

Stress is a part of our daily lives.  In northern New Jersey, where I have my medical practice, we are so busy, we may not even be aware of how we respond to stress every day.

Too much stress can adversely affect your health. It is estimated that between 75 and 90% of primary care visits are in some way attributed to stress.

We all know that having a stress free life is impossible. In fact a strong reaction to stress also known as the fight or flight response is a physiologic response that is designed to increase survival.

Understanding your stress is the first step to having more power over it.

When you are faced with a threat whether real or perceived, your autonomic nervous system sets off a series of chemical reactions involving the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands. Also known as the HPAaxis.  This results in the release of epinephrine (adrenaline) and glucocorticoids (cortisol) from the adrenal glands. This triggers physiological changes that help you survive immediate danger.

Adrenaline increases your heart rate, dilates your pupils, increases alertness and decreases blood flow to the skin, and your digestive system. Blood is redirected to your muscles for increased strength. Cortisol increases glucose, which is the main form of energy used by both your brain and body. Cortisol increases your blood sugar by breaking down muscle (protein) and increasing fatty acids to supply energy to the muscles. This increased energy supply gives the body the necessary power to respond to a physically and emotionally demanding situation. It allows you to fight harder or run faster, thus increasing your odds of surviving.

What is cortisol’s role is causing chronic disease?  When you are in a stressful situation, large amounts of the hormone cortisol are released into the bloodstream.  Over time, prolonged elevations of cortisol can have negative health consequences.

Here is what can happen when stress becomes chronic.  Initially you have the alarm phase – the immediate reaction to a stress.  Heart rate increases, breathing becomes rapid, digestive enzyme production decreases, and blood sugar levels increase.

The alarm phase is usually short, and self limited, hormone levels go back to normal until activated by another threat. No long-term negative health consequences occur.  Unfortunately in today’s world many people have chronically elevated levels of these hormones due to stress. Our lifestyles and the world around us are full of potential stressful situations. You may feel continuing stress related to the economy, fear of terrorists, relationships, natural disasters, traffic, your job, etc.

We have become a nation of chronically stressed individuals

Whether perceived or real, stressful situations arise multiple times throughout the day.  The stress response was helpful to our ancestors that had to fight or run from a wild bear. Unfortunately in our daily lives, we all have perceived threats through out the day. This stress has contributed to many chronic health problems.

If stress continues the adaptation phase kicks in, allowing the body to continue the fight or flight response. This is where cortisol comes in, converting protein stores to blood sugar to continue to supply energy to muscles.  Sodium is retained to keep body fluid levels up and blood pressure elevated.  This is why continued stress can lead to diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension.

We can all relate to catching a cold or coming down with a virus when we are under stress. That’s because cortisol redirects immune cells, which lowers your immunity, causing increased risk of infections. Cortisol can also lead to depressed cartilage and bone formations, increasing risks of osteoporosis. In addition it can also cause damage to the part of the brain the hippocampus responsible for short-term memory, and it alters nerve cell functions in the brain leading to anxiety and depression.

If the stress response continues, the body starts slowing down, as it is unable to continue producing high levels of stress hormones.  Eventually, many body functions can become exhausted.  Exhaustion due to prolonged stress weakens the heart, blood vessels, adrenal glands, and immune system – partially due to the chronic elevations of cortisol.

Recent research also shows that chronically high levels of cortisol can result in weight gain and changes in body composition too.  Cortisol promotes increases in blood sugar, which is converted from protein stores (muscle).  This results in the loss of muscle (lean body mass) and in increase in body fat, especially around the mid-section.

One study showed an increased tendency in snacking during times of high cortisol levels in the blood. People who have trouble coping with stress often turn to food for comfort.  In addition cortisol causes physiologic changes that increase food intake. Cortisol affects our hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin. Cortisol decreases leptin the hormone responsible for telling us we are full. It also increases ghrelin the hormone that tells us we are hungry. Both these hormonal changes cause one to increase their food intake.

In addition cortisol also increases insulin and neuropeptide Y, again both cause you to consume more food, particularly high fat or sugar comfort food.  Therefore, chronic stress can lead to weight gain.  Weight gain around the middle, known as “central adiposity,” is associated with the metabolic imbalances of “metabolic syndrome”, insulin resistance, and increased risk of heart disease.

So clearly chronic stress has a negative impact on our health causing or exacerbating heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, anxiety depression, osteoporosis, impaired immunity, dementia, and possibly cancer.

The good news is, your can decide to take care of yourself. You can decide to better manage your stress. A highly effective, but often overlooked therapy is acupuncture. Very briefly, acupuncture enables the body to boost the immune response, and lessen the bad effects of stress on many fronts.  More about how acupuncture reduces stress and helps restore healthier conditions in the body is the topic of the next article.

Awake with Pain? How to Sleep Better With Fibromyalgia

Do you find it impossible to get a good night’s sleep with fibromyalgia? Do you feel like the lack of sleep is making your pain worse?

If being tired seems to worsen your symptoms, you are not alone.   Doctors have found lack of sleep does make your body more sensitive to pain.  You may find the pain keeps you awake, so you rest poorly. Being tired makes your fibromyalgia symptoms flare up, so you still can’t sleep.  You may feel caught in an endless cycle.  But there are ways to cope that can help you get more sleep.

I’m going to share quite a few tips with you.  This is because there is no single best way to manage this condition.  You may have to try a mix of different methods to get the best results for you.

What I can share with you are the answers found by many people with fibromyalgia who have found specific steps to control their symptoms.

  1. Create a regular routine – Get your body used to a pattern of sleeping and waking.  Set a time to go to bed and a time to rise.  That may mean planning your day’s activities to help you wind down in time.  Find the things that tend to keep you up late (sugary foods, computer work) – and plan them or replace them with other activities so they have less impact on your sleep.
  2. Listen to your body – you may find certain activities are more soothing than others to do before you go to bed.  Finding a quiet, calming activity for the 20-30 minutes before trying to sleep can help you get much needed rest.
    1. A warm bath, soaking in Epsom salts, lavender oil, chamomile oil or juniper oil can soothe sore muscles enough to let  you rest.
    2. Meditation, yoga or prayer can help you clear your mind and also relax muscles
  3. Avoid naps – they disrupt the sleep pattern that allow you to rest more fully.
  4. Try natural fiber sleepwear and sheets.  These can allow your skin to breathe better, and prevent big swings in temperature while you sleep. Temperature swings have been linked to pain flare-ups for people with fibromyalgia.
  5. Try a few good sleeping positions – Doctors recommend sleeping on your side to avoid putting stress on your tender spots. If you sleep on your back. try placing a pillow under tender spots such as the small of your back, or behind your knees. If you sleep on your stomach, a pillow under your stomach helps reduce the arch in your back and keep you more comfortable.

Medications can also help control pain so you can rest.  More information on medicine for fibromyalgia is coming in other tips.

If you enjoy this health tip please share it or print it for your use. It comes to you from Dr. Betty Keller, an integrative therapy and fibromyalgia specialist, practicing in Franklin Lakes New Jersey at the Optimal Wellness Center.