Acupuncture and Stress Relief Part 2:

Acupuncture and Stress Relief Part 2: How acupuncture eases pain, improves mood, sleep, and body chemistry
by Dr. Betty Keller
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 Helps Reduce Stress

Acupuncture and Stress Relief Part 1: How Your Body Responds to Stress
by Dr. Betty Keller
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 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