Acupuncture and how it works

Acupuncture- How does it work?

The million-dollar question….  Well the answers to this really depends on who you ask and if you want to know how it works according to Chinese medicine theory or science. Most people like to start with science so lets start with that.

How does Acupuncture work according to Science?

There are several theories on how acupuncture actually works. One theory as puts forward that the majority of acupuncture points are located in close proximity to neural structures suggests that acupuncture works by stimulating the nervous system. Another theory suggest that acupunctures stimulation of endorphins in the body gives rise to its healing function.

What the Acupuncture Evidence Project says – for the science buffs out there.

The Acupuncture evidence project consists of a search of PubMed and Cochrane Library for systematic reviews and meta-analyses from March 2013 to September 2016 about acupuncture. It concludes:

Mechanisms underlying acupuncture analgesia have been extensively researched for over 60 years…. Numerous mediators have been identified including opioid and non-opioid neuropeptides, serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, cytokines, glutamate, nitric oxide and gamma-amino-butyric-acid (GABA) (60, 61). Acupuncture analgesia has been shown to involve several classes of opioid neuropeptides including enkephalins, endorphins, dynorphins, endomorphins and nociceptin (also known as Orphanin FQ) (61-63). Among the non-opioid neuropeptides, substance P (SP), vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) and calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) have been investigated for their roles in both the analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of acupuncture (60, 64)….. The anti-inflammatory effects of acupuncture involve numerous mediators, receptors and signalling pathways, as outlined in two recent reviews (64, 65).

The anti-inflammatory effects of acupuncture have particular relevance to allergic rhinitis, irritable bowel syndrome, post-surgical recovery, migraine, osteoarthritis and inflammatory aspects of a range of musculoskeletal conditions. In allergic rhinitis, acupuncture has been shown to down-regulate total and specific IgE, as well as SP and VIP (32, 66).  Acupuncture has been shown to down-regulate transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) in inflammatory pain and there is indirect evidence to suggest that acupuncture may down-regulate TRPV1 expression and sensitivity in allergic rhinitis (32, 64, 67). In irritable bowel syndrome, acupuncture has been shown to down-regulate SP, VIP and CGRP (68, 69). In migraine, acupuncture has been reported to down-regulate CGRP and SP which are also powerful vasodilators (70, 71….To canvas this research in detail is beyond the scope of this review, however numerous reviews of this mechanism research have been published. A PubMed search on 18 September 2016, using the search terms ͚acupuncture AND mechanism͛, yielded 1,943 hits.


How does Acupuncture work according to Chinese medicine theory?

Here is a quick summary of the two fundamental theories in Traditional Chinese Medicine for those interested in its roots:

Yin and yang

Firstly, acupuncture aims to balance the forces of yin and yang and achieve harmony and balance with in the physiological and energetic systems of the body. 

Yin and yang are two oppositional forces of nature that are in everything, including the body. These forces co-exist, are mutually dependant, and relative to each other. In Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, you cannot have yin without yang and vice versa – every person has both. But only when these forces are balanced can you expect good health and wellbeing.  To give a basic example or interpretation of yin and yang, one could describe yin as water and fluids in the body, while yang represents heat and energy in the system. The balancing of these two forces is fundamental for the body to work in harmony, and not be stressed or out of balance. Think of a plant, it needs both water and sun, in the right proportions to be healthy. Like plants,  humans need a balance of heat / energy  and water/ fluids in body…or things start to go wrong. and The result is a state of wellbeing with both strength and fluidity, vitality without overdrive.

Five Element Theory

The other principle acupuncture is based on is the five element theory: According to ancient Chinese wisdom, all things in the natural world are made up of five elements: Fire, earth, water, metal and wood. In the body these elements correlate to organ pairs: heart and pericardium (fire), spleen and stomach (earth), kidney and bladder (water), lungs and large intestine (metal) and liver and gallbladder (wood).

The organs also correlate to different functions of the body. These have their own energy pathways – meridians – that usually circumnavigate the organ, and correlate to emotions and season.

For example, the fire element relates to organ of the heart and pericardium. The meridian of heart and pericardium physically traverse the heart. The heart rules the season of summer and emotion of joy.  If you have a heart imbalance, for example you are more likely to have either excessive or not enough joy, you may even oscillate between these too. Also this imbalance may become more pronounced in the season of summer. If you are fascinated by this,  ask Amy to find out more or book here!!

Acupuncture and fertility Research 

Getting the right dose  of acupuncture is crucial,  especially when it comes to acupuncture in fertility and IVF space. Here is the research :

  • Acupuncture  during IVF is associated with more live births when administered at a
    larger dose (9-12 visits prior to Embryo Transfer ). ( Hullender Rubin et al, 2014; Magarelli et al, 2009;)
  • Acupuncture improved Ovarian Blood Flow after 8 treatments and was
    maintained to follow up at 4 wks. (Stener-Victorin , 1996)
  • Low frequency EA (electro-acupuncture) decreased hyper-androgenism and regulated menstrual cycles after 16 weeks of treatment. (Jedel et al, 2011)
  • Acupuncture increased ovulation frequency in PCOS patients with
    10-14weeks of treatment 2x/week. (Johansson et al, 2013)

Please find links to research here thanks to Acupuncture Pregnancy Clinic

Impact of whole systems traditional Chinese medicine on in-vitro fertilization outcomes

Lee Hullender Rubin and her colleagues analysed the outcomes of more than a thousand IVF cycles, and found that women who used Chinese Medicine (acupuncture with or without herbs, dietary advice etc), had a higher live birth rate than those doing IVF alone.

The proportion of live births was significantly higher in the Chinese Medicine group (61.3%) compared with either the usual IVF care (48.2%) or acupuncture only on day of embryo transfer (50.8%).

Hullender Rubin L et al, Reprod Biomed Online, Vol 30, 602-612, 2015 Reproductive BioMedicine Online    

Amy’s  reccomendation for those undergoing Fertility treatment:

  • Bi-weekly 4-6 weeks prior stimulation cycle (12 treatments)
  • Include Laser bi-weekly if older eggs, lower quality eggs and/or mitochondria issues suspected.
  • Eletro acupuncture during IVF stimulation if poor responders.
  • Eletro acupuncture prior to FET for 6- 12 weeks, 1-2x per week.

For a complimentry 50 minute phone consult to discuss if Amy is the right practitioner for you  or  to book your first appointment with  Amy BOOK HERE

Acupuncture and stress. Acupuncture has been researched in fertility space about how reduce stress of people when trying to conceive either naturally or going through fertility treatment. These outcomes of course relate to all persons, of course. So whether or not you are trying to conceive acupuncture can be great adjunctive treatment to reduce stress and anxiety.

Acupuncture can influence stress via its effect on:

  • T-cell and cytokine levels.
  • Increases levels of endogenous opioids, such as endorphins, met or let encephalins and serotonin.
  • Reduces cortisol and adrenaline levels.

“Acupuncture significantly reduces stress and anxiety of IVF”

  • Smith et al, Fertil Steril. 2006;85(5):1352-1358.
  • de Lacey et al, BMC Complement Altern Med. 2009;9:50
  • Domar et al, Fertil Steril. 2009;95(7):2269-2273
  • Balk et al, Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2010;16(3):154- 157
  • Isoyama et al, Acupunct Med. 2012;30(2):85-88