What are the Most Significant Health Benefits of Acupuncture?

What’s covered in this article?

  • What is acupuncture
  • How acupuncture works in the body
  • What are the benefits of acupuncture
  • Research on acupuncture for specific symptoms and health conditions

What is acupuncture

Acupuncture in Nowra has become increasingly sought after, and experienced practitioners like Dr. Fraser Cobham (TCM), have been dedicated to delivering the highest quality acupuncture to the Shoalhaven community. But what is this healing modality and how does it work? Acupuncture is a holistic form of treatment originating from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) which has been practiced for thousands of years. It involves the insertion of fine needles into specific points on the body to promote the flow of Qi (energy) and elicit a therapeutic healing response.

Acupuncture has been investigated for its use in pain management, such as lower back pain, knee pain, osteoarthritis and chronic migraines. Research has also involved non-pain related symptoms such as anxiety, menopausal hot flushes and allergic rhinitis. In recent years, acupuncture has gained significant attention in the scientific community, with numerous studies exploring its therapeutic health benefits. This article will provide a brief glimpse into some of the latest research, highlighting an evidence-based perspective on the efficacy of acupuncture and its top health benefits.

Acupuncture for back pain. Acupuncture nowra. Nowra acupuncture.

How does acupuncture work / scientific mechanisms

Although the mechanisms of acupuncture on the body is still being investigated, several theories have been raised. One possible mechanism is via the adenosine triphosphate (ATP) pathways. It has been theorised that upon insertion and manipulation of the acupuncture needle, ATP is released from local keratinocytes (cells in our skin) and fibroblasts (connective tissue cells), which rapidly breakdown to adenosine and bind to adenosine A1 receptors, producing a pain-relieving effect [1].

Other research has proposed that acupuncture in general enhances the activity of the body’s natural opioids, dopamine, serotonin, and GABA, while reducing the activity of noradrenalin and excitatory amino acids such as glutamate and aspartic acid [2]. Acupuncture has also been shown to influence immune system. By regulating immune cells, including innate and adaptive immune responses, acupuncture can stimulate and support immune responses, which are both anti-infectious and anti-inflammatory in nature [3].

The benefits of acupuncture / modern research

Before delving into some of the conditions acupuncture may help with, it is important to note that research surrounding acupuncture is still very much evolving. Although a large body of research demonstrates acupuncture may be beneficial for numerous health conditions and symptoms, further robust and large-scale clinical trials are needed to validate these findings. Nonetheless, empirical evidence, patient feedback and emerging research demonstrates a lot of promise for acupuncture and Chinese medicine as an adjunctive holistic medicine to our current western allopathic model.

Acupuncture for pain Nowra and Gerringong

Chronic pain / osteoarthritis, lower back, shoulder & neck pain

Arguably the most well-known benefit of acupuncture is in reducing both acute and chronic pain. A large-scale systematic review published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that acupuncture significantly reduced back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, and chronic headache respectively, compared to no-acupuncture control or sham (fake) acupuncture. The authors concluded that “acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic pain and is therefore a reasonable referral option. Significant differences between true and sham acupuncture indicate that acupuncture is more than a placebo” [4]. A follow-up study from 2017, looking at long-term pain relief from acupuncture, found that the benefits of acupuncture persisted 12 months after treatment ended [5].

Migraines & headaches

An overview paper of systematic reviews was used to evaluate the efficacy and safety of acupuncture for the treatment of chronic migraines. Although there were some limitations to the data, the evidence suggested that acupuncture had a better long-term effective rate for reducing migraines than western interventions. Furthermore, acupuncture had a higher rate in reducing the frequency of headache, days and times of using painkillers, both in short-term and long-term follow-up, in contrast to sham acupuncture or western interventions.

Based on the review findings, it was concluded that acupuncture may be an effective and safe therapy for migraines. The overview also concluded that acupuncture treatment had fewer adverse events than medication, which indicated that acupuncture was a safe therapy for migraines [6].

Generalised anxiety disorder / GAD

A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials (RCT’s) was performed to summarise the effectiveness of acupuncture for generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). The systematic review included twenty controlled trials with findings suggesting that acupuncture therapy aimed at reducing anxiety in patients with GAD had certain beneficial effects compared to controls [7].

Facial rejuvination acupuncture

Another recent systematic review and meta-analysis was used to investigate acupuncture as the primary treatment intervention for GAD. Of the four english and three Chinese databases searched, twenty-seven studies were included with a total of 1782 participants. The authors concluded that acupuncture can effectively relieve the anxiety symptoms of GAD patients with fewer side effects, and that additional controlled trials with larger sample sizes should be performed to support these current findings [8].

Dysmenorrhea / menstrual pain

Dysmenorrhea is a condition characterised by severe uterine pain during menstruation, cramping pelvic pain radiating to lower back or anterior thigh, nausea, vomiting, bowel changes, headache/migraines, fatigue and dizziness, which begins shortly before or at the onset of menstruation. As dysmenorrhea is a common condition effecting menstruating women, it is essential to investigate viable treatment options. A small RCT comprising sixty females aged 17–23 years were randomly assigned to either an acupuncture intervention group or a control group. The intervention group received acupuncture 20 minutes a day, for 15 days in a month, for a total of 90 days. The control group did not receive acupuncture for the same period. The authors of the RCT summarised,

“this study showed a significant reduction in all the variables such as the visual analog scale (VAS) score for pain, menstrual cramps, headache, dizziness, diarrhoea, faint, mood changes, tiredness, nausea, and vomiting in the study group, compared with those in the control group”.

Some limitations of this study were the smaller sample size and absence of objective measures taken to investigate the mechanisms of acupuncture for reducing dysmenorrhea symptoms [9]. Nevertheless, these results are very promising demonstrating acupuncture may be an effective tool for the management and treatment of dysmenorrhea and warrants further investigation.

Menstrual pain acupuncture Nowra and Gerringong

Hot flushes

Hot flushes and night sweats are among some of the most common symptoms women experience during menopause. In fact, it is estimated to affect approximately 70% of women in Western cultures. A 2015 meta-analysis by Chiu et al., reviewed 12 research studies with a total 869 participants, discovering that acupuncture significantly reduced the frequency and severity of hot flushes. The meta-analysis also found that acupuncture improved menopause-related psychological, somatic, and uro-genital symptoms, as well as overall quality of life [10].

Acupuncture for fertility & IVF

A recent 2022 systematic review and meta-analysis was published in the Evidenced Based Complimentary & Alternative Medicine journal, which was conducted to evaluate the efficacy and safety of acupuncture for female infertility, with the intention to provide reliable guidance for clinicians and in- vitro fertilisation (IVF) patients. The systematic review included twenty-seven studies with 7676 participants.

The results showed that the acupuncture intervention contributed more in outcomes including live birth rate, clinical pregnancy rate, biochemical pregnancy rate, and implantation rate, when compared with the control group, noting that the difference was statistically significant. Their analysis concluded that there was a benefit of acupuncture for outcomes in women with infertility, however more double-blind RCT’s with high quality and large-samples are needed to substantiate the current level of evidence [11].

IVF fertility Chinese medicine acupuncture Nowra

A systematic review and meta-analysis was conducted in the journal Reproductive Biomedicine Online to investigate the benefit of acupuncture as a supportive treatment for IVF treatment around the time of embryo transfer. The authors of the meta-analysis had this to say:

“A benefit from trials of acupuncture when administered within 1 day of embryo transfer increased clinical pregnancy, ongoing pregnancy and live births when compared with no adjunctive treatment. There was a clinically significant 30% increased chance of an improved reproductive outcome”. Furthermore, “Acupuncture appears to have a significant effect on clinical pregnancy rate, independent of comparator group, when used in women who have had multiple previous IVF cycles, or where there was a low baseline pregnancy rate. The findings suggest acupuncture may be effective when compared with no adjunctive treatment with increased clinical pregnancies” [12].

Although its not a systematic review, a small-scale RCT in 2020 was undertaken to investigate pregnancy success rates when acupuncture was applied before and after embryo-transfer, for women undergoing IVF. In this study, 72 female participants undergoing IVF were randomised to an acupuncture intervention and control group.

The primary study outcomes included assessing HCG levels, successful clinical pregnancy, sustained pregnancy, and live birth. The authors concluded, that three sessions of acupuncture before and after embryo-transfer significantly increased the pregnancy rates in women with unexplained infertility. It was also found that acupuncture significantly reduced anxiety levels that occurred before embryo-transfer [13]. If you are interested in reading more about Chinese medicine for fertility and IVF support, click here to read a comprehensive article backed by research, which includes Chinese medicine diet and lifestyle tips for fertility support.

Closing thoughts

This article provides a brief glimpse at some of the proposed mechanisms of acupuncture, including certain conditions or symptoms which may benefit from this ancient practice. When seeking out acupuncture, it is important to find a fully qualified acupuncturist and Chinese medicine practitioner. Reliable practices like Ancient Waters Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine in Nowra have been following the path and are dedicated to providing a high quality of treatment and care to its local community. If you have any ongoing health concerns or questions about acupuncture, reach out and see if this holistic form of medicine is right for you.

[1] Tang, Y., Yin, H. Y., Liu, J., Rubini, P., & Illes, P. (2019). P2X receptors and acupuncture analgesia. Brain research bulletin151, 144–152

[2] Wen, G., He, X., Lu, Y., Xia, Y. (2010). Effect of Acupuncture on Neurotransmitters/Modulators. In: Xia, Y., Cao, X., Wu, G., Cheng, J. (eds) Acupuncture Therapy for Neurological Diseases. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg

[3] Wang, M., Liu, W., Ge, J., & Liu, S. (2023). The immunomodulatory mechanisms for acupuncture practice. Frontiers in immunology14, 1147718

[4] Vickers, A. J., Cronin, A. M., Maschino, A. C., Lewith, G., MacPherson, H., Foster, N. E., Sherman, K. J., Witt, C. M., Linde, K., & Acupuncture Trialists’ Collaboration (2012). Acupuncture for chronic pain: individual patient data meta-analysis. Archives of internal medicine172(19), 1444–1453

[5] MacPherson, H., Vertosick, E. A., Foster, N. E., Lewith, G., Linde, K., Sherman, K. J., Witt, C. M., Vickers, A. J., & Acupuncture Trialists’ Collaboration (2017). The persistence of the effects of acupuncture after a course of treatment: a meta-analysis of patients with chronic pain. Pain158 (5), 784–793

[6] Li, Y. X., Xiao, X. L., Zhong, D. L., Luo, L. J., Yang, H., Zhou, J., He, M. X., Shi, L. H., Li, J., Zheng, H., & Jin, R. J. (2020). Effectiveness and Safety of Acupuncture for Migraine: An Overview of Systematic Reviews. Pain research & management2020, 3825617

[7] Yang, X. Y., Yang, N. B., Huang, F. F., Ren, S., & Li, Z. J. (2021). Effectiveness of acupuncture on anxiety disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Annals of general psychiatry20(1), 9

[8] Li, M., Liu, X., Ye, X., & Zhuang, L. (2022). Efficacy of acupuncture for generalized anxiety disorder: A PRISMA-compliant systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine101(49), e30076

[9] Shetty, G. B., Shetty, B., & Mooventhan, A. (2018). Efficacy of Acupuncture in the Management of Primary Dysmenorrhea: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of acupuncture and meridian studies11(4), 153–158

[10] Chiu, H. Y., Pan, C. H., Shyu, Y. K., Han, B. C., & Tsai, P. S. (2015). Effects of acupuncture on menopause-related symptoms and quality of life in women in natural menopause: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Menopause (New York, N.Y.)22(2), 234–244

[11] Quan, K., Yu, C., Wen, X., Lin, Q., Wang, N., & Ma, H. (2022). Acupuncture as Treatment for Female Infertility: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM2022, 3595033

[12] Smith CA, Armour M, Shewamene Z, Tan HY, Norman RJ, Johnson NP. Acupuncture performed around the time of embryo transfer: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Reprod Biomed Online. 2019;38(3):364-379

[13] Guven, P. G., Cayir, Y., & Borekci, B. (2020). Effectiveness of acupuncture on pregnancy success rates for women undergoing in vitro fertilization: A randomized controlled trial. Taiwanese journal of obstetrics & gynecology59(2), 282–286

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