By Marcie Bower, Lic.Ac.
If you have had acupuncture before, you can probably attest to the relaxation response that can be elicited by an acupuncture treatment. But acupuncture does more than make your body feel relaxed – medical research has shown that acupuncture can actually change how your body responds to future stressful events. We always tell patients, we can’t change the stressors in your life, but we can change how your body responds to them.”
Clinical research has shown that acupuncture may be helpful in reducing stress and anxiety in college students, reducing stress and preventing burnout among professionals, reducing symptoms of PTSD in veterans, and treating stress-related diseases such as hypertension, tension headaches, and insomnia.
It appears that acupuncture can modulate the stress response pathway in the body.
The stress response is a complicated physiological response in the body that involves the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (or HPA). When stressed, these areas of the brain release proteins and chemicals that in turn set off a chain reaction in the body that results in the production of cortisol (the “stress hormone”) and norepinephrine. Both cortisol and norepinephrine increase anxiety and push your body into fight or flight mode. (You can read more about the fight of flight response – and why so many people are stuck in that mode of being in this blog post.)
An bench study a few years ago found that acupuncture almost entirely eliminated the stress response in rats who were being dunked into ice water, likely through the modulation of this HPA pathway. (Read the details of the study here and our blog about it here.)
If acupuncture can change how we respond to stress, this has significant health ramifications. Stress is believed to be a factor in five out of the six leading causes of death in the United States – heart disease, cancer, stroke, lower respiratory disease, and accidents. Moreover, it is estimated that 75 to 90% of all doctors’ visits are for stress-related issues.
Feel like you are stuck in fight or flight mode? Always aware of your stress? Hard to relax? Worried about what stress may be doing to your health? Give acupuncture a try. It may just alter how your body handles what life throws at you – and that will no doubt make you healthier and happier.