Acupuncture has been practiced for thousands of years, but many people still continue to write it off as pseudoscientific nonsense. While this skepticism towards acupuncture is understandable, these complaints are actually misplaced—there have been numerous studies examining the tangible health benefits of acupuncture.
Researchers still aren’t entirely sure what makes these needles so effective, but regardless, there’s no denying that they can help out with a variety of different conditions. Here is a look at some of the most popular and powerful benefits associated with acupuncture—all backed by actual scientific research.
Although it can actually do much more than just this, acupuncture is most commonly associated with pain relief—especially in the back. Although the exact mechanism is not entirely understood, it’s believed that the acupuncture needles help keep patients pain-free by stimulating blood flow near affected areas. In addition to relieving pain on its own, there is also some evidence to support the idea that acupuncture can help increase the efficacy of painkilling medicines. When used in conjunction with the practice, drugs such as morphine and codeine were able to more easily bind to a patient’s pain receptors.
Reduced Anxiety and Depression
In addition to treating physical pain, acupuncture has been shown to be effective at dealing with emotional trauma and stress as well. Patients dealing with things like uncontrolled anxiety and depression may find that the practice helps lessen or even eliminate some of their symptoms. When acupuncture needles are inserted into a patient’s skin, his or her body releases endorphins—a natural, “feel good” chemical. It’s believed that these endorphins are the primary cause of acupuncture’s mental health benefits. According to some studies, the practice may be a healthy alternative for those who cannot tolerate the unwanted side effects of traditional antidepressants.
Improved Digestive Function
From nausea and vomiting to cramps and diarrhea, acupuncture can help get the digestive system back on track. Gastrointestinal health has an intimate link with a person’s mental state, which has led many researchers to believe that the practice’s benefits to the stomach come from its ability to promote calmness and reduce stress. According to a study that followed acupuncture patients with chronic heartburn, over 80% of patients experienced a decrease in symptoms after attending sessions twice a week—which was an even bigger drop than when the patients took traditional antacids.
Headaches are one of the most common illnesses experienced by people worldwide, but even with treatment they may still persist. However, acupuncture appears to be a powerfully effective way to deal with these frequent nuisances. When acupuncture needles are inserted into the skin, they send messages to the brain to alter the levels of certain chemicals that have been shown to regulate headaches. According to one study, 50% of headache patients who used acupuncture were able to reduce the number of days with a headache by almost half. This was contrasted with only 16% of patients who achieved this through medication and other traditional means.
While acupuncture can’t teach you portion control or motivate you to hit the gym, there is some evidence to indicate that the practice may still be beneficial to those attempting to lose weight. According to one study, patients who used acupuncture lost more weight than those who relied on diet and exercise alone. These results are no doubt promising, but it’s important to point out that this was a short-term study—there is still much to be discovered about the effects of acupuncture on long-term weight loss efforts.