How Does Acupuncture Work?

Scientists have no real answer to this; as you know many of the workings of the body are still a mystery. There are a few prevailing theories.

By some unknown process, Acupuncture raises levels of triglycerides, specific hormones, prostaglandins, white blood counts, gamma globulins, and overall anti-body levels. This is called the “Augmentation of Immunity” Theory.

The “Endorphin” Theory states that Acupuncture stimulates the secretions of endorphins in the body (specifically Encaphalins).

The “Neurotransmitter” Theory states that certain neurotransmitter levels
(such as Seratonin and Noradrenaline) are affected by Acupuncture.

“Circulatory” Theory: this states that Acupuncture has the effect of constricting or dilating blood vessels. This may be caused by the body’s release of Vasodilaters (such as Histamine), in response to Acupuncture.

One of the most popular theories is the “Gate Control” Theory. According to this theory, the perception of pain is controlled by a part of the nervous system, which regulates the impulse, which will later be interpreted as pain. This part of the nervous system is called the “Gate.” If the gate is hit with too many impulses, it becomes overwhelmed, and it closes. This prevents some of the impulses from getting through. The first gates to close would be the ones that are the smallest. The nerve fibers that carry the impulses of pain are rather small nerve fibers called “C” fibers. These are the gates that close during Acupuncture.
In the related “Motor Gate” Theory, some forms of paralysis can be overcome by Acupuncture. This is done by reopening a “stuck” gate, which is connected to an Anterior Horn cell. The gate, when closed by a disease, stops motor impulses from reaching muscles.

Does Acupuncture Hurt?

No. When performed by a skilled, licensed practitioner, Acupuncture should not hurt or be uncomfortable in any way. An important factor to consider is that when needles are inserted there should be some sort of sensation felt, sometimes described as heaviness, tingling, pulsating or even numbing. All these sensations are absolutely necessary in ensuring a positive outcome.

What kind of needles are used?

Acupuncturists can use as many as nine types of Acupuncture needles, though only six are commonly used today. These needles vary in length, width of shaft, and shape of head. Today, all needles are disposable. They are used once and discarded in accordance with medical biohazard regulations and guidelines. I believe that there is a misconception as to what the needles are like. Most people assume thick needles are used similar to hypodermic ones used to draw blood, and are pleasantly surprised and quite relieved to see that they are usually no thicker than a strand of hair.

How many sessions will I need?

Depending on the condition being treated, anywhere from a couple weeks to a few months. In China it is quite common to receive acupuncture once every day or every other day, resulting in quick resolution of conditions. Here in the west it is much more common, and cost effective to receive treatment once a week and is usually suffice to achieve positive effects.

Are Chinese herbs safe?

Chinese herbal products manufactured and imported by Canadian and American companies are strictly regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). It should be noted that pre-made patent (pill form) herbs produced in the People’s Republic of China by Chinese companies are not held to the same high standards. Canadian (and some European and Australian) herb companies ensure the safety and quality of Chinese herbs by rigorously testing for contaminants, toxins, and heavy metals, and by employing meticulous methods of correct species identification. Essentially, the herbs administered at this clinic, are herbs I would not hesitate to give my own children.

How are Chinese herbs administered?

Chinese herbs are generally prescribed in formulations containing 4 to 12 or more herbs, as the synergistic use of several substances creates a dynamic effect that cannot generally be achieved by a single plant. Traditionally, the raw, dried herbs are cooked as a decoction by simmering in water for a period of time, then strained and drunk as a tea.  At our clinic, herbal formulas are prescribed as raw powders, which are soaked (or infused) in hot/boiling water overnight or simmered on the stove for a few minutes. Herbs for topical use may be prescribed and are used in the form of liniments, washes, salves, and plasters.

Are there any side effects from taking herbs?

Traditional Chinese herbal medicine uses herbs only in their whole form, meaning that certain chemical constituents of the plants are not extracted and removed, or unnaturally concentrated. As such, herbs have very few side effects, and when prescribed by a well-trained herbalist, problems are minimal to none. The main potential concern with these herbs is the ability to easily digest the potent plant constituents. Chinese herbalists will carefully consider this factor and include herbs that promote digestion as needed.

Can I take herbs if I am taking prescription medications?

When seeing a Chinese herbalist, you should bring a list of any medications you are taking to your appointment. Herbs may not be appropriate if you are taking some beta-blockers, hypertensive or blood thinning medications or if you have kidney and/or liver metabolism issues. A well-trained herbalist will know which herbs should be avoided with certain medications and supplements.

Can I take Chinese herbs if I am pregnant?

The actions and effects of Chinese herbs have been meticulously observed and classified for over two thousand years. There are many herbs that are considered contraindicated for use during pregnancy. Though many of these herbs are prescribed in small dosages when treating pregnant patients by doctors in China, herbal practitioners in the West tend to be much more conservative. These herbs are well documented, and Chinese herbalists are trained to strictly avoid their use with pregnant patients. There are hundreds of other Chinese herbs that are absolutely safe for use in pregnancy, and in fact, are often very helpful in calming potential threatened miscarriage symptoms and for other obstetric problems.

Are herbs safe to take if I am breastfeeding?

As with foods, medications, and supplements, when taken by breastfeeding moms, small amounts of herbal medicine will enter the breast milk and be passed on to the baby. For this reason, herbalists are careful when treating breastfeeding mothers, but it is not necessary to avoid taking herbs all together. Herbs that gently nourish the body, encourage optimal digestion, support immune function, and otherwise promote relaxation and vitality, may be taken safely.

Can children take herbal medicine?

Many Chinese herbs are safe and effective for treating pediatric conditions when dosages are adjusted appropriately for the child’s body weight. Often they will be administered in liquid tincture form, or granules that can be dissolved into juice or pureed fruit. Herbs should be given to children only when prescribed by an experienced, well-qualified herbalist trained in pediatric care.