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Acupuncture has grown in popularity in the United States, particularly in the last two decades, and is now considered by many Western physicians to be an effective treatment for many chronic conditions, particularly women's health issues. In fact, the National Institutes of Health agrees that acupuncture is beneficial for gastrointestinal disorders, pain, headaches, insomnia, allergies, gynecological conditions, and immune and respiratory conditions.

Acupuncture is the most commonly used component of the holistic healthcare system known as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). According to the National Health Interview Survey in 2002, approximately 8.2 million American adults have used acupuncture at some point in the past, and 2.1 million had undergone acupuncture in the previous year. An estimated 5000 doctors (M.D.) and more than 7000 Oriental medicine practitioners provide acupuncture in the United States. Practitioners of TCM believe that energy known as Qi (pronounced "chee") flows through our bodies along channels called meridians. These meridians correlate to our circulatory, digestive, neuromuscular and endocrine systems. When the flow of energy is disrupted, pain or illness results; but by stimulating points along these meridians, the flow of the Qi is encouraged, thereby restoring balance and relieving pain.

The number and frequency of acupuncture treatments needed depends on the nature of the condition. An acute condition may require just two or three treatments, while a more severe, chronic condition may need five to 15 treatments or ongoing treatments over a longer period of time. At each session, the acupuncturist inserts 10 to 20 stainless steel needles ranging in length from one to three inches just under the skin for approximately 20 to 40 minutes. The acupuncturist may stimulate the needles with low-voltage electricity, focus heat lamps on the needles to increase circulation, or combine the treatment with cupping, burning of herbs, Tui na massage and acupressure.

According to Bruce Pomeranz, M.D., Ph.D., neurophysiologist and professor at the University of Toronto School of Medicine, acupuncture affects the nervous system, causing our brains to release endorphins, our bodies' natural painkillers. Additionally, it appears that when the acupuncture needles are connected to low-voltage electrical currents our bodies release serotonin, a calming and feel-good neurochemical, and cortisol, which reduces inflammation. In many cases, acupuncture is most effective when paired with Western treatments and may reduce the amount of medication patients must take.

Results from scientific studies undertaken to test the effectiveness of acupuncture have been mixed and the American Medical Association still considers acupuncture an unproven method of treatment; however, promising results have emerged. For instance, An NCCAM (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine)-funded study recently showed that acupuncture provides pain relief, improves function for people with osteoarthritis of the knee, and is an effective complement to standard care.

Acupuncture may be useful in treating:

  • Amenorrhea (absent periods)
  • Dysmenorrhea (painful periods)
  • Irregular periods
  • Long periods
  • Heavy periods
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Perimenopause and menopausal symptoms
  • Thyroid conditions
  • Endometriosis
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Fibroids
  • Genital herpes
  • Genital warts (HPV)
  • Cervical dysplasia
  • Hormonal migraines
  • Chronic yeast infections
  • Urinary tract infections (UTI)
  • Anxiety/panic attacks
  • Neck/shoulder tension and pain
  • Depression
  • Addictions

Most people experience minimal - or no - pain during acupuncture. In fact, many feel energized while others feel relaxed during treatment. Slight pain may be felt as the needles are inserted, and improper needle placement, moving during treatment, or a defective needle can cause pain during treatment and soreness afterward. For these reasons, it is important to find an experienced, reputable practitioner.

To find a trusted acupuncturist, ask your health care professional for a referral or find one through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Website.

Always check a prospective acupuncturist's credentials. Approximately 40 states have training standards for acupuncture certification, but their requirements to become licensed vary. Although a license or credentials may not guarantee you the best treatment, they do ensure the acupuncturist has met certain educational and professional standards. However, do not rely on a diagnosis of a condition made by an acupuncturist, unless he or she has substantial medical training. It is recommended that you receive a diagnosis from your traditional health care professional and then inquire whether acupuncture may be a viable treatment option for you. Some insurance companies will cover acupuncture, so be sure to check with your insurance provider.



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