Beyond alleviating chronic pain, acupuncture can also treat conditions ranging from insomnia to obesity.
Will a time-tested intervention such as acupuncture point your health in the right direction, or is it a useless stab at well-being?
A centuries-old practice that takes off from traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture has been widely studied for its potential against chronic pain. In one of the largest studies to date, a meta-analysis involving almost 18,000 patients found that acupuncture can effectively treat chronic pain, serving as “more than a placebo.”
The scientific literature, however, shows that stimulating certain points on the body, often with a needle that penetrates the skin, may go well beyond alleviating pain. Here are seven reasons to try acupuncture for better health today.
Acupuncture has great therapeutic value for weight loss. For treating simple obesity, alongside reasonable diet and exercise, it proved safe and effective and may even be “more effective than routine Western medicine,” according to research published in Chinese Acupuncture & Moxibustion.
A separate study in 2020 found that acupuncture was an effective therapy for improving body mass index (BMI), body weight, and waist circumference. The procedure worked significantly better than a sham acupuncture procedure, and researchers called for longer-term and more rigorous randomized controlled trials to look further into acupuncture’s effects on obesity.
In another example, a study among polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) patients with abdominal obesity found that acupuncture effectively reduced markers such as fasting insulin and waist circumference, thus helping to regulate glucose metabolism, insulin resistance, and sex hormones. This was “significantly superior to simple diet control plus exercise,” the researchers wrote in Acupuncture Research.
Acupuncture has also demonstrated good efficacy (with few side effects) against insomnia, an ongoing public health threat worldwide.
In a 2010 study, participants who received scalp penetration acupuncture had better total sleep time, quality, and efficiency compared with participants in the routine acupuncture group, suggesting that scalp penetration acupuncture may be particularly useful for those struggling with insomnia.
Combined with cupping, where a local suction is created on the skin with the application of heated cups, acupuncture also treated insomnia and “tranquilized” the mind among college students.
3. Fatty Liver
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the most common cause of liver dysfunction globally. Its increasing incidence is associated with the simultaneous epidemics of obesity, unhealthy diet, and sedentary lifestyle. Acupuncture may help inhibit NAFLD by regulating lipid metabolism, improving insulin resistance, and increasing the antioxidant levels of liver tissue.
Characterized by ringing or other noises in one or both ears, tinnitus is a challenge for patients as well as researchers and health care professionals looking for an effective cure. Acupuncture has surfaced across different studies as a viable option for treating the condition.
A 2020 study on patients with severe chronic subjective tinnitus emphasized acupuncture as an effective treatment, but stressed the need for maintenance acupuncture therapy, as patient complaints dipped at the second treatment week but reappeared in the third month post-treatment.
Separate research also pointed to combined acupuncture and continuous multi-point pulse stimulation for better therapeutic results among tinnitus patients.
This age-old healing practice may also help patients with their post-stroke recovery. For instance, acupuncture improves cognitive impairment after stroke, enhances functional communication, and helps recover motor and nervous functions in those who have had acute to chronic stroke cases.
According to recent neuroimaging studies, the stimulation from acupuncture at motor-involved acupoints modulated the activities of brain areas that were relevant to the processing of motor functions. In 2014 research, it enhanced effective connectivity between the cerebellum and primary sensorimotor cortex in patients with stable-recovery stroke.
Among post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients, acupuncture was associated with a significantly greater improvement in depression and pain, as well as physical and mental health functioning, compared to those who received the usual PTSD care. It was also found safe and effective for perimenopausal and post-stroke depression.
In treating depression, acupuncture also compared favorably to fluoxetine hydrochloride, a drug commonly sold under the brand name Prozac, but without the side effects.
Acupuncture involves a meridian system that strings connecting acupuncture points through which energy flows in the body. In an animal study, acupuncture stimulation emerged as a useful therapeutic alternative, with few side effects, for treating morphine addiction.
With the prevalence of excessive internet use alongside compulsive behaviors such as checking one’s cellphone, acupuncture may also prove beneficial in combating internet addiction. A 2021 systematic review offers proof of the efficacy of the practice in treating the disorder, noting that “it is of great significance for effective clinical routine treatment” of the condition.
For more information about acupuncture’s role in improving health and wellness, you can find nearly 400 abstracts with acupuncture research on the GreenMedInfo.com database.