I was recently interviewed by Jon Devo of the Spot & Chaser podcast on Spotify, and had a great time sharing my knowledge of this ancient medicine. We talked about the origins of acupuncture, how it works, the risks and benefits of treatment, and why an acupuncture treatment is a little bit like a therapy session. At only 6 minutes, it's a quick, easy listen. Check it out below:
The ancient Chinese medical practice of acupuncture involves putting needles into the body, and is said to treat a wide range of ailments.But how does acupuncture actually work? Today Jon is joined by Laura Weatherbee, Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine to find out.
[Jon Devo, host] How does acupuncture work? I'm Jon Devo, and this is Shot & Chaser.
I always shudder at the thought of acupuncture, and question why people would choose to have needles put into their bodies. Acupuncture comes from an ancient Chinese medical treatment, and it's said to be able to cure all sorts of ailments from chronic stress, headaches and toothaches, to helping in recovery from surgery and injuries.
Despite its ancient roots, acupuncture is even used as part of NHS treatments - if you can get an appointment. But how exactly does acupuncture work, and how can it help with such a wide range of health issues? In the chaser, I'm going to be joined by Laura Weatherbee, Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, to find out.
Hey Laura, how are you?
[Dr. Laura Weatherbee] I'm doing good.
[JD] So what is acupuncture, and how does it work?
[LW] Acupuncture is a technique which involves inserting very fine needles into specific locations in the body. It's commonly used to treat pain, but it's actually really effective for a lot of different health conditions.
And one thing I think is important to mention is that acupuncture is just one facet of Traditional Chinese Medicine. So Traditional Chinese Medicine is a complete system of medicine that really views health and healing from a different perspective than Western bioscience. And I think that's why it's really cool because it can treat such a wide range of different conditions.
And going back to the second part of your question, how does acupuncture work? I can explain that from both an Eastern and a Western perspective, is that cool?
[JD] Please do, yeah.
[LW] According to traditional Chinese medical theory, all illnesses arise from an imbalance or a blockage in the flow of the body's vital energy, which is known as qi. And stimulating key points with needles, we can help to restore the free flow of energy or qi in the body. And that brings the body back into a state of balance.
So from a Western biomedical perspective, acupuncture - the mechanism of how it works isn't completely understood, but there is evidence that shows that it stimulates the central nervous system and this can signal the body to release different types of chemicals such as neurotransmitters, hormones, and endorphins. So essentially it's tapping into the body's natural pharmacy to bring the body back into homeostasis.
[JD] And what can you tell us about the origins of acupuncture?
[LW] Acupuncture originated in ancient China, and it has been practiced for thousands of years. One of the earliest written texts on acupuncture is called the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine, and that was written around 100 BC.
Knowledge of acupuncture really spread to Europe around the 1600's and that was when Dutch and Portuguese traders traveled to Asia and they observed these practices and brought them back to Europe.
[JD] And what are some of the benefits of getting acupuncture?
[LW] Well personally, I find acupuncture treatments to be very relaxing and restorative. It's really great at helping to reduce pain and inflammation. One of the things that's really cool about acupuncture is that it's a holistic form of medicine. So it really treats the body on a physical, mental, and spiritual level.
[JD] Are there any side effects or risks associated with acupuncture?
[LW] So generally speaking acupuncture is really safe. We always use individually packaged, sterile, and disposable needles, so the procedure itself is very clean. With that being said, some of the most common side effects would be some minor bleeding or bruising at the site of needle insertion. Some people might get a little bit faint or light-headed during a treatment, but usually if you're working with a trained and licensed practitioner it's very safe.
[JD] Are there any specific illnesses that we can attribute to, you know, that might be useful for taking acupuncture?
[LW] It's really great for all types of pain - chronic pain, low back pain, neck pain, arthritis, sports injuries, headaches, migraines. But it also has an effect on the internal organ systems, so it can improve immune function, digestive function, fertility. And as I mentioned, because it's a holistic form of medicine, it's also really great for mental-emotional disorders including stress, insomnia, anxiety, depression...that type of thing.
[JD] Incredible. And how long do the effects of acupuncture tend to last?
[LW] So this really depends on each individual and the nature and severity of their condition. But generally speaking, you can expect results to last several days up to a week.
[JD] I've had some people say that going for an acupuncture session tends to also feel like a bit of a therapy session. Is that true?
[LW] Yeah, I would really put acupuncture somewhere in between going to the doctor, and going to see a therapist because we are really working with energy. And energy has real physical effects, but it also has emotional, spiritual effects. So yeah, it really works on the whole person. But Chinese medicine really views health from a holistic perspective, and, you know, they believe that the emotions have a real effect on the physical body. So we try to get to the root cause of your illness, and there's always, you know, some degree of a physical and emotional component to illness.
[JD] Is there anyone that you would say maybe acupuncture isn't right for? So say if you were pregnant or being a small child, or particularly elderly?
[LW] Actually acupuncture is great for all of those types of people.
[JD] Are there any particularly weird places where the needles tend to go to treat particular things? I'd love to know if there's any places where you don't put needles. I'm curious.
[LW] You can put needles everywhere in the body from the head to the toe. And I think what's interesting is that it might not seem related to your condition. So if you come in and you're like, "Oh I have digestive issues", and someone's going to put needles in your leg you're like, "How is this going to help?" But it's actually because the whole body is interrelated that needles in the leg can actually affect the digestive system or needles in the head can actually affect something going on, you know, in the lower body.
[JD] So it turns out acupuncture can be beneficial physically, mentally, and spiritually. Sign me up.