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Complementary Corner

Acupuncture Research Update

Renee Lehman

(7/2015) Acupuncture, the oldest continuously practiced form of healthcare in the world, originated over 3,000 years ago in Asia. Acupuncture balances the flow of natural vital energy, or Qi (pronounced "chee"), which flows through all living things. This Qi flows through the body on specific pathways called Meridians, and is essential for health.

When the Qi is balanced, moving smoothly, and in sufficient quality and quantity, health and wellness are promoted. When the Qi is unbalanced or blocked in any way, disease or dis – ease, will occur. This dis – ease may show up as symptoms on a physical, mental/emotional, or spiritual level. For example, on a physical level, headaches could occur; on the mental/emotional level, someone could experience obsessiveness, indecisiveness, lack of self-esteem, or have a difficult time concentrating. Finally, on a spiritual level, someone could live with anxiety or depression. It is important to realize that these symptoms are only the end result of an imbalance, and not the illness itself.

The following is an update on some recent news about acupuncture and its ability to provide relief from headaches, cardiac problems, the side effects from breast cancer treatment, and anxiety.

Headache Relief

In the article by Wang, Y., et. al., Acupuncture for Frequent Migraine: A Randomized, Patient/Assessor Blinded, Controlled Trial with One-Year Follow-Up, published in the Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2015, researchers determined that acupuncture reduces the frequency and intensity of migraines. The results were confirmed by comparing a real acupuncture study group with a sham acupuncture study group. The researchers concluded, "Acupuncture can be used as alternative and safe prophylaxis for frequent migraine."

The research team made several important findings. They discovered that the total number of days with a migraine reduced for patients receiving real acupuncture. Real acupuncture improved quality of life scores and produced significant reductions in the need for migraine medication consumption. During the three month follow-up investigation, the patients who had received the real acupuncture had significant relief from migraine frequency and intensity. In addition, the real acupuncture group had a faster onset of pain relief from migraine attacks than the sham acupuncture group..

Relief from Cardiac Conditions

In the article, Integrating Acupuncture into the Cardiology Clinic, by J. Painovich and John Longhurst, published in the Acta Physiologica Sinica in February, 2015, the authors discovered that acupuncture may serve as a safe and viable option in the cardiology clinic. Although continued research is recommended, acupuncture’s use with four different types of cardiac conditions must be considered. They are: angina pain, congestive heart failure, arrhythmias, mild to moderate hypertension, and smoking cessation (smoking can lead to cardiac conditions).

Angina is chest pain or discomfort that occurs if an area of your heart muscle doesn't get enough oxygen-rich blood. Angina may feel like pressure or squeezing in your chest. The pain also can occur in your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back. Angina pain may even feel like indigestion. Individuals receiving acupuncture had a reduction in both the intensity and frequency of anginal attacks, and had an improvement in their quality of life.

Congestive heart failure (CHF), is a potentially serious condition in which the heart is no longer able to pump out enough oxygen-rich blood. Most commonly CHF can result from coronary artery disease, a narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart; or from high blood pressure that is not well controlled, leading to problems with stiffness, or eventually leading to muscle weakening. (Research studies have shown improvements in the ability to walk longer distances without shortness of breath after acupuncture treatment.

An arrhythmia is an irregularity of the rate or rhythm of your heartbeat. It means that your heart beats too quickly, too slowly, or in an irregular way. The most common type of arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation, which causes an irregular and fast heartbeat. Research studies have shown that various heart arrhythmias, such as atrial fibrillation, can be reduced or eliminated by acupuncture treatments.

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, happens when the force of the blood pumping through your arteries is too strong. (Hypertension can damage your blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and the brain. Research has shown that continued acupuncture treatment can reduce blood pressure, thus helping to preserve your vital organs.

Smoking is an underlying risk factor for heart disease. Acupuncture treatments have been shown to help individuals quit smoking.

Reduction of Breast Cancer Treatment Side Effects

Breast cancer treatment can produce challenging side effects. These include nausea, fatigue, joint pain and stiffness, neuropathy, hormone changes, anxiety, and depression. However, these side effects can be reduced, and therefore, quality of life can be improved by incorporating acupuncture into breast cancer treatment.

Researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, conducted a randomized controlled eight-week study in 2014 using electro-acupuncture with postmenopausal breast cancer patients who were taking Aromatase inhibitors (AIs) and, as a result, experiencing joint pain.

AIs are a common hormonal therapy used to treat certain types of breast cancer. Unfortunately, as many as half of the patients taking AIs experience joint pain and about 20 percent will stop the treatment due to the painful side effects.

After 10 acupuncture treatments, patients had a 43 percent decrease in their pain. Patient-reported experiences of fatigue, anxiety and depression where also tracked. All three of these side effects were reduced in the patients receiving acupuncture.).

Relief from Anxiety

In our society, we are often under distress. This stress can often show up as anxiety. Researchers at Georgetown University conducted a study on laboratory rats that showed that acupuncture slowed down the body’s production of stress hormones (Journal of Endocrinology, March 2013).

Also, in a study published in the online version of the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies (October 2013), undergraduate students who underwent a 20 minute acupuncture session were found to have less anxiety and better memory immediately afterward than those who didn't have acupuncture

Consider combining Acupuncture with Western conventional medicine for treating and supporting individuals as they deal with illnesses, both acute and chronic.

Renee Lehman is a licensed acupuncturist, physical therapist, and Reiki Master with over 20 years of health care experience. Her office is located at 249B York Street in Gettysburg, PA.  She can be reached at 717-752-5728.

Read other article on well being by Renee Lehman