Acupuncture, one of the oldest medical therapies in the world, is steadily gaining popularity in the United States.
The November 2007 issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource offers a fresh look at this ancient practice and how it is being incorporated into Western medicine.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, vital energy flows along specific pathways within the body, called meridians. The belief is that one way to unblock energy flow -- and promote the body's ability to heal itself -- is to insert hair-thin needles to various depths at strategic points along this meridian. That process is called acupuncture.
Basic research suggests that acupuncture works by regulating the body's nervous system, and by promoting the release of pain-killing chemicals (endorphins) and immune cells. Another possibility is that acupuncture alters brain chemistry, affecting brain chemicals and hormones associated with the immune process and regulation of blood pressure, blood flow and body temperature.
Most people who use acupuncture believe it improves their health. But Western-style medicine has found it challenging to design research studies to prove acupuncture's effectiveness. Even without comprehensive research, many health care organizations are offering acupuncture services.
Acupuncture may help relieve pain associated with dental operations, headaches, fibromyalgia, facial pain, osteoarthritis, menstrual cramps, low back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome. Evidence suggests that acupuncture may help cancer patients by relieving nausea and vomiting after surgery or chemotherapy treatment. Studies are looking at the role of acupuncture in stroke rehabilitation and asthma treatment.
In the United States there are 11,000 certified acupuncturists. Certification requires between 2,000 and 3,000 hours of training. In addition, certified acupuncturists must pass routine exams. More information on these credentials and how to select an acupuncturist are available at the Web sites of the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (www.nccaom.org) or the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture (www.medicalacupuncture.org).
Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource is published monthly to help women enjoy healthier, more productive lives. Revenue from subscriptions is used to support medical research at Mayo Clinic. To subscribe, please call 800-876-8633, extension 9PK1or visit www.bookstore.mayoclinic.com.