The therapeutic benefits associated with acupuncture are obtained by stimulating specific acupoints at or near the skin surface. These acupoints have the ability to alter biochemical conditions in the body. Because acupuncture points are designated areas of electrical sensitivity, inserting needles at these points can stimulate sensory receptors. This stimulates nerves that transmit impulses to the hypothalamic and pituitary systems in the brain, which are responsible for releasing neurotransmitters and endorphins – the body’s natural pain-killing hormones.
Endorphins play a significant role in the hormonal system, which is why acupuncture is effective in treating back pain, arthritis, PMS and infertility. Substances released as a result of acupuncture therapy can relax the body and regulate serotonin levels in the brain, which, in turn, can affect the emotional state. Other physiological effects include increased circulation, decreased inflammation, relief of muscle spasms and increased T-cell counts, which support the immune system.
Western science and research postulates that acupuncture therapy triggers three primary mechanisms in the body:
- Activation of opioid systems: Several types of pain-reducing opioids may be released into the central nervous system during acupuncture.
- Changes in brain chemistry: Acupuncture may alter brain chemistry by altering the way in which neurotransmitters and neurohormones are released. It has also been documented to affect sensation and involuntary body function, such as immune reactions and processes involved in regulating blood pressure, blood flow, and body temperature.
- Changes in blood flow: Acupuncture affects the circulation of blood to an affected area, which helps to remove pain-causing chemicals and restore normal function.