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How Does Acupuncture Work? Western Medicine is Beginning to Understand. 


Western Biomedical research has found acupuncture works through neurohormonal pathways -- this means that specific points stimulate nerves to induce specific physiological responses that help balance the body. MRI images show a direct correlation between acupuncture points on the body and specific regions in the brain. For example, a point on the foot, Liver 3, has traditionally been used to help eye problems. MRI imaging confirms that Liver 3 does activate a region in the brain related to vision. Biomedical research demonstrates acupunctures effect on following body systems: 

  • Central and peripheral nervous system

  • Endocrine (hormonal) system

  • Immune system 

  • Cardiovascular system

  • Digestive system 

  • Respiratory system

  • Reproductive system 


Acupuncture has been shown to help improve:

  • sleep & insomnia

  • digestive function

  • relieve allergies

  • resolve pain by changing the way the brain responds to pain

  • heal tissue with the release of stem cells

  • depression, anxiety, and mood swings

  • reduce dysmenorrhea (PMS, menstrual cramping & pain)

  • reduce nausea

  • leukopenia

  • relieve symptoms of Sjogren's syndrome

  • enhance an overall sense of wellbeing & enhancing resilience/adaptability to stress


Numerous MRI studies prove that acupuncture effects specific regions of the brain, depending on the treatment.

For example, one of the most famous acupuncture points on the hand, Li4, famous for helping with headaches, decreases brain activity in the regions associated with pain (in the hippocampus and pregenual cingulate regions). 

Acupuncture is now mainstream! MD’s are now often referring their patients for acupuncture. The American College of Physicians (ACP) has released it’s new 2017 Guidelines to Physicians for Acute, SubAcute, and Chronic Low Back Pain recommending patients try acupuncture for relief. The FDA is recommending that all MD's refer patients for acupuncture before prescribing pharmacological remedies for pain. Cancer patients are regularly referred for acupuncture for relief from nausea and pain. Fertility specialists frequently work in conjunction with acupuncturists to improve outcomes. See a list of conditions acupuncture has been found to be useful for at the end of this blog. 

  1. Acupuncture relieves pain by releasing the body's natural analgesic response and modulating the nervous system.

  2. Acupuncture reduces inflammation and helps the body fight infection.

  3. Acupuncture restores homeostasis. 


  • About 95% of acupuncture points are within 1.0 cm of a major nerve. Acupuncture’s first effect is by stimulating the peripheral nervous system which then has a cascade effect throughout the rest of the body’s systems. 

  • Acupuncture restores balance to the neuroendocrine system by modulating the hypothalmic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA). 

  • Acupuncture promotes blood flow. Proper blood flow is vital in maintaining health and preventing disease and pain. Acupuncture increases adenosine levels up to 24%; adenosine is an analgesic and a vasodilator as well as having a sedative effect on the nervous system. 

  • Acupuncture reduces inflammation by modulating the immune system response by inhibiting pro-inflammatory cytokines while activating anti-inflammatory cytokines ( Acupuncture has also been found to decrease inflammatory sepsis in the emerging field of research into neuroimmune pathways  (

  • Acupuncture releases natural pain killers: endorphins, norepinephrine, and enkephalins (Acupuncture vs intravenous morphine in the management of acute pain in the ED

  • Acupuncture decrease the intensity and perception of chronic pain through a process called ‘descending control normalization’ in the serotonergic nervous system. 

  • Acupuncture also relieves pain by relaxing contracted muscles which benefits joints structures and surrounding nerves.

  • Acupuncture reduces stress while enhancing resilience. (

  • Acupuncture has been shown to lower cortisol levels via the HPA.

  • Acupuncture also increases the release of oxytocin, which regulates and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, or the ‘rest and digest’ nervous system while sedating the sympathetic nervous systems, the ‘fight or flight’ nervous system. 

  • Acupuncture has been shown to heal tissue via the release of the body's own stem cells (

  • Acupuncture relieves pain by changing the way the brain responds to pain (

Goldman, N., Chen, M., Fujita, T., Xu, Q., Peng, W., Liu, W., ... & Chen, J. F. (2010). Adenosine A1 receptors mediate local anti-nociceptive effects of acupuncture. Nature neuroscience, 13(7), 883-888.


Huang, W., Pach, D., Napadow, V., Park, K., Long, X., Neumann, J., ... & Witt, C. M. (2012). Characterizing acupuncture stimuli using brain imaging with FMRI-a systematic review and meta-analysis of the literature. PLoS One, 7(4), e32960. 

Brain on Acupuncture

MRI Images: Acupuncture points stimulate the brain

What Can Acupuncture Treat?


Studies have shown that acupuncture is successful at lowering cortisol levels (stress hormones) and boosting endorphins (the feel good hormones of the body), which means less stress and more feeling good! But that’s only part of the awesomeness…


According to the World Health Organization, acupuncture is effective for treating over 40 common disorders. Below is a list of common ailments that acupuncture can successfully treat:

  • Acid reflux

  • Addiction issues

  • Anxiety

  • Back pain

  • Carpel tunnel syndrome

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Constipation and diarrhea

  • Dizziness

  • Fibromyalgia

  • High blood pressure

  • IBS

  • Insomnia

  • Knee pain

  • Low immunity

  • Menopausal symptoms

  • Neck pain

  • Night sweats

  • PMS

  • Sciatica

  • Sinus issues

  • Stroke effects

  • Tendonitis

  • Acne and skin problems

  • Arthritis (osteo and rheumatoid)

  • Asthma

  • Bell’s palsy

  • Chemotherapy related symptoms

  • Common cold and flu

  • Depression

  • Emotional issues

  • Headaches and migraines

  • Hip pain

  • Infertility

  • Joint pain

  • Low energy

  • Low libido and/or ED

  • Menstrual issues

  • Nerve pain

  • Numbness and tingling

  • PTSD

  • Shoulder pain

  • Stress

  • TMJ

  • Urinary disorders

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