Acupuncture and the Central Nervous System
In acupuncture, the nervous system plays a key role in the benign regulation of gastrointestinal movement. The motility of the gastrointestinal tract is the result of the combined action of the nervous system, and the myoelectric activity of the gastrointestinal tract itself, in which the nervous system plays a major role.
This is where acupuncture can provide relief. The acupuncturist inserts fine needles along the body into specific acupuncture points that correspond to specific organ systems in the body. Through these organ systems, the acupuncture needles can reach the Central Nervous System (CNS). Within the CNS, there are two main branches, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
When the body can't find time to relax, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) becomes overstimulated. This puts you in a constant "fight-or-flight" state, even when the situations around you do not require this level of response. When we are constantly in this state of alarm, the body's health eventually pays the price with an increased risk of emotional, physical, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms that interfere with our ability to enjoy daily life to the fullest. These include digestive problems, depression, obesity, sleep problems, memory loss, and heart disease. To relieve stress, the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) must be stimulated to allow the body to enter a state of “rest and digest.”
Acupuncture is used to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. This facilitates the necessary shift from the SNS to the PNS, from "fight or flight" mode to "rest and digest" mode. By allowing the body to "rest and digest", one can restore the state of physical and mental health that stress has destroyed.
Acupuncture For Chronic Stress
A big focus in our acupuncture practice is regulating the nervous system to relieve stress-related physical symptoms. These symptoms can range from back pain, heart palpitations, digestive issues, pelvic problems, to skin conditions and allergies, just to name a few.
Our bodies are extremely adaptable and learn to live with higher levels of stress when it persists over a longer period of time. Prolonged symptoms of this heightened state of stress include musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, depression, anxiety, irritability, and poor concentration. Acupuncture has been shown to be effective for all of these symptoms, regardless of what the actual cause is.
With the help of acupuncture, we can rebalance the nervous system and return the body to homeostasis. An acupuncture treatment usually involves standing with needles for 20 to 30 minutes in a quiet or relaxing atmosphere. Without needles, deep breathing in a relaxed state promotes the parasympathetic nervous system and helps bring the body into a relaxed state. Combining the two enhances the effect on the nervous system and promotes a better state of relaxation.
A 2013 study titled "Acupuncture Effect and Central Autonomic Regulation" also highlighted that:
New evidence suggests that acupuncture treatment not only activates different brain regions in various diseases caused by sympathetic-parasympathetic imbalance but also modulates adaptive neurotransmitters in related brain regions to alleviate the autonomic response. However, it is not clear whether the different pathways are activated by specific acupuncture points, such as local points and distant points, or the autonomic regulation effect of acupuncture points from different meridians.
Research is still underway to understand how this process works, but historically specific acupuncture points have been used for this purpose.