Chronic stress affects millions worldwide, leading to anxiety, depression and insomnia. Acupuncture is an Eastern medical tradition that is an effective, drug-free treatment technique for managing chronic stress.
Acupuncture treatments use long, thin needles to stimulate pressure points along the body. These points correspond with energy pathways and internal organs; acupuncturists stimulate specific points to activate different pathways in the body. Research shows that acupuncture brings balance back to the body’s internal systems and stops the body from constantly ramping up its stress hormone production.
The body’s stress response is triggered by two main pathways, one of which involves the HPA axis, also known as the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis. Activation of this axis ultimately leads to an increase in cortisol and norepinephrine hormones, which “rev up” the body’s anxiety meter. Once activated, these hormones trigger the heart to beat faster and put the body’s five senses on high alert. Chronic activation of these stress pathways places an individual’s body in a perpetual state of “high alert”; cortisol levels are elevated and never return to a baseline, so individuals end up with chronic depression, anxiety and insomnia.
A recent scientific study published in the Journey of Endocrinology found that acupuncture can alter the pathways of stress hormones through the body, stopping the constant cycle of being on “high alert.” The study mimicked chronic stress in rats. One group of rats was only exposed to an ice bath, which triggered stress. A second group received electro acupuncture at a known active site on the rats’ stomach prior to the ice bath. The third group received a sham version of the acupuncture treatment at a non-essential site prior to the ice bath. As expected, rats only receiving the ice bath had elevated levels of activated stress hormones, as did groups receiving the sham acupuncture treatment. However, the rats who received the electro acupuncture treatment prior to the ice bath exposure showed no change in their stress levels. The study concluded that “acupuncture seemed to help recalibrate, or normalize the [stress] hormone levels”.
While further research is necessary to better understand the relationship between acupuncture and chronic stress management, individuals who are struggling with chronic stress may benefit from acupuncture treatments. Breaking the cycle of chronic stress is essential to providing long-lasting relief for patients who suffer from stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia – and acupuncture may do just that.
Eshkevari, Ladan; Permaul, Eva; and Mulroney, Susan E. “Acupuncture Blocks Cold Stress-Induced Increases in the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis in the Rat.” Journal of Endocrinology, February 2013.
Park, Alice. “Needle This: Study Hints at How Acupuncture Works to Relieve Stress.” Time, March 2013.