Stress and Acupuncture By Marc Sklar, LAc, DA (RI), FABORM

Body: 

Acupuncture, Stress and Reproductive Function
By Marc Sklar, LAc, DA (RI), FABORM
Clinical Director of Reproductive Wellness

 

Acupuncture originated centuries ago and is the means by which practitioners of Oriental Medicine tap into the vascular systems that enlivens and runs through each person. There are classical entry points (acu-points) along these lines called meridians. The stimulation of a combination of exact points using ultra fine filaments will cause the body to correct the flow of blood and oxygen, sometimes called Qi.  Classic texts describe 365 points located on meridians that are mapped onto the surface of the body.

Simply, acupuncture functions by affecting neural pathways along the body.  When a needle is inserted into the skin a signal is sent from the area of insertion (the peripheral aspect of the body) to the spinal cord.  From the spinal cord a signal is sent to different areas of the brain.  Once these areas of the brain are contacted the body will respond by producing more or less of a certain chemical or hormone.  It may also then send a signal back to the spinal cord or organs that it is trying to influence.  Studies have shown that when needling the point Pericardium 6 (traditionally used for relieving nausea and vomiting) a signal is sent to the brain area that affects vomiting, to inhibit the nausea and vomiting.  Similarly, research has shown that pain is reduced through acupuncture.  Once the signal of the acupuncture needle has reached the spinal cord it sends a signal to the brain to release opiates.  Opiates are our body’s natural painkillers and are released from the pituitary gland. (Pomeranz and Stux: 1988)  It has also been seen, in functional MRI’s that acupuncture stimulates the central nervous system.  (Cho et al.: 1998; Fang and Hayes: 1999) 

These studies are excellent example of how acupuncture works when needling acu-points.  These studies however do not explain what Meridians are.  Most people who have some understanding of Eastern medicine have heard the word Meridian.  The Chinese would describe a meridian as a pathway where qi travels along to bring health to the body.  This abstract explanation makes sense to very few in the west.  Luckily there is research to show that meridians actually do exist.  A research study has demonstrated the map of a meridian pathway.  This study involved the injection of Technitium99, a radioactive tracer, into both true and sham acupoints.  “The scan of the injection sites showed random diffusion of the tracer around the sham point but rapid progression of the tracer along the meridian at a rate that was inconsistent with either lymphatic/vascular flow or nerve conduction.” (Victor S. Sierpina, MD; Moshe A. Frenkel, MD South Med J.  2005; 98)

Acupuncture has several effects on the body.  Some of these effects are:

Restoring blood, nutrients and air flow
Restoring visceral (organ) and immune function
Promoting physiological and autonomic balance – Homeostasis
Relieving pain
Promoting the healing of tissue

It should be known that unlike the needles used to give standard pharmaceutical injections, the filaments used in acupuncture treatments are extremely fine, only twice the width of a single hair. These filaments are designed to enter the skin with the least resistance and with barely any perceived discomfort.  Most clients are surprised to discover that treatments involve little or no pain, and are usually quite relaxing.

In short Acupuncture works in 2 fundamental ways; regulating the nervous system and increasing blood circulation.  Research has shown that when a needle is inserted into the muscle it causes the blood vessels to dilate.  This begins the increased circulation of blood, but then we need to direct the blood to the area of the body that has lost function or is in pain (which are the 2 main effects of a reduced amount of blood circulation).  We do this by sending a signal to the brain via the nervous system.  This signal tells the body which area to shunt blood to.  This is like a computer program; you plug in the code by selecting points, and this tells the body what to do.

The adrenal glands are the stress glands of the body.  When the environment is hostile to the body, its reaction is to fight or run.  Both of these reactions cause the secretion of adrenal gland hormones.  These glands are designed to prepare the body for a temporary emergency; they can become exhausted and over reactive with prolonged environmental stresses.
The adrenal glands are 2 almond shaped glands that sit right above the kidneys.  Most noted for secreting adrenaline, they also secret numerous other hormones including cortisol, DHEA and norepinephrine. 

Adrenalin- This hormone causes an immediate burst of energy, makes the heart beat harder, raises up the blood pressure and over time leads to heart disease and vascular problems.

Norepinephrine (Noradrenalin) - This hormone takes blood out of the digestive tract and puts it into the muscles.  This can lead to digestive problems.

Cortisol- This hormone breaks down fat into sugar keeping your energy constant all day.  It also controls sleep, acts as an anti-inflammatory and suppresses the immune system.  Allergies, arthritis, fatigue, sleep and weight issues can be related to problems with this hormone. 

DHEA- This hormone is considered to be the master sex hormone of the body, controlling estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone. Imbalances with this hormone can affect menopause, PMS, infertility, loss of libido, etc… through its connection with the hypothalamus, pituitary, ovaries/gonads. 

These hormones cause the following reactions to prepare you to fight or run:

First, the blood flows toward your muscles, heart and brain, away from the skin, digestive track and reproductive organs; your heart beats rapidly and forcefully, your eyes dilate and glycogen in your liver is converted into glucose for quick energy.  All to help you fight or run.
The connection between stress and heart disease is that prolonged stress causes rapid and forceful heart actions which over a prolonged period of time can lead to heart disease.  Also the extra blood sent to the heart over time has also been found to be destructive. 

Second, as the blood begins to be moved toward your muscles, heart and brain, the first place it gets pulled away from are your ovaries, uterus, testes and your other reproductive organs.  The understanding is that the last thing your body needs to do when it is in a stress response is to reproduce.  The result of long term stress on the reproductive organs can be menstrual pain, pelvic pain, infertility, high FSH, irregular menstrual cycles, anovulation or a decrease in sperm count. 

Third, through the secretion of hormones, the digestive track shuts down.  You don’t need to digest when you are being attacked, so your body causes either immediate elimination or stops digestion altogether. The result of long term stress could be constipation, diarrhea or any digestive problems. 

Further, more than 50% of your body’s protein, B vitamins and vitamin C are not absorbed when you are under stress.  Because the body under  stress directs its efforts to run or fight; the immune system stops functioning when you are under stress.  Research done by the National Institute of Health (NIH) found that persons under stress are more susceptible to bacteria and viruses.

Your hormonal rhythm that leads to sleep is based on the secretion of adrenal hormone cortisol.   With stress, cortisol levels alter which can cause abnormal sleep behavior. 
Finally, because these glands secrete DHEA, which has proven to create the estrogen reserves in the body, problems with these glands can be related to PMS, menopausal symptoms and infertility. 

As our nervous system is continually hyperfunctioning our body begins to deplete its adrenal glands.  As more cortisol is released patients develop adrenal fatigue.  Because of the adrenal glands connection to the hypothalamus and pituitary glands (and in turn their connection with the ovaries), adrenal fatigue can, and usually does, lead to poor ovarian reserve.  As our skilled practitioners treat our patients they work to boost the adrenal glands and their functioning to minimize the aging process on the ovaries.

Dr. Sklar will answer your individual questions on the INCIID Forums here.

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