Medical Research

Translating the Benefits of Acupuncture for Stress Reduction into Medical Terms

Kristen Sparrow • June 30, 2014

longevity23-200x200I was going to simply skim this article, but it turns out that a fair portion of it concerns my research focus, which is stress reduction.  Since I tend to think in “Mainstream Lingo” that part of the paper wasn’t too pertinent, but I am happy to see such interest in a topic that fascinates me.

The Importance of Knowing Mainstream Lingo: Concepts that can help you in your quest towards mainstream inclusion

…Consider the following:

  1. Depression, anxiety, stress, and pain as co-morbid conditions are validated as literally the most common presenting problems in primary care, and in most specialty practices.1,2,3
  2. The life and fiscal impact and their association with an increasing number of other life-shortening conditions places these conditions among the most important of all medical conditions to detect, diagnose, and treat adequately.4-9
  3. Yet, the actual validated rates of proper screening and diagnosis are among the lowest of serious diseases.10-28
  4. Worse, even when detected, and even when treated according to accepted conventional guidelines, outcomes remain unacceptably low.10-28
U.S. Stress Statistics Data
People regularly experiencing PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS from stress 77%
Regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress 73%
Feel they are living with extreme stress (vs. <22% “quite a bit” PLUS  “extreme” in Canada) 33%
Saying stress has a negative impact on personal & professional life 48%
Percent who say they are “always” or “often” under stress at work 30%

… One such milestone appeared when I made the discovery and connection about the pathophysiology of stress of according to biomedical terms.
In TCM – as hopefully we all know – stress is the subjective experience of liver depression qi stagnation (gan yu qi zhi)…
Clear understanding of both the language and concepts of the stress mechanism within the biomedical model can be learned and apprehended quickly and with little effort.
The Language of Stress
In biomedicine, the pathophysiology of stress is understood as an up-regulation of the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (ANS).
The result of a hyperactive sympathetic nervous system is:

  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Decreased heart rate variability.
  • Decreased blood flow to digestive organs and soft tissue.
  • Impaired cognition from irregular sleep.
  • And several other key markers.

…The curious effects of acupuncture are – to a large degree – the exact effects that down-regulate sympathetic nervous system hyperactivity and thus disrupt and modulate the stress response…
What Does Acupuncture Do In Holistic Medical Terms?
Acupuncture only moves qi in the body. That’s it. Any other therapeutic effects or theoretically stated treatment principles all derive from this one primary effect.
If you think you are literally draining dampness, transforming phlegm, breaking blood stasis or supplementing blood vacuity with needles – you are delusional . . . unless, you understand that you are affecting the above aspects of yin substance via regulation of the qi mechanism.
In other words, it is by coursing the liver and rectifying the qi mechanism that any and all other therapeutic benefits are achieved.
And why should that be so far-fetched?  Furthermore, why should this point be so important to understand?
If you go back to the biomedical explanation of the pathophysiology of stress (i.e. liver depression qi stagnation) you can see for yourself that each and every clinical marker of stress relates to:

  1. Movement of blood, cardio/cerebrovascular function.
  2. Digestive function.

From that basis, it only takes the most elementary logic to puzzle out for yourself that stress (i.e. gan yu qi zhi) causes or contributes to:

  • Spleen vacuity – i.e. digestive dysfunction.
  • Blood vacuity – from lack of spleen function.
  • Fatigue – lack of spleen function unable to produce qi.
  • Heart qi and blood vacuity – resulting from spleen vacuity and the spleen’s inability to up-bear the clear qi and blood.

And so on…
This kind of logical introspection is the exact kind of bridge-building I do when I lecture to physicians about acupuncture and holism.
This is also exactly what they respect and respond to – i.e., logic and a little due-diligence in looking to the modern research that has already substantiated so much of what acupuncturists seek to convey to mainstream physicians.