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10 Surprising Ways That Acupuncture Can Support Women’s Health

The Surprising Ways Acupuncture Can Support Women's Health
Image © Shutterstock/ Studio 72

From supporting healthy digestion and reducing pain to boosting energy and balancing hormones, acupuncture is proving to be a powerful tool in the support of women’s health, writes enthusiast, Aleney de Winter.

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eedles. That one word is enough for many people to pop acupuncture into the “not-for-me” basket, including yours truly. But five years of infertility had me ready to give anything a try to bolster my chances of falling pregnant. Ergo, I decided to take a trip to stabby town and transform myself into what I had imagined would be a human pin cushion. I imagined wrong.    

For starters, the not-so-scary after all pins used in acupuncture are as fine as a human hair so I didn’t really feel them at all and, as opposed to the hundreds I’d imagined, there were scarcely ten used across my entire body. Indeed, the whole process was so relaxing I found myself snoozing through it. A few sessions later and I had fallen head over heels in love with acupuncture, or at least with the way it made me feel. Oh, and the small person that was growing in my belly as a result. 

Following that resounding success, acupuncture became my go to for everything from broken bones and balancing hormones to post surgical healing. I became such a raving fan that I’d sign up for a session whether I had an ailment or not. Because that’s the thing about acupuncture, as a preventative medicine, studies have demonstrated that acupuncture can aid immunity, promote healthy circulation, decrease inflammation, and help your body respond to stress. What’s not to love? 

Hits and myths of acupuncture 

Acupuncture is not a one size fits all treatment. It’s a highly individualised, patient-centred medicine that originated in China many thousands of years ago that remains part of a broad system of treatments used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) today.  

A frequent missive fired its way is that it’s just ancient folk medicine. It’s not. Sure, after several thousand years of acupuncture making a notable contribution to people’s health and wellbeing, the ancient bit is a fair call. But qualified acupuncturists undertake many years of formal training. A Bachelor of Health Science in Acupuncture Therapies is a three-year full-time degree that requires students to develop a thorough understanding of human biological function, musculoskeletal anatomy and a strong understanding of current western medicine and medical ethics. And, despite complementary medicine being held to more stringent standards than western medicine, the World Health Organization has endorsed the use of acupuncture for over 200 symptoms and diseases and even the United States military uses acupuncture as an alternative to opioids for pain control.  

The benefits of acupuncture are often accused of simply being a placebo effect. But recent medical research has been able to map neural reactions taking place with acupuncture via sophisticated technology. In 2020, a team of researchers led by neuroscientists at Harvard Medical School made an important step in mapping the neuroanatomy of acupuncture and effectively demonstrated that acupuncture trial resulted in a reduction in inflammatory markers.   

“The real power of Chinese Medicine, that it is a bio-psycho-social-emotional-spiritual model of healthcare and treatment” says Kaitlin Edin, Chinese Medicine Practitioner and ANTA National Council Director (Acupuncture Branch Chair). “This means that it recognises and respects the human body, it’s symptoms and somatic expressions within a social, emotional context.” 

So how does acupuncture work?  

So how does it all work, you might ask? Rather than focusing on a single issue, acupuncture looks at how root imbalances affect the whole system, tackling multiple symptoms while also addressing the root causes. This is done via the acupuncture meridian system which connects more than 300 separate acupuncture points, each with its own special role. These points are stimulated by fine needling, pressure or heat to remove blockages and restore qi (pronounced “chee”) energy flow to restore mental and physical balance and encourage the body to heal itself. 

“Most of us know, and there is good science now to illustrate that the body, mind, heart and environment are all engaged in the act of living, we can’t separate the influences of each on the other. But how often do we still separate the mind from the body, and the individual from their environment in order to treat illness or misunderstand disease? The very structure of the eastern medicine framework provides both practitioners and clients a way of being connected to their feelings, their story and their environment in treatment. This is connection medicine at its best.” adds Edin. 

While acupuncture may still be better known for pain relief, the practice can be effective in treating a diverse range of ailments. Here are just a few areas of your health that clinical studies have demonstrated can benefit from acupuncture. 

1. It can be effective in balancing hormones 

Acupuncture is a natural method of treating women’s hormone imbalances. Studies indicate that acupuncture can benefit the endocrine system responsible for hormonal functions, increasing oestrogen, progesterone and prolactin, as well as other hormones  related to female health issues from fertility to menstrual pain and menopause.  

2. It may improve IVF pregnancy rates 

Studies have reported that  acupuncturemay improve implantation rates within an IVF cycle. It is believed that as well as relaxing the nervous system, three sessions of acupuncture before and after embryo transfer may improve implantation rates in women with unexplained infertility by circulating additional blood to the uterus to nourish the newly implanted embryo. Oh, and I can add my own IVF offspring to the anecdotal evidence for its effectiveness.  

3. It can provide pregnancy and postpartum support 

Acupuncture has been demonstrated to help support women’s changing bodies during pregnancy, birth and during postpartum recovery, particularly in geriatric pregnancies, like mine (the somewhat deflating term given to a woman giving birth over the age of 35). Beyond that, it can assist with pain, the energy depletion caused by sleepless nights, reduce the risk of postpartum depression, and increase breast milk production. 

4. It may enhance post-surgical healing 

Acupuncture can provide an alternative to traditional painkillers after surgery and has been shown in some studies to reduce post-op pain, assist in wound healing and shorten recovery times. There’s also evidence to suggest that acupuncture can help the body with post anaesthetic recovery.  

5. It can help you get a good night’s sleep 

Sleep is an essential function for the body to recharge, but in modern society many people suffer from disordered sleep habits that can impact their overall health. Studies have shown that acupuncture is a safe and effective alternative to sedative medicine for improving the symptoms of insomnia, increasing total sleep time and sleep efficiency. 

6. It may assist with managing mood disorders

Acupuncture has a long history in the treatment of patients with psychological and spiritual symptoms in China, Japan, and Korea as it can help balance and regulate emotions. It has also been used as a complementary treatment to psychiatric and emotional disorders in Western countries in more recent times following several studies that demonstrated acupuncture can be effective in alleviating anxiety and depressive symptoms, while addressing underlying conditions. 

7. It can aid digestion  

A recalcitrant digestive system can result in bloating, gas, constipation,  reflux and diarrhoea.  Acupuncture is known to be an effective tool in managing digestive function by balancing the gut-brain axis and the nervous system to reduce stress. A randomised controlled trial also indicated that acupuncture may be an effective treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome 

8. It may assist with weight loss 

While the research is limited, there is some evidence to suggest that acupuncture can help with weight loss by improving blood flow to your stomach to assist digestion, reducing inflammation, relieving fluid retention, and boosting metabolism, all of which can be beneficial to maintaining a healthy weight. 

9. It may relieve osteoarthritis symptoms 

Osteoarthritisis a common cause of chronic knee pain. Clinical studies support acupuncture as a viable adjunct for the treatment of the pain, inflammation and stiffness associated with osteoarthritis. 

10. It may be a beneficial adjunct therapy in cancer rehabilitation 

Available evidence suggests that acupuncture is a safe and effective therapy to  

provide some relief from some cancer symptomsas well as relief from the side effects of oncology treatment as an adjuvant to conventional treatment. 

This article provides general information only, and does not constitute health or medical advice. If you have any concerns regarding your health, seek immediate medical attention.

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