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Acupuncture Can Boost Your Immune System

‘Tis the season for colds and flues but luckily we have ways in which we can boost our immune systems to ward off illness! Acupuncture is oftentimes thought of as a pain-relieving treatment, but did you know it could also help to naturally boost your immune system?

Acupuncture is a branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) with a rich history and lineage dating back thousands of years to ancient China. Acupuncture is truly a medical art, as each clinician uses various approaches, techniques and styles to address your ailment; no two patients are treated the same. Acupuncturists insert hair-thin needles into the body to promote immune-boosting effects.

Conventional medicine has begun paying closer attention to acupuncture as there have been numerous clinical studies explaining the complex mechanism of action. For example, we now know acupuncture works quite extensively in the body influencing the nervous system to release endogenous opioid endorphins, which are the body’s natural pain relieving chemicals.

Most recently, scientists have been able to determine the role acupuncture plays in boosting the body’s immune system by enhancing the production of natural killer cells, which is the primary defense mechanism against organisms that make us sick. It also acts on a complex immune building system that regulates white blood cells directly linked to the fight against infections, allergic reactions and even autoimmune disorders.

Your initial appointment with an acupuncturist will usually be the longest as your acupuncturist will go through a lengthy and detailed assessment of your present and past medical history from which an appropriate treatment plan is developed. Acupuncturists have a unique and keen ability to address the patient as a whole. We take a tremendous amount of time assembling a complex jigsaw puzzle; each piece of the puzzle comprises details such as stress levels, bowel movements, response to changes in season, aversion or preference to cold or hot temperatures, menstrual cycle, etc. Additionally, standard TCM diagnostic techniques will also include looking at your tongue and feeling your pulse on both wrists. Our main goal is to treat the root cause of a patient’s condition. Our treatment will be specific to help boost your body’s immune system, but you may also begin noticing side benefits, such as improvement in sleep, mood, mental clarity, and overall improvement in quality of life.

Once the assessment is complete, the acupuncture treatment will begin with you changing into a gown after which you will be asked to lay on a massage table. You will lie on your back or on your stomach, as the exact areas of the body to be needled will depend on the TCM diagnosis that is determined by your acupuncturist. The acupuncturist will then begin inserting fine hair-thin needles into specifics “acupoints” on the body. These points, when needled, will act to boost the body’s immune system. Approximately 6 to 20 needles may be inserted in the body and left in place for 30 minutes.

Throughout the duration of the treatment, patients lie quietly in a soothing, dimly-lit room. Oftentimes calming music is played to help facilitate the relaxation response and many people end up falling asleep.

Rest assured throughout your treatment, the acupuncturist will take great care to keep you completely comfortable. Under no circumstances should an acupuncture treatment be painful, but you may feel a sensation of “Qi” (pronounced “chee”), or life energy, that is oftentimes felt as warmth, electricity or a deep throb. When the treatment is over, the needles are quietly and carefully removed, and all questions answered. A typical course of treatment is about 5-8 treatments total, and then the patient is re-evaluated for therapeutic effect. Acupuncture has a cumulative effect, so consistent treatment is best for optimal results. The sooner you can begin treatment, the better your chances will be to ward off illness.

Acupuncture is now available in many US hospitals and private practices.

For patients who are seeking to boost their immune system to protect them from getting sick, oftentimes a multidisciplinary approach is optimal. Acupuncture can easily be incorporated into your conventional treatment plan, working in tandem with your physician. If you are interested in a natural way to boost your immune system, speak with your provider about integrative treatment options like acupuncture, and you may just find relief!

Source: Kim et al; Autonomic Neuroscience: Basic and Clinical 157 (2010) 38–41 Johnston et al; Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Volume 2011, Article ID 481625, 14 pages

Jamie Starkey is Lead Acupuncturist, Center for Integrative Medicine at The Cleveland Clinic and offers Acupuncture with a focus on women’s health, oncology, acute/chronic pain management, stress-related disorders and acupuncture clinical research. She says she takes great pride in being a clinician of Traditional Chinese Medicine and strives to help patients discover the ability their body has to heal itself when properly supported and brought back into a balanced state of health and wellness.

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