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In 1990, the Director General of the World Health
Organisation proclaimed to an international gathering
that – “Auricular acupuncture is probably the most
developed and best documented, scientifically, of all
the microsystems of acupuncture and is the most
practical and widely used.”
Auricular acupuncture, or ear acupuncture as it is more commonly known, is similar to body acupuncture but with ear acupuncture stimulation is only to the external ear. It is a method of treating a variety of physiological and psychological health problems by the stimulation of certain acupuncture points on the external ear.
Classical body acupuncture is thought to have been originally discovered in China over 5000 years ago; ear acupuncture was also thought to have been discovered in China around the same time, however it has been, until fairly recently, a poor relation of classical body acupuncture. It was the French Physician from Lyon in France, the late Dr Paul Nogier, in the 1950’s after seeing one of his patients cured of sciatic back pain with the use of ear acupuncture, who then began to research and develop modern ear acupuncture, and carried on researching and refining the therapy for over 40 years until his recent death in the late 1990’s. In fact his work is so well regarded that the Chinese refer to him as the Father of modern Ear Acupuncture.
Dr Nogier’s research indicated that there are over 100 or so separate acupuncture points on the external ear and that when these points are stimulated they are believed to influence the various organs and systems in the body. Nogier discovered that the position of the ear points and zones were approximately in the position of an upside down foetus, super-imposed on the external ear, with the head located around the lobe of the ear. His research also indicated that every part of the body has its own representative acupuncture point on the external ear, and that stimulation one of these points can influence the corresponding organ linked to that particular ear point.
The Chinese version of ear acupuncture is still based on the traditional Chinese medicine model, whereas the western Nogier version is based more on a western scientific format.
HOW ACUPUNCTURE WORKS
There is still a great deal to learn about how acupuncture achieves its therapeutic effect. Some people dismiss acupuncture’s therapeutic action as being due to a placebo effect – the client believes it will work and so it works. This is too simplistic because acupuncture has been successfully used to treat animals who are not affected by the placebo response. Even the USA’s conservative National Institutes of Health has reviewed existing acupuncture studies and concluded that people who receive acupuncture actually undergo physiological and biochemical changes that are not just produced by a placebo response. The effects of acupuncture have been shown to be brought about through the nervous system. The external ear itself is richly supplied by nerve endings which are linked to the brain and other organs via the central nervous system and so stimulation of these nerve endings is thought to influence the relevant organ being stimulated. Every organ has a nerve supply which can either speed up or slow down the functions of that particular organ, and due to a variety of factors like chronic stress, these organs can become over stimulated or understimulated. It is known that acupuncture causes the release of many potent, morphine like, pain relieving chemicals called endorphins, which are drop for drop more powerful than morphine, and the neurotransmitter serotonin which affects mood.
Perhaps the best explanation to date for how acupuncture works is by Fara Begum-Beig, formerly a biochemist who worked at the Medical Research Council’s Neuroendocrinology Unit at Newcastle-upon Tyne, who suggested the following explaination for the effects of reflexology but which is equally applicable to acupuncture:-
“From the work I did in the field of neuroactive chemicals and their effects on the brain, I feel it is also possible that pressing reflex points stimulates the subcutaneous nerve endings which then cause the brain to release certain pain and mood mediating chemicals. These chemicals include endorphins, enkephalins, and neuroactive amino acids such as glycine, glutamine, and GABA, all of which act upon different tissues and parts of the body and affect its response to stress and discomfort.”
It may seem strange that stimulating certain areas on the body or ear with acupuncture can help to restore health, however if it were not successful at restoring health it would not have survived the 5000 years that it has. Perhaps the final word should be left to the people who use acupuncture. According to a survey of 20,000 people by the consumer association WHICH magazine, acupuncture is the fourth most popular treatment among the different complementary therapies. Over 80% of those who received acupuncture reported that they had benefitted from the treatment.
METHODS OF ACUPUNCTURE STIMULATION
Many people think that acupuncture needles are the only method of giving acupuncture treatment and for many the thought of having needles stuck in to them can put them off having treatment. However needles do not have to be used, there are other non-needle methods available for stimulating ear acupuncture points – such as:-
2. Low powered lasers
4. Electronic stimulation
So if you do have a fear of needles it need not preclude you from having acupuncture therapy.
CONDITIONS HELPED BY ACUPUNCTURE
Acupuncture is thought of by many people as being a treatment for pain and addictions, which it is, but pain is not the only condition that ear acupuncture can help. It can be of help in a wide range of psychological and physiological health problems. Like any other therapy acupuncture is not a panacea for all ills but it is worth trying a course of ear acupuncture treatment for any health problem that you have, providing you have been to your doctor and have received a diagnosis for your problem. Ear acupuncture certainly cannot cure all diseases, for example Multiple Sclerosis, but that doesn’t mean it is not of therapeutic value in treating such problems; it can help to manage the disease symptoms and the anxiety and depression that can so often accompany many chronic illnesses, as well as improving the person’s quality of life. It is important to realise that ear acupuncture is an aid and should not be used in isolation, it is vital to also consume a healthy diet, take regular, gentle exercise, use talking therapies and deal with any chronic stress or psychological problems.
It has been said that every disease which is physiologically reversible can be treated by acupuncture.
ANXIETY AND ACUPUNCTURE
Research has indicated that acupuncture can be of therapeutic value in the management of stress, anxiety, depression and associated health problems. It is far from being a panacea for all ills and should not be used as an alternative to orthodox, psychological treatment techniques like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and lifestyle changes where indicated. Psycholoical health problems like anxiety and depression are thought to be due among other factors, to low levels of mood enhancing brain chemicals called dopamine, noradrenaline, serotonin and GABA. Research has indicated that acupuncture can help to boost these mood lifting chemicals. Research has also indicatated that acupuncture can influence the sympathetic nerve activity and so lower stress. Excess stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system by chronic stress is known to cause the chronic excess release of stress hormones like cortisol which can interfere with brain chemicals like serotonin and other mood enhancing chemicals and leave us more vulnerable to stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other related problems. Further research has indicated that when our levels of serotonin fall, this makes our sympathetic nervous system more sensitive and more easily triggerd by stress.
Acupuncture also induces relaxation. Professor Pierre Huard, of the Medical Faculty in Paris, says that acupuncture also has the same effect as tranquilizer medication in treating anxiety, insomnia and nervous disorders.
Finally, research published in the Traditional Chinese Medical Journal has indicated that acupuncture can cause a decrease in delta brain waves and increases in fast alpha brain waves that are associated with relaxation.
DEPRESSION AND ACUPUNCTURE
Clinical depression is thought to be caused by (among other factors) low levels of certain brain chemicals like noradrenaline and serotonin. Serotonin and noradrenaline are mood enhancers. Acupuncture has been shown to boost serotonin levels. Clinical depression can be due to chronic excess stress, and acupuncture has been shown to reduce stress and induce relaxation. Acupuncture should not be seen as an alternative treatment to the talking therapies, but used as complemntary to it.
There have been numerous studies published which indicate that acupuncture can be of help in the management of clinical depression. For example one group of researchers at the University of Arizona in the USA found that acupuncture seemed to be as effective as antidepressant medication or psychotherapy. In yet a further study published in the Journal of Psychological Science, a group of women suffering clinical depression were treated with either acupuncture or no treatment, for 8 weeks. Not only did 64% of those receiving acupuncture say their symptoms had disappeared, but also the remission rate of those receiving the acupuncture was nearly double that of those receiving no specific treatment.
Chronic anxiety and depression are potentially serious psychological illnesses and must under no circumstances be treated lightly. It is vital that you get professional help from you GP and not delay seeing him by having complementary therapy first. As well as the conventional treatment that he can offer, he can also rule out physical causes such as thyroid dysfunction.
Inform your Ear Acupuncturist if you:-
1. Are pregnant or think you may be pregnant
2. Have a cardiac pacemaker
3. Have a cochlea ear implant
4. Have epilepsy.
5. Have had rheumatic heart disease.
6. Are immune suppressed
7. Have a blood clotting problem
8. Have hepatitis or HIV
9. Have a heart rhythm problem.
You must also ensure that you are eating a healthy diet, taking regular exercise, practising stress management techniques and if needed, receiving one of the talking therapies, plus any medication that may be necessary. If you do not alter your diet etc, this will reduce the effectiveness of the treatment.
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