PUMPING IRONY: Very Subtle Medicine

I’m a big believer in the power of acupuncture. And now I might even be able to explain how it works.

Every couple of weeks, I travel over to a renovated factory building on the south side of Minneapolis, where I relax in a slightly tattered barcalounger while a nice young woman sticks needles into my limbs. I do this because it’s good for my health. Just don’t ask me to explain how it works.

As is often the case, I arrived at the appointed hour yesterday afternoon with no particular complaint. I settled into the comfy chair and Dr. Needle checked my pulses on both wrists. “Did you do yoga today?” she asked. I nodded. She smiled knowingly, as she walked away to fetch some needles. D.N. can be slightly inscrutable.

This is very subtle medicine, I’ll admit. Most of the time I can’t tell if anything has changed once the session is over. But every so often, the effect is stunning, like the time I arrived with a crash-and-burn headache and D.N. stuck a single needle into the center of my forehead and the pain simply vanished. Immediately. Usually, I just sink back into the chair, trying not to move my needle-laden limbs as I doze off.

I have considered the possibility that I’m wasting my money on this, but then again maybe I’m not. Acupuncture has been practiced in China for millennia, so I figure there must be something to it. And I am at least dimly aware of the fact that some of my former chronic ailments have subsided since I began making regular visits to D.N. Plus, I recently learned of a new study that explains how this whole approach to healing actually works.

A team of researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center found that acupuncture treatment (essentially, a single needle placed in a spot called Zusanli on the leg below the knee) actually lowered stress levels in rats. The treatment apparently blocked the production of NPY, a peptide secreted by the body’s sympathetic nervous system, as well as stress hormones produced by the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis.

“Our growing body of evidence points to acupuncture’s protective affect against the stress response,” said lead researcher Ladan Eshkevari, PhD, an associate professor of nursing at Georgetown.

And I always thought it was that barcalounger.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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