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Stress and the Immune System

As an acupuncturist, the most common question I hear is "how does acupuncture work". There are several theories that attempt to explain the mechanisms behind acupuncture, but my personal favorite is derived from research I did as an undergraduate while studying immunology. My field of interest at that time and still is that of Psychoneuroimmunology. This is a relatively new field of scientific research which examines the connection between various chemicals in the body, such as hormones, neuropeptides and cytokines (chemicals released by immunological cells, Interlukine I is one type), and the functioning of the immune system and emotional states. Some of the scientific research I've read is proving that under high levels of stress we are more prone to illness. It seems that certain chemicals produced in the body under stress weaken the ability of the immune system to respond to viruses, bacteria and even cancer. On the other hand some cytokines can enhance the feeling of well being in people and can allow the immune system of working more effectively. These chemicals are called endorphins and they are produced during acupuncture. Now this is just a fancy way of saying that how one thinks and feels emotionally can effect ones health. I think is something we have all experienced.

Remember a particularly happy time in your life. Chances are that your health was also pretty good at this time. Lots of energy, no stress, rising each day with optimism to face what needed to be done. Compare that with how you feel when under emotional stress, or while having difficulties in your life. Perhaps you've been feeling anxious and unsettled with alternations of restless energy with feeling totally exhausted. For some this may be their normal state of being.

However there are things we can do for ourselves to expedite recovery from high levels of emotional stress and to resist becoming ill from a lowered immune system. Some of the same studies mentioned above indicate that alternative therapies, which lower stress, can also improve our health. Acupuncture can relieve tension held within the body by using both distal points along affected meridians and points on connected meridians. Local points near areas of bodily tension are also used. Acupuncture can enable the whole body to let go of stress and calm the mind. The evaluations I do during an acupuncture session informs me of where the imbalance is in the body in terms of Qi, and which meridians are affected. I then use acupuncture in conjunction with a warm inviting environment and relaxing music to bring one to a state of total relaxation. Other techniques to relieve stress include meditation, visualization and biofeedback. So do something good for yourself during stressful times. Check out a yoga class. Study Tai Chi. Mediate. Go for a walk in nature. And treat yourself to an hour of complete relaxation with acupuncture.

Terry Tangredi Lic. Ac. 131 Main Street, Hatfield, MA. 01038 (413) 247-3388