Acupuncture is a medical treatment which can relieve symptoms of some physical and psychological conditions and may encourage the patient's body to heal and repair itself, if it is able to do so. Acupuncture stimulates the nerves in skin and muscle, and can produce a variety of effects. It increases the body's release of natural painkillers in the pain pathways of both the spinal cord and the brain. This modifies the way pain signals are received. Acupuncture also has a beneficial effect on health and well-being. Modern research shows that acupuncture can affect most of the body's systems - the nervous system, muscle tone, hormone outputs, circulation, antibody production and allergic responses, as well as the respiratory, digestive, urinary, and reproductive systems.
Acupuncture restores natural equilibrium and energy flow in the body, so relieving illness. It can also increase the pain threshold of the body, acting as an analgesic, or block pain reception altogether, acting as an anaesthetic. Thin needles are inserted into key areas ("points"), which lie along channels (meridians). Western studies have shown that acupuncture can relieve migraines, strengthen the immune system, alleviate allergies (especially asthma), back-pain, arthritis, tendinitis and help addicts give up smoking and alcohol. One theory is that it works by stimulating the production of brain chemicals including pain-killing enkephalin and other endorphins, calming endogenous benzodiazepines, and mood-lifting serotonin.
About 1 million people have acupuncture in the United States each year, mostly for pain relief. In 1996, the US Food and Drug Administration took the "experimental" label off acupuncture needles as medical devices. In 1997 a panel of experts assembled by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) concluded that acupuncture is effective treatment for nausea and some forms of pain, notably postoperative dental pain and for people with HIV/AIDS.
Forget about Yin and Yang: Electrical stimulation -- be it with needles or conductive pads -- is "a very simple technique" for stirring up hormones that act on nerves.
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