Times of grief are not times when people typically think about their own needs. Suffering a loss makes it hard to look away from the past and toward the future. However, it is possible to mourn in a healthy way that allows you an appropriate amount of time to grieve while also maintaining a good level of wellness. It may seem impossible to put energy into improving your health while processing a tragic event, but doing just a little bit at a time can help you heal and find comfort in a difficult time.
Seek Support Services
Mental health support services, namely therapy, can be essential for finding a way forward through your grief. Counseling is more affordable and more accessible than ever with virtual online therapy options that prioritize privacy and confidentiality if you so choose.
There are also treatment methods that are unconventional yet effective, and that can make a huge difference in how your mind and body work together to heal. Acupuncture, for example, is a relaxing treatment that can help you bring your physical, mental, and emotional health into balance. Book a section at All Ways Well.
Solitude is perhaps the biggest detriment to wellness when dealing with grief. The mere presence of your friends and family can lift you up when a situation seems too hard to handle alone. If your loved ones are in the process of reconciling with a loss alongside you, then you can be a force of healing for them as well.
Adopting a pet can also be a way to achieve the companionship you need during hard times. Studies show that pets can improve mental health by reducing stress and staving off depression.
Create Opportunities for Physical Activity
Exercise can help you clear your mind and make you feel empowered to overcome obstacles in your life. If you feel that you lack time or energy to create an exercise routine, you can start by fitting in a little physical activity throughout your day. Taking the stairs instead of an elevator and using breaks from work to go for a walk are good ways to keep your body moving.
You can also get a suitable amount of exercise right from the comfort of your own home. Home workout programs can yield great results, and starting a daily yoga routine can be great for starting each day on the right foot.
Improve Your Home Environment
Ultimately, your home should be the greatest source of comfort and relaxation for you. If your living space is cluttered and disorganized, however, it can work against you by creating additional stress when you're trying to seek a state of calm. Cleaning, organizing, and arranging your closets and cabinets can go a long way toward making you feel at ease.
Once you have created a calming environment, you might even consider dedicating part of your home as a meditation space. Adding natural light and plants can help set the mood for a peaceful wellness session.
Making time for your own well-being may seem selfish during times of grief. You might feel like it's right to dedicate all your time and energy to mourning, but doing so can cause great harm to yourself in the long run. It's during such times that you should realize the importance of self-care and how it can improve your enjoyment of life while you still have the chance to do so.
One of the first and most important steps to healing is making sure you’re getting enough quality sleep every night for the body to do its internal restorative work. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is understood that the yang qi that keeps our minds and bodies busy during the day goes internal at night to be available to the deeper detox and repair systems of the body while the yin qi takes over externally to rest our conscious minds and shut down muscle activity. This yin/yang trade-off, when working in balance, is the very foundation of good health according to TCM.
The nature of yin is cool and calm. It is associated with quiet, darkness, stillness…all the soothing feels you melt into when really truly resting. A body in a yin state will slow its heart rate and metabolism. Bio-medicine, this relates to the parasympathetic nervous system. Its main purpose aligns with yin qi: to keep us calm and conserve energy. While the sympathetic nervous system is what switches on our fight or flight response and is more correlated with Yang qi. Yang is expansive, stimulating, warming and gets us moving. In general, yang qi is more accessible during the day, while yin qi dominates the nighttime.
Sleep disturbances are one of the main manifestations of too much yang and/ or not enough yin. In order to correct issues like insomnia we need to look at how we are living in accordance with that natural balance.
Here are 6 ways you might be throwing off your own sleep and wake cycles:
1) Ingesting Too Much Yang: Before bed, or in general, spicy food, alcohol or stimulants can disturb sleep. Spicy food and alcohol causes heat in the system, which creates excess yang in the body. Too much coffee also keeps yang qi stuck at the surface to be available for activity. Even just having a large meal before bed can block the yang energy from going deep in the body at night.
2) Too Much Activity/Excitement: The yang qi is needed deep on the inside of the body at night, don't hold it hostage with outward energy requirements. Stop exercising at least 90 minutes before bedtime. This allows for endorphin levels and body temperature to return to levels that are conducive to sleep. Try not to argue before bed, or even get too excited. Give yourself time to wind down & transition.
3) You need to Cool Down: Literally. Yin is associated with coolness. To invite your yin qi to come out at night keep the bedroom temperature between 60-67℉.
4) Too Much External Stimulation: Lights, especially blue light from tvs, phones and computer screens prevent melatonin release in the body, making it harder to fall asleep. If you have to finish work on a computer, wear blue blocker glasses. Also, yin time should be quiet time, so turn off the tv and any sources of noise that can disturb the peace.
5) Too Much Stress, Not Enough Rest: We live in a yang-obsessed world. This creates stress as many of us are over-worked and over-stimulated, while not always having time for a healthy self-care practice (meditation, walks etc). This leaves us with a restless mind (‘disturbed shen’ in TCM terms), and can keep us lying in bed exhausted, but unable to sleep. The challenge is to resist the modern day pressure to keep up and create more self-care time to support a more balanced lifestyle.
Finally, consider the..
6) Feng Shui of the bedroom: A Feng Shui specialist can analyze the yin yang balance in your bedroom. For instance, the bed should be opposite the room's door, but not directly in line with it (this is called the command position in feng shui). The headboard should be against a solid wall with balanced night tables on each side. It is also important to keep the area under the bed clear, not for storage. Many people find simple feng shui adjustments can have a perceptible effect on things like sleep and wake cycles.
In addition to these considerations for improving sleep, don’t forget the value of relaxing into a healing state on the acupuncture table. Acupuncture is a cost-effective self-care tool and can help reset your yin-yang balance for better sleep and overall health, call today!
Short answer: Yes.
Long answer: Yes, but…..there are a few things to consider when relying on our ‘natural propensity towards health’. The most important of which is entropy, the second law of thermodynamics, a disorderly force we must contend with. It runs counter to the organizational efforts of nature, but also works in balance with them, in yet another dynamic expression of yin and yang.
Entropy is played out in living systems as the natural deterioration of the body. As we age past mid-life our body tissues and physiological systems gradually lose their vibrance. Structure and function suffer, as entropy takes over in the process of decay necessary to the cycle of life. So, where we are in the stages of development/decline in life is a big determining factor for the ability to self-heal.
How much entropy are we up against? Imbalances have a much better chance of resolving themselves while we are young and more in the yang (growth) phase of our life versus the yin (decline) phase. Severity of disease or injury also dictates the level of counter-entropy efforts needed.
Regardless of age, however, and even the severity of our condition, we can still tap into our innate healing energy under certain conditions. And yes, some of those conditions can be practically effortless, depending on how you look at it.
One condition is: stop doing the things that are pushing your body into a state of entropy. Don’t keep eating toxic food, don’t keep putting yourself in overly stressful situations (as much as you can control it), in other words: don’t keep banging your head against the wall.
The other condition is that your qi must be strong. In TCM terms, qi IS that natural healing force. It is that spark of life that organizes chaos into form and function. Qi can be supported by even minimal efforts such as adequate sleep, meditation, or simply sitting quietly in a restful but conscious state.
While some of us call it qi, others think of it as the inborn system of self-preservation. Zhigou Wang, a biomedicine researcher from China, breaks down the ways the human body resists entropy into 4 processes: self-organization, self-defense, self-healing and anti-wear and tear.
Self-organization can be witnessed in the miracle of development, the way a single cell matures into a full grown organism. Scientists at Tufts university looked at this miracle in early stages of tadpole development. In doing so they documented a perfect physical representation of the organizing power of qi: patterns of visible bioelectrical signals outlining and directing the development of the embryo.
Self-defense includes our immune system, inflammatory response, endogenous antioxidants, the stress response, autophagy and apoptosis (the destruction and removal of sick cells).
Self-healing includes compensatory mechanisms like the increase in heart rate that occurs to compensate for slow circulation due to heart damage. This is also the category of cell/tissue renewal. Think of a wound healing, or a broken bone that seems to magically repair itself over time. When a large number of cells are destroyed, surrounding cells replicate to make new ones. Self healing also happens on a molecular level with DNA repair. There is a natural editing process at work correcting damaged or mutated DNA. Finally, anti-wear and tear is simply the daily process of upkeep necessary to mend minor internal injuries that arise from continued use of the body’s tissues.
And while these self-preservation mechanisms can help to slow or even reverse the degradation of our living system, there are no guarantees (well, except eventual death).
Effortless repair and renewal does happen, even in seemingly miraculous ways, but every little effort to support this process gives us a better shot at healing, and a better chance at enjoying the best quality of life. Acupuncture is one of the best tools for supporting all aspects of this self-preservation system. It has been shown to strengthen immunity and regulate inflammation , aid in tissue renewal, and even DNA repair. It does this because it supports the driving force of this self-preservation system, that spark of life, that intelligent bio-electrical energy that organizes and directs our growth and healing: or as practitioners of Chinese medicine have called it for millennia: qi.
Yes, it takes effort to call and make an appointment but once you are on the table you can relax and allow your acupuncturist to support your own effortless healing abilities. The gentle placement of needles at various acupuncture points will free up the flow of your own qi-driven self-preservation system.
The prevalence of back pain and the number of patients seeking care with complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies in the US has increased.
Evidence suggests complementary therapies like acupuncture, spinal manipulation, massage, yoga, tai chi, chiropractic, biofeedback and mindfulness-based stress-reduction treatments can be helpful for back pain without drugs or surgery.
These therapies can help ease muscle tension, relieve pain, and correct posture while strengthening muscles and improving joint stability.
The most prevalent CAM therapies for back pain in the US are spinal manipulation, acupuncture, and massage.
Acupuncture and Back Pain
Lower Back Pain (LBP) is one of the most common types of chronic back pain and is often caused by lumbar muscle strain and sprains. Adults between the ages of 18 to 64 years represent 72% of all low back pain healthcare visits.
Naturally, there are many studies on treatment methods for lower back pain, including the efficacy of acupuncture in managing this pain.
In a comprehensive study, 454,920 patients with at least one of the three chronic pain conditions including headache, low back pain and osteoarthritis were treated with acupuncture. Effectiveness of acupuncture was rated as marked or moderate in 76% of the patients.
A meta-analysis reviewing nearly 20,000 people for chronic pain, including chronic back pain, found that those who received real acupuncture compared to those who received sham acupuncture or no acupuncture, experienced 50% improvement in chronic pain.
The study concluded, “Acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic pain and is therefore a reasonable referral option.”
More recently, a systematic review and meta-analysis of effects of acupuncture on pain and function in non-specific low back pain, found that acupuncture is more effective at pain relief than sham acupuncture or no treatment at all. Acupuncture with usual care methods for back pain is more effective than just usual care alone, making acupuncture an important supplemental treatment to usual care methods, according to this study.\
“My, what big ears you have!”
“ All the better to hear you with!”
Or, if you’re a Chinese Medicine practitioner: “All the better to live a long, healthy life with!” That’s because the ears are a manifestation of the kidneys which hold our essence (jing), our genetic potential, and large ears can be an indication of health and longevity.
Acupuncturists and Chinese herbalists have long understood this connection between the ears and the kidneys, relating issues such as hearing loss, tinnitus, and ear infections to imbalances of the kidney qi. In clinical practice we will treat the kidneys while working with these types of disorders. Interestingly, Western medicine also recognizes a relationship between the kidneys and the ears. The inner ear and the kidneys develop at the same time in utero, so if a baby is born with hearing issues, a good doc will know to immediately check the kidney function. Ongoing research is still exploring the parallels of specific aspects of the inner ear to renal function.
The ears are also a valuable microsystem in Chinese Medicine practice. Being a manifestation of the kidneys which govern our development, the ears are actually a map of our development. They reflect the whole body and have their own complete acupuncture point system as such. Picture an upside down fetus when looking at the ears in this way, with the head at the lobe and spine curving up to the little baby bum at the top, with internal organs on the inner portions of the external ear. Paul Nogier, a French Neurologist, is actually considered the father of auricular medicine, as he measured the electrical conductivity along the skin of the ear and recorded the specific points as a reflexology system, which was then incorporated into Chinese Medicine texts. He based his understanding of this system on the correlating tissue types and innervation between various parts of the ear and the parts of the body they represent.
“The ear is one of the few anatomic structures which are built up of tissue from each of these three primary tissue types to be found in an embryo. Paul Nogier maintained that each tissue type in the ear had a link to the various somatotopical reflections and to the innervation related to that part of the ear.”
Many Chinese Medicine practitioners diagnose and treat the whole body just using the ears. Abnormalities, tenderness, discolorations, etc. on the ear can signal issues in the correlating part of the body. There have been studies done to test these practitioner’s accuracy. In one study, pre-established medical diagnoses matched with auricular diagnoses over 75% of the time. Treatment can then be done with needles or ear seeds. The benefit of ear seeds is that they can stay on the ear for up to a week, providing continuous stimulation of the ear acu-point. Practitioners can also train patients in administering their own ear seeds for home use. Ear treatments have been used successfully in the treatment of addictions, chronic pain, anxiety and weight loss among many other conditions.
A simple way to experience the amazing healing potential of your own ears is to massage them! In addition to all the acupressure points you will be activating, the ears are actually the only external access (via the auricular branch) we have to the Vagus nerve (the longest nerve) in the body. Stimulation of the vagus nerve has tremendous benefits, including relaxation, improved digestion, cognitive function and calming inflammation. So go ahead and give your ears some love and attention… and respect for the amazing body parts they are!
Schedule today, and ask your acupuncturist to include an ear seed or two if appropriate for you. This can help direct your ear massage to points personalized for you and what you need!
Migraines are the second leading cause of disability worldwide. Among women, they rank #1. It is certainly a disabling disease. For those who suffer, ( at least 12% of the global population ) they know all too well the harrowing marathon of pain and discomfort that migraines bring. They can spend as long as 5.3% of his/her lifetime going through an attack.
The symptoms can begin 1-2 days before the actual migraine, with signs of it’s impending arrival including thirst, fatigue, frequent urination, constipation, and neck stiffness (especially on one side). Some victims experience “aura” at the onset of the migraine, which involves visual disturbances such as floaters and bright sparks, auditory hallucinations, difficulty speaking and/or swallowing as well as weakness and numbness. The actual attack can last up to 3 days and can bring with it nausea, vomiting, dizziness and sensitivity to light and sound. Most migraine sufferers will retreat to a dark quiet room to weather the storm.
Biomedical explanations for what causes this suffering is limited. It has been described as a complex combination of neurologic, hormonal, vascular, and metabolic malfunctions. Genetics may play a role, as many mothers and daughters share the affliction. It is thought that female hormone fluctuations contribute to the higher incidence in women, with one observation being that a drop in estrogen (associated with the menstrual cycle and menopause) can cause blood vessels to constrict.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) looks at both internal and external factors when sorting through causes and types of migraines. There may be external factors like wind, cold, heat, and damp environmental conditions that trigger changes in the body affecting qi and blood flow. Internal factors are more lifestyle issues that offset the body’s natural yin yang balance. What we eat, how we sleep, the stress we are exposed to and how we cope with it all play into that balance.
Yang energy flows upward in the body and the yang channels intersect in the head, so blockages and deficiencies can cause pain, confusion and dizziness. These blockages and deficiencies often, at their root, involve yin organs of the body including the liver, spleen and kidney. Some of the TCM approaches, depending on the individual pattern of the person being treated, include: Expel Wind-Cold, Anchor Liver Yang (& Nourish Kidney Yin), Sedate Liver Fire, Transform Phlegm (& Support Spleen), Nourish Qi, and/or Move blood.
In treatment, we often try to address the underlying pattern that is contributing to the chronic nature of the disease. Acupuncture can also be very effective at alleviating symptoms or shortening an actual attack. We can work with moving the local stagnation of the affected channel, which often involve yang channels of the body such as the Gallbladder, Bladder, and San Jiao channels.
While treatment from an acupuncturist will be customized for each person, there are some common acupuncture points for migraine that can be useful self-administered acupressure to help with the symptoms of an attack.
GB 20 (wind pool): the meeting place at the base of the skull and top of the neck, in the soft depressions just past the bony prominence behind the ears.
Taiyang (supreme yang): in the temple area, in the depression between the outer corner of the eye and the hairline.
UB 2 (drilling bamboo): in the depression in the bone just under the inner corner of the eyebrow.
In addition to a hot compress on the neck, some magnesium supplementation and ginger tea (for nausea), someone experiencing a migraine can also gently massage these acupressure points for 30 seconds at a time in repeated intervals to ease some of the tension brought on by this debilitating disease. For added relief, you can even add a little lavender or peppermint essential oil.
Don’t wait for a migraine to rear its painful head! Get in for regular acupuncture treatments to help reset the organ and channel balance needed for your body to function migraine free!
Anxiety is an increasing problem worldwide.
A 2009 WHO World Mental Health Survey found that anxiety was the most prevalent form of mental health disorder. According to the most up to date evidence, acupuncture is an effective treatment for anxiety.
According to the most up to date evidence, acupuncture is an effective treatment for anxiety. In 2017, The Acupuncture Evidence Project, co-authored by Dr John McDonald, PhD and Dr Stephen Janz, was published, providing an up-to-date comparative review of the clinical and scientific evidence for acupuncture.
This comprehensive document, updating two previous reviews, determined that acupuncture is moderately effective in treating anxiety according to high level evidence. Their evidence included a 2016 systematic review with over 400 randomized patients that concluded that ‘the effects from acupuncture for treating anxiety have been shown to be significant as compared to conventional treatments.
The largest of these studies, which included 120 randomized patients, found that acupuncture had a large effect on reducing anxiety and depression compared to conventional treatment involving pharmacological approaches and psychotherapy, with over twice the reduction in symptoms.
A more recent systematic review published in 2018 found that all 13 included studies “reported an anxiety decrease for their treatment group relative to the control groups.” Three of these studies used pharmaceuticals as controls.
Source: Errington-Evans N. (2015). Randomised controlled trial on the use of acupuncture in adults with chronic, non-responding anxiety symptoms. Acupuncture in medicine : journal of the British Medical Acupuncture Society, 33(2), 98–102. https://doi.org/10.1136/acupmed-2014-010524
Diabetes is one of the most prevalent chronic diseases in the US and cases are rising at an alarming rate. As of 2020, over 10% of the U.S. population have diabetes (this is up from about 6% in 2000 , and prevalence is also expected to double in the next 20 years). 95% of those cases are type 2. Because of this, a lot of the conversation around diabetes as a chronic health issue is referring to type 2 diabetes and it’s defining culprit: insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance can be understood as the ineffective use of insulin in the body leading to poor control of blood sugar and is usually associated with excess body weight. Until recently it was generally only seen in adults, but more and more children are diagnosed every day due to poor diet and inactivity. This metabolic syndrome can lead to vascular issues, neuropathy, and kidney problems. In fact, diabetes type 2 is associated with a 2 to 3-fold risk of heart attacks and stroke. Other complications include blindness and lower limb amputation. In 2019, it was the 9th leading cause of death with 1.5 million deaths directly caused by diabetes.
Modern approaches are mainly drug-based though any successful management program will include diet and lifestyle changes. Metformin is the drug of choice for most as it reduces the amount of sugar the liver releases into your blood, while also helping the body to respond better to insulin (the hormone responsible for bringing sugar into the cell and out of the blood). A1C is the typical blood-test used to gauge a person's average blood sugar and treatment progress. Currently, with western treatment, only about 50% of people reach their A1C target , which clearly leaves some room for improvement and alternative therapies.
So, what about acupuncture? There is definitely a need for more research and prospective studies are continuously designed and await funding, but so far the established research is very promising. In a 2018 study of 90 rats, it was found that within 3 weeks, diabetic rats that received electroacupuncture at specific acupuncture points had lower glucose levels, increased insulin levels and improved glucose tolerance. Acupuncture also shows significant benefit as an adjunctive therapy to pharmaceutical treatment. In 2015, an article published in Acupuncture in Medicine reviewed studies using rats in which scientists combined electroacupuncture with metformin. It was found that the combination of metformin and acupuncture offered better glucose lowering effects and greater insulin sensitivity when compared with metformin alone.
Acupuncture has also been shown to assist in weight loss while reducing blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes patients. Sanming County Hospital of Integrated Medicine researchers (Fujian) conducted a clinical trial of obese patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. A group receiving “routine care” (metformin plus lifestyle guidance) was compared with another group receiving routine care plus regular acupuncture. Although weight loss was statistically significant for both groups, reductions were significantly greater in the acupuncture group as measured by BMI (Body Mass Index).
One of the top complaints doctors and acupuncturists alike hear from patients with diabetes type 2 is neuropathy (weakness, numbness and pain, usually in the hands and feet). This is because, over time, uncontrolled blood sugar damages the nerves. Studies also show that acupuncture can be very effective in easing the suffering from such complications. In a review of 13 random controlled trials looking at acupuncture and various types of neuropathy, the majority showed benefit in the treatment of diabetic neuropathy.
Acupuncture takes the approach of bringing the individual body back into balance with itself and the environment, so each person’s treatment will be based on a customized plan. TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) offers personalized diet and lifestyle guidance towards this aim as well. Given the growing prevalence of this metabolic disorder and the limitations of modern treatment, acupuncture should be a consideration for anyone concerned with prevention and/or treatment of this disease.
Acupuncture is a cost-effective way to support the body’s metabolism whether or not diabetes is a concern. Call today to set yourself up with some energy-boosting treatments that can help to regulate hormones and strengthen digestive function!
Menopause, for some women, is a welcome transition to the post-reproductive phase of one’s life. However, it has gotten a bad rap due to the symptoms many women experience while their bodies adjust to the changes. From a Chinese Medicine perspective, it is the inability of the body to adjust it’s energies gracefully to this new phase that causes symptoms, not the menopause itself.
A gradual transition over time in a healthy individual will be less likely to induce the struggles commonly associated with menopause such as hot flashes, weight gain, dryness, sleep problems and mood swings. (Irregular periods, while inconvenient, are not necessarily considered a problem in this view, but par for the course of change leading up to true menopause).
Menopause is medically defined as the absence of a period for 1 year. Up until that point, the changes are considered peri-menopause: a slowing down of the reproductive faculties of the body. The struggles mentioned above can begin during peri-menopause, as early as a women’s 40’s and can last into her late 50s. During this time, the ovaries start making less estrogen and progesterone (the hormones that regulate menstruation). These hormonal changes are the reason for the hot flashes that tend to be the main complaint of women approaching menopause. The hot flashes in turn can disrupt sleep, leading to further imbalances and mood swings. The hormones also affect the metabolism, which can lead to weight gain and body changes. Vaginal dryness is also related to the declining hormones.
In simplistic terms, these hormonal changes can be seen in TCM as a decline in yin, leading to a yin-yang imbalance. Yin refers to the cooling, calming, moisturizing influences of the body, and when deficient can lead to heat, dryness and nervousness or irritability. Acupuncture (and TCM lifestyle guidance) can help to re-calibrate the yin-yang balance to ease this transition.
A year-long NCCIH-funded study involved 209 peri-menopausal & menopausal women age 45–60 who had at least four hot flashes per day. Researchers found that acupuncture significantly reduced symptoms of hot flashes, anxiety, sleep issues and memory loss by as much as 36.7 %. The improvements persisted at least 6 months after treatment.
Another study compared menopausal symptoms of 70 women, after half of them had 6 weeks of regular acupuncture. In the acupuncture group there were clinically significant improvements in occurrence of hot flashes, night sweats, and other physical and emotional symptoms.
And even for women who are abruptly pushed into menopause, such as after a hysterectomy or ovariectomy, whose symptoms tend to be more severe, acupuncture (along with ear-acupuncture!) has been shown to reduce their (generally more intense) hot flashes as well.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is the western medical approach to menopause for severe symptoms brought on by hormonal changes, but comes with serious risks and is not for everyone. Acupuncture has the power to rebalance the body’s energies when life transitions challenge our stability and is a great alternative or complementary therapy for any woman entering this new phase of life.
The shift into menopause can be much smoother with a little assistance from your local acupuncturist, but don’t wait until symptoms are severe. Call today to bring more balance into your personal journey!
The Vagus nerve has achieved near rockstar notoriety in the world of health these days, while having nothing to do with a certain high energy city in Nevada. Though you may need your vagus nerve stimulated after a few days in the discordant noises and flashing lights of Las Vegas.
When you think of the Vagus nerve, think relaxation. The Vagus (latin for wandering) nerve is the longest of the cranial nerves and the main nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system activates our “rest and digest” functions to counterbalance the “fight or flight” mode of the sympathetic nervous system. It originates in the brainstem and travels to innervate the heart, lung, stomach, pancreas, liver, small intestines, and half of the large intestines. It helps to regulate heart rate, respiration and digestion and is considered the main communication route responsible for the famous gut-brain axis.
Recent research has added to the exciting promise it holds for health and wellness as Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) has been shown to inhibit oxidative stress and reduce inflammation. Clinical trials focused on VNS have shown benefit in the treatment of inflammatory conditions such as Crohn's disease and Rheumatoid arthritis. Additional benefits are seen in the frontal lobe activation that vagal stimulation can influence. Frontal brain activity is associated with better decision making and healthier lifestyle choices which correspond with a general reduction in disease. Basically, when we are relaxed, we can think better. It makes sense then that greater Heart Rate Variability (HRV), a health measure directly linked to VNS, predicts better health outcomes.
So where does Acupuncture come in? Well you guessed it: one of the ways acupuncture works it’s magic is by stimulating the vagus nerve. Harvard researchers have found that acupuncture stimulates the vagal-adrenal axis and can alleviate systemic inflammation by calming cytokine storms (excessive immune reactions). This mechanism can help explain some of the extensive benefits of acupuncture such as it’s success in treating various inflammatory, immune and nervous disorders as well as it’s general ability to help bring the body back into homeostasis.
Auricular (ear) acupuncture is an area of focus for the growing interest in VNS. When that long nerve leaves the brain stem, a branch travels up into the ear, giving us more direct external access to the internal workings of this nerve. Both ear acupuncture and ear acupressure have both shown to elicit vagal tone There have also been recent developments specifically for the ear: non-invasive VNS devices that attach to the ear and can be self-administered at home. These increase the relaxation response, and can be used for issues like anxiety and various inflammatory issues.
In our increasingly busy (yang) world, it is important to slow down, take some deep breaths and access the power of the vagus nerve (yin) to calm your system and regain a sense of balance. In a pinch, try massaging your ears, and while you’re at it be sure to schedule your next acupuncture appointment so you can experience the full benefits of VNS!
Rebecca M H Kitzerow is a Licensed Acupuncturist practicing in La Center, Washington. With over a decade of experience she has won 10 Nattie consumer choice awards from Natural Awakenings Magazine since 2014.