Acupuncture may help a wide range of conditions, from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, to chronic pain, to dry mouth in cancer patients, studies have shown. And it could even help people quit smoking!
Now, in a small new study first reported by Medical News Today, it seems it could also play a role in improving symptoms of Parkinson's disease patients because of its effect on particular regions of the brain.
Specifically, the study, published in the journal CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, shows that acupuncture boosts the responses of neurons in brain regions known to be impaired by Parkinson's disease.
"Although more randomized controlled trials on the topic will be needed, this study shows that acupuncture may be helpful in the treatment of symptoms involving PD," the researchers, from Kyung Hee University in Korea, said in the study.
The study included 12 people with Parkinson's disease, as well as 12 people without the condition. Researchers conducted fMRI brain scans on all of them at the start of the study, and then the study participants underwent acupuncture treatments. After the acupuncture, researchers conducted fMRI brain scans on them again.
Researchers found that post-acupuncture, the brain regions of the putamen, caudate, thalamus and substantia nigra all had increased neural activity. These brain regions are known to be affected by Parkinson's disease, they noted.
Want to try acupuncture but not sure what to expect? Here are some tips for first-timers:
1. Know What To Look For
It can be tough knowing where to start when beginning any new kind of treatment. First things first: know what to look for in your practitioner. <a href="http://www.healthwithacupuncture.com/" target="_hplink">Moores</a> says "you should always check that [your acupuncturist is] licensed and in good standing." Visit <a href="http://www.nccaom.org/" target="_hplink">www.nccaom.org</a> to find someone reputable. He or she should be licensed in your state and also nationally by the NCCAOM (National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine). If you are turning to acupuncture to treat a specific condition, mention it ahead of time to your practitioner. Moores says to ask if he or she has any specific experience in treating that ailment. "Usually hearing the answer will give you a good idea of whether or not you can trust him or her," she points out. Since you will be working intimately with your accupuncturist, it is imperative to ensure you're comfortable together. Even if the accupuncturist is well-regarded, if <em>you</em> don't feel at ease, then Moores says "you are cutting yourself and your healthcare short." <em>Flickr photo by Kara Ally</em>son
2. Come With An Open Mind
In order to entirely reap the benefits of this treatment, try your best to come to the appointment with an open mind. Moores explains: "Acupuncture works whether you believe it in or not. However, people will say you have to believe in it to work." Moores says that the shifts that occur from acupuncture are "subtle changes," meaning that those who are more in touch with their bodies can more easily notice them, while those who are less in-tune may take a longer time to feel any differences. <em>Flickr photo by James Qualtrough</em>
3. Come Prepared
Prepping for an acupuncture treatment consists of many different variables: it's best to be conscious of when you arrive, what you eat and even how you smell! Food-wise, Moore suggests eating something light before your appointment. "If you don't eat anything before, you can feel weak after the treatment because a lot of energy is moving around," she says. It's also best to stay away from caffeine for the day, if you can. And consider skipping the coffee before your visit, since it acts as a stimulant. Acupuncture shouldn't be stressful (just the opposite -- it is meant to relieve stress!). Come to your session early so you can relax. "You do not want to be rushing though an acupuncture session," Fitzgerald notes. She also reminds us of the golden rule: use the bathroom before you go! Solid advice, as you may be on the table for a half hour or longer. If possible, do not wear any scented creams or fragrances the day of your appointment. Moores explains that "a lot of people are sensitive. I treat things like headaches ... plenty of patients say 'what's that smell? It's giving me a headache."' While <em>you</em> may not be affected by certain scents, it's best to be mindful of other patients who might be particularly sensitive. Lastly, the omnipresent question -- <em>what should I wear? </em> -- has an easy solution. While your acupuncturist will likely provide a gown, Dr. Fitzgerald suggests wearing loose-fitting clothing for comfort. <em>Flickr photo by nicolasnova</em>
4. Be On The Record
Both Fitzgerald and Moores recommend bringing medical records, even if you think they are unrelated to your treatment. "The acupuncturist will spend a lot of time asking questions that might not even seem related to your condition," Fitzgerald says. He or she may ask about digestion, sleep paterns, gynecological history, mental health issues and more. Chinese medicine looks at all conditions as "interrelated," even if there's no obvious connection in the Western view. Moores agrees: "If you have a history of medications, diagnostic tests, MRIs, always bring them; when you have any diagnostic test, blood test or anything, you should keep a copy. Those results can help us." <em>Flickr photo by breahn</em>
5. Speak Up
Even if you're a rookie to this old practice, make sure you're understanding everything that's happening. "Remember it is <em>your</em> visit and <em>your </em>health," Fitzgerald says. "Make sure you communicate your needs and everything you can about your condition so the acupuncturist can have as much information as possible for your assessment. If something is not clear, don't be shy to ask for clarification." Speak up to advocate for yourself. "Your practitioner could explain things in Eastern terminology," she continues. "Be sure to ask for clarification and don't hesitate to make sure you understand your treatment protocol." <em>Flickr photo by paparutzi</em>
6. No Really, Open Your Mouth
It's normal for the acupuncturist to check your tongue to assess the general health of your organs and meridians. Your practitioner will also check your pulse, which Moores says can reveal a lot. "It can tell you what's going on in the body as far as stagnation and stress," she explains. "We're not really checking for the rate." <em>Flickr photo by nathanmac87</em>
7. They Call It A 'Zing'
If you're Trypanophobic, we'll give it to you straight: more likely than not, your acupuncturist will be using needles. If you're feeling just a little wary, know that, as Moores puts it, "acupuncture needles are sterile, one-time use disposable needles." They are also incredibly flexible and not at all like those used to draw blood. But do they hurt? "That's the one big question," Moores says. "I don't think [it hurts]," she continues, "most people don't think so." But while it's not necessarily a painful experience, you may feel sensitivities on different areas of the body. "Sometimes you can feel a little qi sensation -- we call it a 'zing.' It's when the needle hits the nerve," she says, comparing it to the feeling you get when you hit your funny bone. Some spots may bleed once the needles are removed -- the ears are a particularly sensitive area. If this happens, the blood is usually less than a drop, and the bleeding will stop before you leave the office. <em>Flickr photo by SuperFantastic</em>
Before You Leave...
After the session, be sure to rehydrate. "Definitely drink water because we're getting the energy to circulate because you want to be hydrated," Moores says. Once you leave, you should be a-OK to continue about your day. In fact, you may not feel a thing. "As you start getting regular treatments," Moores says, "you may notice feeling more uplifted. <em>Flickr photo by Svadilfari</em>
The Science Of Acupuncture
This health video focuses on the different benefits acupuncture can provide for many different illnesses.