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Does Acupuncture Have Any Health Benefits?

An alternative therapy that is not without its risks.

Many people turn to acupuncture as an alternative to medicine. But does it really work?

Acupuncture is believed to help stimulate and rebalance essential points in the human body, allowing the body to regain a state of health.

The technique’s origin dates back to the Stone Age, more than 4,000 years ago. Ancient Japanese and Chinese sages used stone knives and other tools to pierce and drain abscesses caused by wounds and infections. As time went by, they refined the technique and started to use impressive and fine instruments made of stone or ceramic.

How does acupuncture works?

Acupuncture is an Eastern medicine technique that is said to balance out the body’s vital force. Known as “chi” or “qi,” this energy flows through paths dispersed throughout the human body. By inserting the needles at specific points, the body’s energy restores itself and begins to flow correctly. Moreover, the needles act as natural pain relievers, healing both stress and anxiety. This alternative therapy is an auxiliary to other treatments, as its effects can help mitigate symptoms, such as vomiting and nausea caused by chemotherapy.

Auriculotherapy is a type of acupuncture. *** La auriculoterapia es un tipo de acupuntura. (Christian Valera Rebolledo)

“It is an extraordinary alternative therapy and is an excellent complement to traditional medicine,” said Francisco Javier Rojas Pacheco, President of the Mexican Association of Natural Medical Alternatives, and Head of Teaching and Research for Latin America.

“It is a therapy that we have used in the ear pinna by applying magnetized pellets,” he said. “We must remember that there are many ‘energy paths’ in the ear, similar to those used in acupuncture. Its primary use is to help achieve weight control, but that is not the only use. It can work with diabetes, hypertension, migraine, depression, insomnia, fibromyalgia and many other ailments.”

The number of needles depends on each patient and where they will be inserted, determined by the ailment and the acupuncture expert’s judgment.

Other benefits of acupuncture include reducing stress, regulating the menstrual cycle, increasing fertility in women, constipation relief, strengthening the immune system, digestion regulation and muscle and headache relief. Professional athletes have also used it to treat their injuries and help with anxiety and depression.

auriculoterapia
As a specialist in auriculotherapy, Dr. Francisco Rojas travels throughout Latin America, training dozens of people. *** Como especialista en la auriculoterapia, el Dr. Francisco Rojas se dedica a recorrer América Latina, capacitando a decenas de personas. (Christian Valera Rebolledo)

“Auriculotherapy was first used by Chaldeans and Egyptians. Hippocrates himself treated impotence using auriculotherapy,” said Rojas Pacheco, who is also a graduate of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). “When it arrived in France during the Modern era, it was observed that it could be used for particular therapies. Nowadays, it is believed that 86% of the chronic degenerative diseases in Mexico are of an emotional origin. Our treatment targets such people without preventing or stopping our patients from continuing with the medications prescribed by their doctors.”

Does it really work?

There is a debate over the effectiveness of the method or if its benefits are the result of the placebo effect. Moreover, for the treatment to be effective, it must be performed in sanitary conditions by a certified doctor.

“As it is considered a therapeutic technique, health and safety standards must be met,” said Libertad Salgado Vergara, a private surgeon at the Universidad Veracruzana. “For this reason, the application of these fine metallic needles have to be carried out by an accredited and competent doctor.”

If practitioners want to keep health risks at a minimum, they must sterilize, discard and treat their needles with utmost care. When inserting the needles, it is customary to see light bleeding or small-sized bruises. Moreover, if the practitioner is not a certified doctor, the procedure may not work as intended.

“The misuse of this alternative health treatment can have harmful consequences. There have been cases of infections and pulmonary, cardiac and bone damage due to the inadequate performance of the technique by inexperienced hands or inappropriate materials,” said Salgado Vergara.

(Translated and edited by Mario Vázquez. Edited by Melanie Slone and Carlin Becker)