You’ve probably heard of acupuncture, and maybe even some of the health benefits of acupuncture, before. But have you had any personal experience with it? I have, both as a patient and as a practitioner.
Acupuncture has been around for a very, very long time. You may be surprised to learn that this complimentary, or natural, therapy was actually pioneered well over 3,000 years ago by Chinese practitioners. Here in the U.S., however, we’ve only just caught onto this therapeutic technique of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) within the last 40 years. With each year, it has become increasingly popular as people have learned more about the many health benefits of acupuncture.
You’re probably wondering if acupuncture works, if it’s been medically proven, or if it’s just a “woo” thing that people believe in. And these are valid questions to ask, so let’s get to the point. In this article, I’ll review how acupuncture differs from other types of therapies, how it helps with energy flow, and break down the various health benefits of acupuncture. So, let’s get started and learn all about acupuncture so you can decide if it’s a therapy that may be right for you.
What is Acupuncture?
As a practice of TCM, acupuncture is a coherent and independent system of thought and practice, based heavily on critical thinking, extensive clinical observation, research, and testing. It is rooted in philosophy and is logic-based.
Sadly because it’s so foreign to those practicing Western medicine, some see acupuncture, and TCM as a whole, as nothing more than hocus-pocus, or a placebo effect. 
The good news is, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. First and foremost, acupuncture has been recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an effective treatment.
Additionally, numerous scientific studies have also confirmed the many health benefits of acupuncture.  And just as with a TCM practitioner, many states require acupuncture practitioners to be licensed acupuncturists. This can be done through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). In some states, though, licensed naturopathic physicians can also sit for acupuncture boards.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
TCM is a philosophy that includes a variety of holistic therapies, such as acupuncture, herbs, tinctures, massage therapy, Qi gong, tai chi, etc., to balance the yin and yang. The concept of yin and yang is a construct of two polar compliments. These complementary opposites are used to describe how things function in relation to each other and the universe.
Acupuncture plays a big role in helping balance the yin and yang by using thin needles, inserting them into the skin to stimulate specific points in the body along a meridian. As an example, let’s say you were dealing with an intense headache. If you went to an acupuncturist, he or she would check your pulse, look at your tongue, and focus on certain acupuncture points called LI4 and LV3, also known as the “four gates.” These points stimulate blood circulation, which is excellent for relieving headaches. 
Now, it’s important to note that many people who have never experienced acupuncture may be intimidated by the concept. It’s been reported that over 20 percent of people have trypanophobia, or a fear of needles.  So, it would make sense that many people would be afraid to try it out. But what they don’t realize is that the needles used in acupuncture are entirely different from commonly used medical needles.
Acupuncture needles are extremely thin, inserted into the skin, and are placed only in minimal strategic locations on the body to focus on your specific areas of concern.
Speaking of areas of concern and strategic locations, there are over 350 acupuncture points, which are associated with specific organs and organ systems.  These points are positioned over 14 meridians, or the energy highways of the body.
I’ve witnessed first-hand the healing effect acupuncture can have on the human body. Amazingly, people have noticed significant improvements in as little as 30 minutes! What improvements? Let’s take a look at some of the top health benefits of acupuncture.
The Top 5 Health Benefits of Acupuncture
Here are five common health benefits of acupuncture.
1. May help relieve urinary incontinence
Urinary incontinence occurs when urine unintentionally leaks from the urethra, which is known as a loss of bladder control. And there are many underlying causes. These include having a prolapsed uterus, pregnancy, childbirth, hysterectomy, enlarged prostate, neurological disorders, menopause, and changes with age due to the bladder muscles aging.
There are various types of urinary incontinence, too, ranging from stress, urge, overflow, functional, and mixed incontinence. Whatever the case may be, this can be rather uncomfortable and even embarrassing. If you’ve dealt with urinary incontinence, then you know that coughing, sneezing, certain physical activities, and even laughing can cause leakage.
Luckily, both research and clinical practice have shown that one of the major health benefits of acupuncture is that it can help relieve this condition.
Between 2013 and 2015, clinical trials involving 12 hospitals in China were randomly separated into two groups of 252 participants, totaling 504 patients. Each person was given 18 acupuncture sessions over a period of six weeks, explicitly targeting urinary incontinence.
Of the 504 women, ranging from 40-75 years, 482 completed the treatment. The results showed that treatment with acupuncture on the lumbosacral region (BL33 and BL35) resulted in less urine leakage and episodes of urinary incontinence. 
2. Supports healthy blood sugar levels
Another one of the big health benefits of acupuncture is its ability to support healthy blood sugar levels. In fact, acupuncture therapy is a common approach to treating diabetes in China. And many animal studies have shown that acupuncture may be a great complimentary treatment for diabetes.
In fact, a 2018 study showed that acupuncture increased insulin levels and improved glucose tolerance in animals. Furthermore, it lowered glucose each week during the study. 
Additionally, another study revealed that diabetic patients with neuropathy who took medications improved by about 37 percent. Meanwhile, those who took medications but also received acupuncture saw an incredible 90 percent improvement in neuropathy symptoms. 
3. Can improve asthma symptoms by up to 70 percent
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), acupuncture has been recognized as an acceptable alternative or adjunct treatment for many diseases, including asthma. 
Asthma affects over 300 million people around the world, and claims over 3,000 deaths per year. The WHO also recognizes asthma as one of the 40 diseases that would benefit from acupuncture.
One study conducted at the University of Vienna Department of Anesthesia and Intensive analyzed 17 patients with a history of asthma. The findings showed that over 70 percent of patients undergoing acupuncture treatment saw a vast improvement in their asthma symptoms in just 10 weeks. Additionally, they saw further improvement over the next six months. 
Another study followed 192 patients of varying ages suffering from bronchial asthma. All cases were treated with acupuncture by placing needles at the LU6 and LU10 points. Of all cases, 98.9 percent saw immediate results. Furthermore, the rate of clinical remission plus improvement was 76.5 percent. 
4. May boost mood and energy
Another one of the great health benefits of acupuncture is its ability to boost both mood and energy. As you may know, dealing with mood swings, anxiety, and depression can be crippling. Oftentimes, when the seasons shift, the weather changes from bright and sunny to cold and gloomy, a shift occurs in people’s moods.
Aromatherapy, exercise, reducing stress, taking herbs, eating a well-balanced diet are all great starting points. Still, many studies have shown acupuncture can help tremendously with mood improvement.
Anxiety and depression are two of the most common psychiatric disorders. And they are more prevalent in women, especially those who are pregnant or postpartum. Six trials were conducted using all women from various backgrounds, all suffering from anxiety, depression, or both.
Of the six separate studies, five used acupuncture as the only treatment, while one used counseling and psychotherapy. The results showed a decrease in symptoms and improvement in mood in those who received acupuncture, especially in those who were pregnant. 
Another study was conducted on the effects of acupuncture and the regulation of the central autonomic network (CAN). This network is a necessary part of an internal regulation system in which the brain control responses that are essential for survival, such as pain, neuroendocrine, behavior responses, etc. 
This study showed that acupuncture treatment activated distinct brain regions in various diseases caused by an imbalance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic activities. It also alleviated autonomic (involuntary or unconscious) responses by modulating adaptive neurotransmitters in certain regions of the brain. [14, 15]
There’s also another element here that explains why energy improvement is one of the top health benefits of acupuncture. When you’re in a slump and feeling fatigued, you likely think of two things first: at how much sleep you’re getting and your diet. But what if your energy is still lagging, even if your diet and sleeping habits are well-rounded?
This is where balancing your Qi comes into play. Qi, according to TCM, is known as the vital life force, or source of energy that circulates within your body. Loosely translated, one of the first symptoms of an imbalanced Qi is lack of energy. A sufficient amount of Qi is needed to maintain the yin and yang in your body.
Acupuncture increases blood flow and energy flow by stimulating the meridians with the penetration of the needles. When blood flows properly, it transports oxygen and nutrients to organs, allowing them to function properly and boost your energy levels. [16, 17]
5. Helps improve sleep quality
When it comes to sleeplessness, you always want to get to the root cause. Now, there are essential oils that help promote sleep and relaxation, but if your body is off-balance, acupuncture might be something to consider. One of the great health benefits of acupuncture is that it will not only improve your sleep but also the quality of sleep you’re getting.
In TCM, acupuncture commonly is used to treat insomnia. One study including 46 randomized trials and 3,811 patients compared acupuncture versus no treatment, and acupressure versus sham acupressure (a placebo effect).
The result showed acupuncture was superior compared to other treatments or placebos for improving sleep quality. Therefore it is shown as an effective treatment for sleep and those suffering from insomnia. [18, 19]
Other health benefits of acupuncture include, but are not limited to:
- Chronic pain [20, 21, 22, 23]
- Allergies 
- Hypertension 
- Stimulates blood flow [26, 27]
- Menstrual pain 
- Migraines/headaches [29, 30]
- Cognitive decline 
- Pregnancy, labor, postpartum 
- PCOS [33, 34]
- Multiple Sclerosis 
- Pain and Nausea during cancer treatments [36, 37]
- Improve vagal tone in vagus nerve 
It’s clear to see that acupuncture isn’t just hocus-pocus, right? It’s been proven through several studies and assessments that it aids in the healing process. Even in studies with placebo effects where both strategic needling and non-strategic needling took place, those with strategic needling along the meridians showed lasting relief. The philosophy here is to find the imbalance and, therefore, provide the solution, which is TCM—and its many practices—in a nutshell.
- Acupuncture was pioneered over 3,000 years ago by Chinese practitioners, but has only been practiced in the U.S. within the last 40 years.
- Acupuncture needles are tiny compared to other medical needles.
- There are more than 350 acupuncture points over 14 meridians, which are associated with specific organs and organ systems.
- The health benefits of acupuncture include: helping with urinary incontinence, supporting healthy blood sugar levels, improving asthma symptoms, boosting energy, improving sleep quality, and much more.