Over 50 million Americans suffer from autoimmune disease.
An autoimmune disease occurs when the body's immune system attacks healthy tissue. Autoimmune disorders include Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, thyroid disease, Addison's disease, pernicious anemia, celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, myasthenia gravis, and Guillain-Barre syndrome.
Due to the complexity of treating autoimmune disorders, integrative medicine solutions including acupuncture and Chinese medicine have received much attention as successful therapies in their treatment. Acupuncture is specifically noted for its use in pain relief, regulating the immune system, managing symptoms and improving quality of life.
What Causes Autoimmune Disease?
Under normal conditions, an immune response cannot be triggered against the cells of one's own body. In certain cases, however, immune cells make a mistake and attack the very cells that they are meant to protect. This can lead to a variety of autoimmune diseases. They encompass a broad category of over 100 diseases in which the person's immune system attacks his or her own tissue.
The exact mechanisms causing these changes are not completely understood, but bacteria, viruses, toxins, and some drugs may play a role in triggering an autoimmune process in someone who already has a genetic (inherited) predisposition to develop such a disorder. It is theorized that the inflammation initiated by these agents, toxic or infectious, somehow provokes in the body a "sensitization" (autoimmune reaction) in the involved tissues.
As the disease develops vague symptoms start to appear, such as joint and muscle pain, general muscle weakness, possible rashes or low-grade fever, trouble concentrating, or weight loss. The following symptom may point toward something being wrong:
- numbness and tingling in hands and feet
- dry eyes
- hair loss
- shortness of breath
- heart palpitations
- repeated miscarriages
How Acupuncture Treats Autoimmune Disorders
According to Chinese medicine, autoimmune disorders occur when there is imbalance within the body. Imbalance can come from an excess or deficiency of yin and yang that disrupts the flow of qi, or vital energy, through the body. Acupuncture is used to help the body restore balance, treating the root of the disorder, while specifically addressing the symptoms that are unique to each individual.
Clinical research has shown that acupuncture causes physical responses in nerve cells, the pituitary gland, and parts of the brain. These responses can cause the body to release proteins, hormones, and brain chemicals that control a number of body functions. It is proposed that, by these actions, acupuncture affects blood pressure, body temperature, and the immune system.
Acupuncture Effective for Crohn’s Disease
In a study published in the journal, Digestion, acupuncture was found effective for treating Crohn's disease1.
Crohn's disease is an autoimmune disease that involves chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. The main symptoms of Crohn's disease are abdominal pain, fever, fatigue, and persistent, watery diarrhea. Symptoms range from mild to severe and can come and go with periods of flare-ups.
In this German study, 51 patients with mild to moderately active Crohn's disease had a decrease in disease activity after receiving 10 sessions of acupuncture. Study members also showed an improvement in general well-being and reported an improvement in quality of life.
Managing your Autoimmune Disease
In addition to acupuncture, your treatment program to manage your autoimmune disorder may involve a combination of therapies including stress-reducing exercises, moderate physical activity, herbal medicine, nutritional support, and bodywork.
To learn more about how acupuncture can safely and effectively be incorporated into care for people with an autoimmune disorder, please call for a consultation today.
1. Source: Joos S, Brinkhaus B, Maluche C, Maupai N, Kohnen R, Kraehmer N, Hahn EG, Schuppan D. Acupuncture and moxibustion in the treatment of active Crohn's disease: a randomized controlled study. Digestion. 2004;69(3): 1 31 -9.