Acupuncture is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) where thin needles are inserted into the body. It has been known to have an incredible effect on the central nervous system (CNS), which is a collection of nerves in the brain and spinal cord that control the body. The part of the nervous system responsible for control of the bodily functions not consciously directed, such as breathing, the heartbeat, and digestive processes, is known as the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Within the ANS, there are two parts: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
The sympathetic nervous system prepares your body for physical and mental activity. It makes your heart beat faster and stronger, opens your airways so you can breathe more easily, and inhibits digestion. The SNS is also responsible for your body’s “fight or flight” response. Originating the the thoracic and lumbar regions of the spinal cord, this shorter, faster system causes your body to speed up, tense up, and become more alert. Your heart rate increases, your muscles contract, and adrenaline is released. The SNS also causes your brain to release inflammatory chemicals into your body.
The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for bodily functions when we are at rest. It stimulates digestion, activates various metabolic processes and helps us to relax. The PNS is responsible for your body’s “rest and digest” response. Originating in the sacral region of the spinal cord, as well as the medulla and cranial nerves, this longer, slower system restores your body to a state of calm. Your heart rate decreases, your muscles relax, and stomach movement and secretions increase. The PNS causes your brain to release anti-inflammatory chemicals into your body.
Acupuncture relieves stress and helps to shift us out of sympathetic mode and into parasympathetic mode by stimulating the PNS receptors in the body. The result is a more relaxed state, with anti-inflammatory chemicals making their way throughout the body. As our nervous system gets balanced in this way, it’s a retraining and rebalancing of our CNS and thereby all of our systems… endocrine, immune, digestive, reproductive, neurological, etc.
Acupuncture acts like physical therapy for the nervous system. It entrains the nervous system and brain to behave in ways that correspond to desired effects. An increasing number of studies have demonstrated that acupuncture can control ANS functions including blood pressure, pupil size, skin temperature, muscle sympathetic nerve activities, heart rate and/or pulse rate, and heart rate variability. Additional evidence indicates that acupuncture treatment not only activates distinct brain regions in different kinds of diseases, but also modulates adaptive neurotransmitters in related brain regions to alleviate autonomic response.