First, let’s recap what Medical Acupuncture is, before going into how it can help treat allergies. Both traditional and Medical Acupuncture consist of the insertion of needles into specific points on the body to treat disease. The difference is how the needles are inserted (depth, gauge, type of needle) and, most of all, the reasoning for location.Traditional acupuncture is often superficial needling with tiny needles and very little emphasis on depth or varying types of needles. Point location is based on a complicated energy diagnosis (where the practitioner thinks your energy needs to be balanced). Medical Acupuncture emphasizes various types of needling. Larger needles can affect certain types of nerves, while smaller needles can stimulate certain areas of the brain. The methods used in Medical Acupuncture are backed by scientific evidence. The location of needling is based on a scientific choice, not based on energy or mysticism at all.
When it comes to allergies, the evidence says that needling into areas where we know there is a higher number of eosinophils and neutrophils (types of white blood cells) activates the immune system. We use a certain type of needle that doesn’t damage those white blood cells, but alerts them and wakes them up. This wake-up call to the white blood cells stimulates anti-inflammatory cells to help with allergy symptoms. My saying is, “If I can’t back something with scientific evidence, there’s little reason to do it.” So, now that you understand that Medical Acupuncture has a profound foundation to treat allergies (and, of course, many other conditions) you can become an expert on how it treats allergies.
I’m going to stick to seasonal allergies since other types like food or topical allergies can have a more complicated mechanism. Seasonal allergy symptoms come from your immune system attaching to a protein (usually) inhaled into your system. The immune system responds with a bunch of white blood cells and other cytokines (think of cytokines as international customs agents that say, “We need to check what’s in your bag.”). Think of a normal immune response being pre-9/11 air-port security, and with someone who suffers allergies, their immune system is the post-9/11 security. After 9/11 there were so many restrictions on what security would let through. We know that people who have allergies generally have them in the first place if their parents had allergies, although what they are allergic to is not familial.
Secondly, people with allergies tend to have more overstressed immune systems than those without. That might be the most important point of this article. Those of you who suffer from allergies have weak immune systems to begin with, no offense, but that is the root cause of your problem. This comes from bad diet, too much time indoors, not enough exercise, too much stress and many other bad habits. Luckily, I can help! Not only can I help with symptoms with acupuncture but I can help you identify specifically what bad habits are breaking down your immune system with functional medicine.
Now back to the interstection of blood cells during an allergy attack! When inserting a tiny metal needle near these areas that are like intersections for white blood cells, it creates a ripple. Imagine driving and stopping at an intersection and and earthquake rumbles. Everyone wouldn’t just continue on with their day; they would run into the action, make sure everyone is ok, and help clear debris, repair the roads, etc. This is exactly what happens when inserting a needle into specific acupuncture points (those highway intersections). White blood cells stop what they were doing and jump to action. White blood cells carry around important materials that set off a chain of events. Upon the impact of a needle, white blood cells degranulate. Degranulation is a cellular process that releases antimicrobial cytotoxic plus other important molecules—one being histamine, which signals other cells to reduce inflammation.
Now, the western medicine route to treat allergies includes two major categories: anti-histamines and steroids. The antihistamines decrease histamine’s negative effects. When histamine is released, you get itchy and inflamed. Something amazing happens when we do acupuncture because it is from an outside influence. The histamine is released for a seemingly “weird” reason, not due to an allergen or something else that other white bloodcells normally react to. So, the immune system says, “I am going to counteract that weird histamine release by stimulating all the good anti-inflammatory cells.” Acupuncture is proven to decrease inflammation and it does that by tricking the immune system. And it works very well. So, while antihistamines do decrease the bad symptoms of allergies, the core problem still exists. Steroids help by blocking the white blood cells to degranulatem or spill that histamine in the first place.
Acupuncture allows the natural process of degranulation and histamine response to take place with a safe reaction of anti-inflammatory release. At my clinic, we get to the core problem by adding functional medicine. Functional medicine is an examination of blood tests to understand the specific problem at hand. We figure out what else could be taxing the immune system that keeps it so preoccupied that it can’t handle your allergies. We also see other areas in the blood tests that aren’t ideal (even if your primary care physician said everything looks normal) by looking at a smaller lab range. By addressing what could be causing extra stress on your system, we reduce the chances of genetic immune overreaction.
It is ideal to get on a regimen of acupuncture a few months before your typical allergy season begins. Although, not all is lost if you come in during an allergy attack—acupuncture still works wonderfully. I also prescribe herbal/natural supplements to help further increase that anti-inflammatory effect during an allergy attack. Each time you receive acupuncture, your body and brain adapt through positive reinforcement by making more anti-inflammatory cells, therefore, each treatment builds upon the next, boosting the immune system further and further. Acupuncture is an amazingly clever way to treat allergies for kids and adults and it works very well.
Dr. Christina Fick is a leader in the field of Medical Acupuncture and Functional Medicine. She ranks in the top 1% amongst American acupuncturists in terms of education and clinical experience. She holds two Master's degrees and a Clinical Doctorate.
Dr. Fick says,
"At Evergreen Medical Acupuncture we use functional medicine and western diagnostics to treat almost any condition with an anatomy-based acupuncture system. We are Colorado's premier acupuncture clinic."