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Adverse Childhood Experiences: A Run-Away Train to Poor Health, Acupuncture Can Put on the Brakes.

Statistics from the National Institute of Health (2015) highlight the leading causes of death in America are from Heart disease at 24% and cancer at 23%[i]. According to the Philadelphia Urban ACE Survey (2012), individuals subject to adverse childhood experiences (ACE) such as trauma, abuse, bullying, and neglect make up a large percentage of those who succumb to some of the major causes of death in America.[ii] Put simply, ACE starts a cascade of health decline originating from high stress levels. For example, common in our society today, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), according to the data in the ACE study, has been correlated to an increased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). While most of us might shrug off the ACE study because we might feel that our childhoods were better than most, perhaps we should consider what the ACE study has brought to light. Prolonged stress early in life, has a negative impact on future health, and ongoing un-processed stress at anytime in life has an undesirable affect on our overall health. Think about it…how many years does it take for elevated stress hormones to do their dirty work?

Do you even know if you are stressed? When is it time to address that weird ache or pain in your body? At what point should I focus on my anxiety and the pattern of drinking after work to power down? Why am I stress eating, craving sweets, skipping work outs? Feeling isolated, or short-tempered, or apathetic?

This could be a very long list!

Consider giving yourself a gift. The benefits of acupuncture in reducing stress levels are boundless! In the Church and Feinstein (2017) study functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) was used to verify the use of acupuncture and its effect on the amygdala and the hippocampus.[iii] The amygdala and the hippocampus are structures in the brain that control the fear response. The hippocampus assists in the storage of memory to fearful events. This part of the brain is thought to have developed in caveman times for protection. The memory of an approaching tiger ensured our ancestors would run at the appropriate time. In modern times those effected by elevated stress live at micro-levels of activation to “run from the tiger”. Once this region of the brain is activated with the fight or flight response, as what occurs with those effected by PTSD, a cascade of biochemical reactions flood in the body. The long term effects of long term activated fight or flight mode on the body has devastating consequences as shown in the studies linking ACE with CHD. Stress hormones wreak havoc on the body!

Acupuncture is effective in calming the body. In a study by Hui and Makras (2009), needling specific acupuncture points sends deactivating signals to the amygdala, hippocampus, and other brain regions associated with fear and pain providing evidence that acupuncture can bring about extensive deactivation of the fight or flight system[iv]. And just to make sure your acupuncture treatment does the trick, Acupuncture has also been shown to increase production of serotonin, reduce the stress hormone cortisol, and modulate pain (Engels, Cordova, et al, 2014). [v]

Since we know through research that ACE can have severe long term effects and acupuncture can produce results to reduce those effects, I propose we expand the current model of healthcare that treats when sick, to a wellness model that identifies those at risk and creates avenues for that population to obtain wellness through acupuncture.

A shift in public opinion as to the efficacy of acupuncture for the treatment of a long list of ailments is slowly churning. With 25% of Americans using integrative practitioners (a portion thereof includes acupuncturists) for their health is a clear indication that those in need of a treatment are recognizing the value of acupuncture. And as practitioners of acupuncture we continue to provide evidenced based results as to the value acupuncture can provide.

Author Bio: Dr. Carol A. Goldman, DACM, L.Ac., MS Clinical Psychology has been practicing psychotherapy for 20 years in the Philadelphia area.

[i] National Center for Health Statistics and Health, United States, 2015: With Special Feature on Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities. Hyattsville, MD. 2016.

[ii] Data Source: Philadelphia Urban ACE Survey, 2013 and PHMC’s 2012 Southeastern Pennsylvania Household Health Survey. Data Prepared by: The Research and Evaluation Group at PHMC.

[iii]Dawson Church, PhD, and David Feinstein, PhD. (2017). The Manual Stimulation of Acupuncture Points
in the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Review of Clinical Emotional Freedom Techniques. Medical Acupuncture Volume 29, Number 4. DOI:10.1089/acu.2017.1213

[iv] Hui KK, Liu J, Makris N, et al. Acupuncture modulates the limbic system and subcortical gray structures of the human brain: Evidence from fMRI studies in normal subjects. Hum Brain Mapp. 2000;9(1):13–25. 

[v] Engel, Charles C., Elizabeth H. Cordova, David M. Benedek, Xian Liu, Kristie L. Gore, Christine Goertz, Michael C. Freed, Cindy Crawford, Wayne B. Jonas, and Robert J. Ursano. "Randomized Effectiveness Trial of a Brief Course of Acupuncture for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder." Medical care 52 (2014): S57-S64.

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