The majority of us find acupuncture to be a relaxing and useful treatment modality. The relaxing aspect is something which comes as somewhat of a surprise for new patients. Many expect this painful experience that they only put up with because nothing else has worked. Instead they find themselves extremely relaxed, possibly even asleep, during the treatment. People are also surprised that acupuncture treats far more than pain and creates various internal, measurable, changes in blood chemistry, hormones, etc.
Researchers within the Institute of Biomedical Research at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil recently conducted a study looking at the biochemical changes that happen with some very simple acupuncture points related to stress and immunity. While we know what acupuncture does, and we have hundreds/thousands of years of theory and clinical outcomes to base our treatment protocols on, what is happening biochemically is still somewhat of a mystery. Also, as in this study, looking at the effects in different age groups (in this case the elderly) is important to see if the effects are different for different groups.
Here researchers needled the points LI 4, SP 6 and ST 36 and looked at changes in psychological variables (stress, etc.) and in immune system changes based on blood samples. On the psychological side acupuncture was found to significantly reduce depression, anxiety and stress scores. Within the immune system acupuncture increased T-cell proliferation which is an important aspect of immune function.
Certainly looking at the range of activites the point ST 36 is listed for, we get an idea of the range of possibility within acupuncture treatment (and these are only the common aspects):
This point will build energy in the body and the quality of the blood from a Chinese perspective. Will strenghten immunity (wei qi in TCM) and aid in nearly any digestive issue. It is also used for pain in the lower legs, weakness, breast problems, PMS, depression, anxiety and will aid the lung function in the treatment of asthma, wheezing and other issues.
These types of studies help us to understand some of the changes that are initiated on a measurable biochemical level which should lead to better treatment design over time.