Our blog is no stranger to discussing the many ways in which acupuncture works on the body and today we will be be exploring a simple explanation of the autonomic nervous system in relation to the effects of acupuncture. Specifically the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems which are two of the three divisions of the autonomic nervous system. Please note the language used in this blog post will be lay as I want the information to be as accessible and digestible as possible for the wider audience (bonus points if you picked up on the pun there).
First off the autonomic nervous system is responsible for homeostasis, this essentially means that it automatically regulates the normal functions within the body including heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate and many others. Long term readers of our blog will be aware that the most foundational purpose of acupuncture is to restore the body to homeostasis or if you prefer a more esoteric approach – balance.
The sympathetic nervous system is one division of the autonomic nervous system. It essentially deals with our fight or flight mechanism. It is when a person becomes trapped in this particular state that the body starts to wear down over time. As the phrase ‘fight or flight’ dictates, it is the state the body should be in when deciding to take action or retreat. How does the body remain in this state constantly? The answer is STRESS. A constant flood of adrenaline coursing through the body to power you through will eventually lead to chronic tiredness as you can experience adrenal fatigue; it is likely you have experienced this if you have had poor sleep and still powered through the following work day.
Now we have the parasympathetic nervous system which is known for ‘rest and digest’. As the phrase indicates, this is when the body goes into a rest state and is able to process and repair any damage that may have been done from high levels of stress and adrenaline coursing through the body. This is the state that generally activates when a person undergoes an acupuncture treatment. If the practitioner has done a good job then a patient will almost always report feeling completely relaxed or even sleepy after a session. This is a sign that the parasympathetic nervous system has kicked into gear and also why regular maintenance via acupuncture is key to preventing long term health issues.
In summary, stress can cause the body to force the sympathetic nervous system into overdrive creating a constant fight or flight situation whereas the use of acupuncture correctly can assist the body in activating the parasympathetic nervous system to help with rest, digestion and repair. Both divisions of the autonomic nervous system are important in the regulation of homeostasis however the parasympathetic nervous system may be more difficult to activate if a person is experiencing a high level or a constant level of stress.
If you or anyone you know needs assistance with their health, please do not hesitate to contact us.