be thankful for acupuncture_fullBy Sara Calabro

What do Thanksgiving and acupuncture have in common? A lot, it turns out.

At Thanksgiving, people take the time to thoughtfully prepare a complete meal. Wired recently suggested that the effort involved in Thanksgiving makes it a more pleasurable dining experience than if the turkey came from a frozen dinner and was cooked in the microwave. Likewise, acupuncture, because it requires consciousness and commitment, is ultimately more rewarding than quick-fix medicines that temporarily satiate but never fully satisfy.

The Wired article discusses new research in which mice demonstrated a preference for food that they worked hard to obtain. “Actions can create preferences,” say the authors of the study, “increasing the value ascribed to commodities acquired at greater cost.”

In other words, we get more satisfaction from the things we work for.

Wired relates this to a 2003 paper that attributes rising obesity rates to the ease with which we can consume calories, through processed, on-the-go foods. “Food stops being something we make and create…and becomes something we simply ingest. Eating just gets easier. And then we get fatter.”

Similarly, pharmaceuticals, while lifesavers in many cases, allow people to disconnect from the process of staying healthy. They force the body toward a particular result—reduction of symptoms, often accompanied by side effects—which leaves little room for patient involvement. There’s not much work involved. In contrast, acupuncture engages the body’s own healing mechanisms to address the underlying problem. It encourages us to participate in our health outcomes.

This is how, for example, ST25, a frequently used acupuncture point for digestive disorders, works for both constipation and diarrhea. In a person with constipation, ST25 activates the bowel, while in someone with diarrhea, it slows things down—the body tells it what to do. (Andrew Weil made this point about coca leaf last week, in a piece for The Huffington Post about why plant medicines are better than pharmaceuticals.)

This is a foreign concept in biomedicine—either you take Ex-Lax or Imodium—but it exemplifies a fundamental tenet of acupuncture: The body directs the medicine rather than the medicine directing the body. With some exceptions, this does not happen overnight, especially for chronic conditions. It requires an investment of time and a willingness to let go of learned assumptions that medicine, to be effective, must provide instant gratification.

Viewing health as an ongoing process in which we play an active role helps prevent dependence and encourages moderation. If food that is harder to get is more pleasurable, the reverse holds true as well—food that is easy to obtain is less enjoyable—causing people to eat more and more in an endless quest to feel satisfied.

It’s the same with medicine. The patient for who one Aleve used to do the trick suddenly finds herself needing four to get the same amount of relief. Since drugs only mask symptoms, without addressing the root issue, the body develops a tolerance and is left wanting more. By using medicines that go after the underlying problem and require us to participate in their effectiveness, we activate our intuitive sense about what’s really going on and how much is needed to fix it. The process of healing is in our control.

Thanksgiving, like acupuncture, asks us to give a little extra. Family and friends don’t congregate for meals that are thrown together quickly or halfheartedly. In the same way, we can’t achieve optimum health without patience and effort. Perhaps it’s not coincidence that acupuncturists often say a patient is “cooking” during the time when they’re resting with needles.

By investing in outcomes, we can achieve genuine rewards. Happy Thanksgiving from AcuTake.

Photo by Sara Calabro

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