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Approaching AD/HD with Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese system (several thousand years old) of balancing the flow of subtle energies through the body. In the last 30 years or so, the practice has been studied quite extensively and has grown in popularity in the Western world. In fact, according to the Food and Drug Administration, people in the United States made 12 million office visits for acupuncture in 1993. Acupuncture is used to support general health, but some people use it to reduce some of the symptoms of AD/HD, as well as many of the co-occurring conditions such as anxiety and depression.

Getting some background

Acupuncture is part of the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) system, along with herbs, meditation, and a host of other techniques. Acupuncture (and the rest of TCM) is based on the concept that all parts of the body and mind are interconnected — every part influences the function of every other part.

The belief is that the various parts of your mind and body are connected by a vital energy called Qi (which is pronounced, and often spelled, Chi in the West). This Qi flows through the body, and any disruptions in this flow affect your health, resulting in illness. The goal of acupuncture is to keep this flow going smoothly, which keeps you healthy; or, if you're already sick, acupuncture frees the blockages that are causing your illness.

The Qi flows through channels called meridians, which connect your internal organs with the surface. In TCM, there are 12 primary meridians relating to each of your organ systems and 8 secondary meridians, for a total of 20 meridians. Acupuncture involves placing needles on certain localized points in the skin to direct the flow of Qi through each of these meridians.

Many theories are available on how this system works, but two stand out:

  • The meridians lie along main nerve centers in the body, and each acupuncture point stimulates the nervous system in a specific way.
  • The acupuncture points, when stimulated, stimulate the body to produce certain endorphins.

Regardless of the mechanism involved in acupuncture, its longevity alone suggests that it must help some people.

Exploring the process

As many as 2,000 acupuncture points exist, and an acupuncturist must figure out which point(s) to stimulate in order to offer you any benefit. Doing so involves a diagnostic process that usually includes the following:

  • Questions to determine your symptoms and history: These questions may involve asking you about your tolerance to heat or cold, your eating habits, and your sleep patterns. Your answers provide a big picture view of you and your condition.
  • Examination of your tongue: According to TCM, a patient's tongue holds a lot of information, so your acupuncturist will likely want to take a look.
  • A check of your pulse: Again, according to TCM, your pulse tells your provider a lot about your state of health. Unlike in Western medicine, an acupuncturist is interested in more than just the speed of your pulse; she looks for the strength and rhythm of it as well.

When the intake exam is complete, you're asked to lie down while your provider puts needles in different parts of your body. These needles don't hurt if they're placed in properly. They are very small, and they go only a little way into your skin.

If you feel any significant amount of pain from the needles, they aren't put in properly, and you may want to look around for a different acupuncturist. The most you should feel is a slight pricking sensation when the needle is inserted.

After the needles are in, you remain relatively still for up to 30 minutes, at which point the needles are removed and you're free to go.

Knowing what to expect

Your results from acupuncture are going to depend on your condition. Even though you have AD/HD, your acupuncturist may focus on other areas. Remember that the goal of acupuncture is to correct any disruptions in the flow of Qi in your body, so you should receive a very individualized treatment.

Generally speaking, it takes several sessions before you can expect to see any significant changes in your symptoms. Side effects, if any, are minimal. Most often, your acupuncturist is able to give you a clear idea after your initial examination as to the number of sessions you need (and their cost) and whether you'll need to return later for tune-ups.

Finding a provider

Many acupuncturists are in practice these days, but finding one who has experience working with people with AD/HD may be hard. As with any healthcare professional, your best bet is to get a referral from a family member, a friend, or another healthcare provider. If you can't find any referrals, start with your local phone book or check the bulletin board of your local natural foods market. If all else fails, do an Internet search for an acupuncturist in your area. Check the following Web sites, which also have quite a bit of information about acupuncture and TCM:

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