Stress is something that cannot be avoided. In fact, a healthy stress-response mechanism plays a role in everything we do to survive and thrive. The original definition of stress by Hans Selye, who coined the term as it is presently used, was, “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change”. This poses the very important questions: how is our body dealing with life’s demands and stressful episodes? And, how do we increase our capabilities of handling stressors?
As an individual-based intervention, acupuncture and functional medicine can improve overall well-being and positively influence long-term health.
Our experience of stress is subjective. Based on sensory input and processing (i.e. the things we see and hear in a situation) as well as on stored memories (i.e. what happened the last time we were in a similar situation). These lead our body to interpret the experience as stressful or not. If the situation is judged as being stressful, a cascade of “fight or flight” biochemical responses in charge of helping the body to react to the “threat” at hand begin to play.
Dr. Nadine Burke Harris wrote in her book The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity: “When a stress response is triggered, it sends signals to two other structures: the pituitary gland, and the adrenal medulla. These short term responses are produced by The Fight or Flight Response via the Sympathomedullary Pathway (SAM). Long term stress is regulated by the Hypothalamic Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) system.” After the “situation” is dealt with, the body is supposed to recover homeostasis and deactivate the stress-response cascade. “The main problem is that when stress response is activated too frequently or if the stressor is too intense, the body can lose the ability to shut down the HPA and SAM axes. The term for this is disruption of feedback inhibition, which is a science-y way of saying that the body’s stress thermostat is broken. Instead of shutting off the supply of “heat” when a certain point is reached, it just keeps on blasting cortisol through your system.”
This overstimulation leads to many health imbalances. Selye identified three stages of stress-response – alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. With the stages of resistance and exhaustion, we find suboptimal adrenal function or hypoadrenia accompanied by a variety of symptoms. For example, Cortisol is a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands during stressful situations. When we are dealing with chronic stress, cortisol levels are too high for too long leading to inhibition of the thyroid function. As a consequence, the release of TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) is inhibited and the conversion from T4 to T3 is blocked or diminished. This leads to a person feeling tired. In this situation, adrenal glands will have a hard time producing cortisol as they are exhausted from producing so much over a period of time, this dysfunction will make you feel even more tired because your cortisol levels are now too low.
Another example, DHEA is also produced in the adrenal glands which helps produce sex hormones (testosterone and estrogen), it helps us recover from stress, keeps our bones strong and helps our brain to think clearly. If we are stressed for too long our DHEA levels drop dramatically which leads to more fatigue. There is also a connection between hormone production and mitochondrial health. If we are making more cortisol, we will be making less estrogen and progesterone. This explains why our reproductive drive is less and we experience low libido under stress.
This kind of prolonged activation of the stress-response system can disrupt many organ systems. It increases oxidative stress in the body and the risk for stress-related disease, cognitive impairment, IBS and Leaky Gut. It can decrease our immune system and inflame the brain. It can also lead to musculoskeletal pain and osteoporosis.
How can acupuncture
and functional medicine help?
Acupuncture is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The term Traditional Chinese refers to the science’s roots in early Chinese naturalist thought, sometimes called Daoism, but the science is now a worldwide medical practice, with medical schools around the world teaching TCM, and integration into hospital settings and medical doctors’ practices, especially in China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Europe and Brazil. A wide-variety of clinical areas have been studied and demonstrated positive results, including pain, cancer, pregnancy, stroke, mood disorders, sleep disorders and inflammation, to name a few. Acupuncture applied to stress, works by stimulating your body’s endocrine and immune systems to clear out stress hormones, re-balance neurotransmitters and influence many other homeostatic mechanisms. It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to shift you out of ‘fight or flight’ mode, and into a more ‘calm and collected’ mode. Holding tension in different places in the body is often unconscious and can add discomfort in addition to feeling “stressed out”, even after the event that stressed you out has already passed. Removing this physical tension can have a huge impact on your ability to stay calm
Functional Medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach. It is an evolution in the practice of medicine. Functional lab testing is used to assess the overall function of your body with an optimal range of comparison vs the standard range. It also looks beyond traditional diagnostic testing to establish an individualized plan of action for each patient. Instead of looking for and treating the symptoms of disease, functional medicine combined with acupuncture looks at networks of function and a number of factors that are contributing to the dysfunction in your body.
Mindful practices you can do throughout the day to support wellness and help you learn more about yourself are: mindful breathing, exercising, contemplation and meditation. It is profound the contribution this can provide both for you and loved ones around you. This may seem overly simplistic, but it can have a profound impact on your reaction to stressful situations and act as an anchor throughout your day.
Feel free to contact us for more information or to schedule a free consultation with the clinic at 561-533-7475 or visit the website at
Chaas Gantt L. AP is board certified by The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM®), Functional Medicine Practitioner, Board Certified Herbalist, Injection Therapy Certified and State Licensed. He has learned and apprenticed under renowned physicians and master acupuncturists in the United States, Europe and Asia.
Palm Beach Acupuncture (PBA) is a family-run acupuncture and integrative medical clinic in Lake Worth, Florida. Their mission is to partner with you on your way to enhance, regain and maintain optimum health and vitality. By systems-oriented approach and combining Functional medicine, Japanese and Chinese acupuncture techniques, cupping therapy, moxibustion, clinical nutrition and herbal medicine, PBA’s aim is to provide a road map to successful outcomes that complement the diagnosis and care of standard medicine.
At PBA they strongly believe in the innate wisdom of the body. Your body knows how to heal itself; sometimes it just needs a little support and guidance. PBA accepts most major insurance carriers.
Please call (561) 533-7475 to schedule your appointment or find out more at palmbeachacu.com