Acupuncture for Mental and Nutritional Health

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Acupuncture treatments stimulate the nerves to send messages to the brain to release hormones like dopamine and serotonin that are deficient in mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Acupuncturists can also provide nutritional recommendations based on an analysis of what the individual’s body needs.

For someone new to our podcast who has never experienced an acupuncture treatment, what is involved in a treatment session and what does it feel like?

Michelina Kraus: For my patients who have never experienced a treatment, I always give a little explanation. I have them fill out a questionnaire, followed by an initial intake. I go over their health history and any important family history. I ask questions that help me form a treatment plan. In acupuncture, we don’t diagnose the typical way a doctor does. We use terms like deficiency, spleen dampness, yang rising. These will mean nothing to the patient, but I do give a little explanation of what I see going on with them. It helps to create a partnership and show that they are part of their treatment as well. It’s not just about the practitioner fixing the problem; the patient has to play a role too. With saying that, they usually need to change things that are a part of their lifestyle.

After all the talking, I take a pulse and I look at their tongue. By doing this, it gives me more of an idea with what is going on internally with their energy and their organs’ energies. The tongue is the only muscle able to be seen on the outside of the body. All your muscles are covered by fascia and skin, however the tongue is not. The ancient Chinese believed this gives us a big clue as to what is going on with the person’s internal chi or energy. In regards to taking their pulse, yes, we take the pulse rate into consideration, but we also look at it from another perspective. Chinese medicine and acupuncture is not just about treating the issue; it’s whole body wellness, getting to the root of the issue. The body is composed and made purely of energy. It’s how we all become who we are.

Acupuncture points are found on the body through lines of energy or meridians of chi. Chi is Chinese for energy. The meridians are also related to the internal organs, so they’re named after them. The gallbladder channel, the lung meridian, the spleen channel. Yes, acupuncture is all about placing needles in the body, but it’s theorized in balancing the energy. The needles are simply the mechanism to do that. I explain to my patients there are good and there can be bad feelings of acupuncture. It’s normal to feel anxious because you’re volunteering to let somebody place tiny sharp objects into your skin. It’s normal. When they’re placed, it’s really, really good if you feel any kind of light cramping or heaviness. If you feel anything sharp or uncomfortable that lasts for more than a couple seconds, it’s okay, but to let me know so that you’re not laying there in pain. In that case, I adjust the needle so you become a little bit more comfortable with everything going on.

How can acupuncture help someone suffering with depression and anxiety?

Michelina Kraus: On this topic, it’s very simple. The intense relaxation you can feel during or after the treatments helps to get the patient into a meditative state. This is not to say it happens on the first treatment either. Remember, needles being placed in the body is not everybody’s idea of relaxing, but after their first experience is over, one, they know what to expect, and two, they can let their guard down for follow-up treatments. Like painkillers the body naturally releases during acupuncture, it also releases happy hormones, like dopamine and serotonin. In conditions like depression and anxiety, the proper amount of chemicals are not released that we need to be happy and content with our daily lives. In this case, the needles are just the middleman to help our brain chemistry work and stay in balance.

How can acupuncture help someone fight an addiction, like smoking, drugs, or alcohol?

Michelina Kraus: Acupuncture can surely help reduce cravings and decrease symptoms of withdrawal. During detox, whether it be from smoking, drugs, alcohol or even food, the body is going through a number of symptoms. This is because the brain is not getting its daily influx of synthetic drugs, which fakes the body into feeling that euphoric feeling. The body now relies on the drug for any release of its feel-good hormones. It’s like a child who never learns to dress, bath, or feed itself without a caregiver doing it for them.

If you take away its caregiver, it will only know maybe where their clothes are but not how to put them on the right way, or where to wash themselves but not the proper way. The brain during detox is relearning, like the child, how to balance its hormones again without its caregiver, the drug. Therefore, acupuncture being able to bring balance to the body, can reduce the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms because it’s teaching the body to release its own hormones again and not depending on the drug to do it.

In terms of nutritional health, is it possible to help someone change their diet, eat healthier foods and curb food cravings with acupuncture?

Michelina Kraus: Going back to the topic of whole body wellness, in acupuncture, yes, acupuncture can help with nutritional health. It’s not your typical Western dietitian-type of nutrition though. Everything in this world has energy, from the pebble on the sidewalk, to skyscrapers, to a blue whale swimming in the Pacific Ocean. They all have some form of energy. When it comes to food, this also holds true. Us acupuncturists describe food as having root, being very nourishing, being hot, cold, or cool, damp or dry. Also, the time of year depends on what we recommend for nutritional advice. For example, in the winter, it’s not a good idea to make smoothies or eat salad.

This is because the winter, being a colder time of year, the body needs internal warmth and by eating something that is physically cold impinges on the digestive system. It can make it “energetically” and physiologically work overtime. If it’s cold outside, have a soup, not a smoothie. Also, foods that are raw like a salad, which almost every person on this planet who’s trying to lose weight sees this meal as a “diet” food. Technically calorie-wise, yes. It’s minimal compared to a typical meal most people would choose to eat. But, when talking about Eastern medicine and acupuncture, a raw food, like salad is uncooked. Foods that are uncooked are very tough on the digestive system.

The stomach has to work extra hard to break down the raw density of an uncooked food because it wasn’t done before we ate it. Not to say that eating raw veggies is a bad thing, and this is where a lot of people look at acupuncturists like we have five heads. It just simply needs to be timed right. If you’re hot, would you put on a sweatshirt or a tank top? The same goes for your food. If you feel sluggish and tired, would it be wise to eat french fries and a burger or a veggie stir fry? When it comes to cutting cravings, acupuncture can assist, but the patient plays a very big role in this. If they want  help with weight loss, a lot of the change needs to be on the patient. It doesn’t work if they come in for treatments and go home to eat cookies or junk food.

What other mental health benefits can be gained by receiving acupuncture treatments?

Michelina Kraus: Patients that take their health seriously, or they truly want to make a positive change in their health already have the right mindset. However, I’m always eager to treat a skeptic. The proof is in the medicine. Those that are on the path of keeping a routine usually have higher chances of success. This is just simple facts. When this type of patient walks into the office, they’re already winning. They’re looking for another step to improve their life. When a patient experiences that relaxed feeling from acupuncture, it can help the mind fall into more of a meditative-like state. The meditation is yet another whole topic when it comes to immense amounts of benefit it has on the mind-body connection. Therefore, with people receiving acupuncture, it’s kind of like they get a little pill of meditation whenever they’re getting treatment and that’s just never a bad thing.

If you are interested in speaking with Michelina Kraus at Ferraro Spine and Rehabilitation please visit or call 973-478-2212 to schedule an appointment.

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