Ear Acupuncture Alleviates Trauma in Disasters

I just got back from the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) conference in Denver, Colorado, where I made a presentation on the disaster relief responses that Acupuncturists Without Borders volunteers have participated in this past year.

Volunteer acupuncturists representing a variety of acupuncture organizations provided thousands of treatments in response to the Colorado wildfires, the Aurora, Colorado shooting, Hurricane Sandy, the Newtown, Connecticut shootings and the Boston Marathon bombings. The following is some information on the research supporting the benefits of ear acupuncture for trauma, stress and other mental emotional issues, excerpted from my doctoral research on integrating acupuncture into disaster relief operations.

Ear acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment for trauma that is free of negative side effects.  The ear is richly innervated with about 10,000 sensory receptors, the trigeminal nerve, the great auricular nerve and the vagus nerve.  The ear is the only place on the body where the vagus nerve innervates the surface of the skin.  The vagus nerve primarily serves the internal organs – by stimulating the vagus nerve via the skin on the ear it is possible to positively affect the internal organs.

A significant body of recent, well-designed research indicates that ear acupuncture is effective for the treatment of anxiety-related disorders and is associated with reduced anxiety, insomnia and substance abuse.  In the past 20 years, research studies have concluded that ear acupuncture:

1)  Is associated with an increase in parasympathetic nervous system activity, which means it relaxes the nervous system;

2)  Can have a profound effect on communities experiencing hardship and transition;

3)  Is more effective for insomnia than diazepam;

4)  Decreases anxiety and increases optimism;

5)  Decreases preoperative anxiety, is easy to administer (takes less than one minute), relatively inexpensive, has minimal adverse effects, and is useful for patients reluctant to take pharmaceuticals;

6)  Increased weight loss and sustaining of weight loss for a year following treatment;

7)  Increases the likelihood that clients will complete a substance abuse program;

8)  Is roughly equal to drugs and psychotherapy in treating depression;

9)  Reduces anxiety, depression, insomnia and concentration difficulties;

10)  Decreases anxiety by 56%, depression by 50%, and insomnia by 53%;

11)   Significantly reduces depression and anxiety, use of substances and health and social services, and improves sleep and perceived well-being;

12)  Reduces positive drug tests in prisons;

13)  Decreased fights in the San Francisco County Jail’s violent prisoner unit;

14)  Reduced fear, paranoia, anger, resentfulness, anxiety, and depression in female inmates at the Santa Clara County Department of Corrections;

15)  Improved health and attitude reported by Denver County Jail;

16)  Reduced anger, stress, intrusive sexual fantasies, and compulsive masturbation among inmates in a treatment program for sexual offenders and addictions at Minnesota Corrections Facility maximum security prison;

17)  Improved sleep, relaxation, appetite, and energy; reduced stress; and was associated with a 70-80% reduction in hospital admissions among mentally ill clients in a Texas Mental Health Mental Retardation centers;

18)  Resulted in significant costs savings and improved patient satisfaction in an outpatient drug detox treatment program.

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