The endocrine system is a collection of organs and glands largely responsible for producing and regulating most of the body’s hormones.
There is evidence that acupuncture treatment, a mainstay of Chinese medicine, can help the endocrine system by supporting its health and function. Five ways acupuncture helps the endocrine system include:
1) Acupuncture Helps Hormone Balance and Regulation
Practitioners have long used acupuncture to help with hormone-related conditions, and research is shedding light on why the treatment is so effective.
When acupuncture needles are inserted into the skin, they trigger a response from the nervous system. This response is both local and distal, and studies show it may be akin to a light trauma response. One 2014 study, published in QJM, found that following acupuncture treatment, there were tiny muscle fractures left behind by treatment. Under the microscope, researchers noted increased levels of red blood cells in these fractures. This suggests that multiple systems are activated during acupuncture.
The hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis and hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis are two of these systems, and both are responsible for hormone expression.
There are many acupuncture points connected to the HPT and HPA axes via the nervous system. During treatment, acupuncture accesses both and facilitates better communication between the organs involved, which improves hormone regulation.
Studies show that acupuncture supports healthier estrogen, follicle-stimulating hormone, corticosterone, and a variety of other hormone levels – evidence that acupuncture is interfacing with endocrine organs in a beneficial manner.
2) Acupuncture Improves Communication Between the Endocrine System and Other Systems
Acupuncture also supports communication between the brain, the immune system, and the endocrine system.
The above mentioned QJM study also showed that acupuncture could access the neuro-endocrine-immune (NEI) network. This is one of the most important pathways in the body, as it’s necessary for coordinating a proper immune response should injury, infection or illness occur.
The endocrine and immune systems rely on each other to protect the body, and they do so by using the NEI network to communicate with each other and the brain. Acupuncture stimulates better communication along these pathways, which can improve immune response.
Further, other studies show that acupuncture stimulates the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. For example, a 2014 study published in Nature Medicine confirmed that vagal nerve stimulation via acupuncture could increase levels of available dopamine in the brain. Healthy neurotransmitter levels are critical for hundreds of bodily processes and for maintaining homeostasis – or physiological balance.
3) Acupuncture Fights Inflammation and its Effects on Endocrine Organs
Several studies also explain how acupuncture can fight inflammation and its many complications. A 2017 study published in Nature demonstrated that areas of neurogenic inflammation (inflammation triggered by local nerves) were particularly sensitive to acupuncture stimulation. When these acupuncture points were activated during treatment, it stimulated the release of endogenous opioids – chemicals produced by the body that reduce pain and inflammation symptoms.
Inflammation is a known obstacle for the endocrine system to work around. It can cause endocrine glands to release hormones in abnormal patterns, and the thyroid is particularly sensitive to this. In people with chronic inflammation, thyroid and hormone-related conditions are more common.
By reducing inflammation throughout the body, acupuncture also reduces its impact on endocrine function.
4) Acupuncture Improves Circulation and Hormone Transport
Acupuncture improves a number of cardiovascular factors, largely through better circulation. This has been confirmed in multiple studies, including a 2007 study published in Anesthesia and Analgesia.
Every acupuncture needle stimulates local release of vasodilators. These vasodilators, including nitric oxide, act on the muscles lining arteries and blood vessels. Specifically, they prevent those muscles from tensing, which narrows vessels and restricts blood flow.
By improving blood flow, acupuncture helps the body efficiently deliver nutrition to endocrine organs. And with better circulation, the endocrine system can transport hormones with greater efficiency and reliability.
5) Acupuncture Reduces the Impact of Stress on the Endocrine System
Acupuncture is used by many patients to treat anxiety, depression, and other stress-associated disorders. Studies show that regular acupuncture treatment can produce long-lasting stress-reduction effects, not just acute relief.
During treatment, acupuncture helps balance many neurotransmitters. It also releases endorphins that improve mood, well-being, and stress tolerance. Acupuncture also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which counters the stress response and puts the body in a relaxed state.
Stress is a major health risk, as it can have cascading effects all over the body. It can drive inflammation, exhaust energy reserves, increase pain signaling, damage cardiovascular health, and wear out certain organs, among other issues.
The endocrine system is susceptible to chronic stress, partly because it’s highly involved in the stress response. When a stressor is present, the HPA axis activates and triggers an adrenaline dump. This is great for optimizing short-term muscle and organ performance, but it leaves the body – and endocrine organs – depleted.
Acupuncture can prevent the endocrine system from exhausting itself in this way by reducing stress and stress response intensity.
Acupuncture Supports the Endocrine System in Several Ways
Chinese medicine treats the body as an interconnected
network of systems. This network may be a set of neurological pathways, or
meridians that channel Qi around the
body. In both cases, the idea is the same – everything in the body is
This is also true of the endocrine system, which is
itself tightly linked to the nervous and immune systems. Acupuncture can
support better communication between these systems, modulate hormone
expression, boost circulation, and reduce stress, all of which can fortify