When the world’s oldest mummy, Ötzi, first emerged from glacial sleep into modern daylight, experts found a network of tattoos marking his skin that corresponded to Chinese acupuncture points. Such points, stimulated in different combinations, trigger the body’s innate healing response and strengthen its restorative cycle. The Chinese have been using fine needles to get this effect in a technique refined over two millennia. Today, acupuncture is fast gaining recognition as an effective remedy for a wide range of diseases and disorders.
Holistic Means Your Body Does It
Whatever your complaint, acupuncture can help your body to right itself. All the tools for doing this—the littlest chemical dynamos—are already folded into yourself. Nothing foreign is ingested, meaning there are little or no side effects. This neat trick comes from traditional Chinese medicine, a holistic philosophy that aims to treat the whole balance between the organs of the body, rather than individual organs themselves. When you’re sick, the theory of Chinese medicine says it’s because of an underlying imbalance rather than an invasion of germs. Acupuncture helps restore a fluid, balanced constitution, rather than attack germs directly, which is how Western medicine works.
Acupuncture is big picture medicine. It is commonly used to treat stress, since stress underwrites so many modern ailments. Certain points calm the heart and lower blood pressure while others soften muscles tensed from worry by releasing endorphins. Tissues regenerate. The immune system quickens. You feel good and bounce colds.
Acupuncture has successfully been used to treat depression , as well as wean patients off antidepressants. Acupuncture can also focus its attention to more localized maladies, like aches and pains, though its strategy remains global.
Science Agrees: Acupuncture Works
Medical science concedes that this is rather smart. The National Institute of Health reports that “acupuncture may alter brain chemistry by changing the release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones in a good way.” Computer imagery of the brain during acupuncture shows regions of the brain lit with dynamic activity. Like meditation, acupuncture taps the body’s innate vitality—its rich store of natural drugs.
The benefits of acupuncture have been documented in a series of acupuncture trials  that were completed in Germany in 2005. Initial results from this study, which is the largest and most expensive to date world wide, indicate a higher success rate for acupuncture over standard therapies in easing back pain, headaches, and arthritis of the hip or knee—and with very few adverse effects. In fact, acupuncture treatment allowed patients to reduce their medications.
Don’t Fear the Needles
In movies, acupuncture comes across with a certain occult glamour, seemingly extreme. In fact the treatment is soothing and meditative––more like a trip to the spa than the doctor’s office. The needles are thin as hairs, approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and never reused. Patients typically report very little to no pain and indicate the sensation is more odd than uncomfortable. With the needles in place, you lie still for twenty to sixty minutes, relaxing until the doctor returns to remove them. Afterwards, the endorphins inside triggered, you may find it hard not to feel good.
Visit the National Institute of Health  for more on acupuncture.
Read the NIH Consensus Statement on Acupuncture . This report, issued in 1997, summarizes the first ever series of expert findings by scientists, rather than acupuncturists, in the United States.