Acupuncture for COPD and Respiratory Health in Older Adults 

 July 11, 2023

By  Steve Hoffman

In the post-COVID world, respiratory health has taken a new turn in the spotlight, particularly for older adults. The National Institute of Health (NIH) estimates that over 15 million Americans have COPD, with more adults being diagnosed every day.

The disease isn't curable, but it is treatable. In the past, COPD often sounded like a dark harbinger of decreased activity and enjoyment of life. With treatments, however, this doesn't have to be the case. In addition to Western medical interventions for COPD, acupuncture can be used to reduce symptoms, preserve lung function, and prevent the disease from progressing.

What is COPD?

First, we need to understand what COPD is and where it comes from. COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Chronic means that the disease is incurable; once patients are diagnosed, they may experience greater or fewer symptoms but will live with the condition for the rest of their lives. COPD affects the pulmonary system, which includes all the parts of the body associated with respiration: airways, lungs, and blood vessels. The obstructive aspect of the disease takes two forms: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. A patient with COPD will develop one or both of these conditions, impairing the body's ability to extract oxygen from the air it takes in.

The most common causes of COPD are smoking, pollutants, and exposure to second-hand smoke or pollutants. The good news is that in the US, there are now more former smokers than current smokers, and the number of former smokers continues to grow while the number of current smokers continues to fall.

How Can Acupuncture Treat COPD?

Western medicine's approach to treating COPD involves medications, including bronchodilators (medications that relax muscles in the airways) and steroids (drugs that reduce inflammation and swelling in the airway). Sometimes physical therapy to improve respiratory health can be helpful, depending on how advanced a patient's symptoms are. As the disease progresses, some patients turn to lung transplants if they are good candidates. Many patients with COPD will require in-home oxygen at later stages of the disease. There are also several surgeries designed to improve respiratory function— basically, the usual Western mix of medications and extreme surgical interventions. Surgery is risky even in healthy patients, and medications such as steroids carry significant side effects.

Acupuncturists offer another avenue to pursue. The purpose of steroids is to reduce inflammation; however, taking these medications can have harmful impacts, from weight gain and vision issues to osteoporosis and an increased risk for infections. Acupuncture can also be used to reduce inflammation, both in the airways and the body as a whole, with literally none of the harmful side effects of steroids.

While acupuncture is known for its targeted application of thin needles to specific points in the body, acupuncture also works effectively to regulate the body as a whole. The practice of acupuncture has been around for generations promoting the body's natural healing.

Reduce Inflammation

Acupuncturists work by regulating the body's natural systems, either focusing on an area that needs support or stimulating systems throughout the entire person. Although it may not be visible to the human eye, numerous medical studies have supported the effects of acupuncture, particularly its efficacy in reducing inflammation.

We know that inflammation is one of the symptoms that herald the progression of COPD, so utilizing acupuncture to slow that inflammation also slows the progress of the disease, buying patients more time with more lung function. This time can mean more memories with the family, more time spent doing favorite activities, or simply better quality of life.

Notably, acupuncture treatment for COPD can be in conjunction with other therapies. Acupuncture has no interactions with medications and no troublesome side effects. Acupuncture has also been shown to support the immune system, which can enhance health and counteract the side effects of medicines like steroids.

Improve Diaphragm Health

One of the essential issues with COPD is that it reduces the body's ability to pull enough oxygen from the air being breathed in. Acupuncture can improve diaphragmatic health, strengthening the patient's ability to take full, strong breaths. It can also work with the patient's respiratory system to improve oxygen use, reduce respiratory fatigue, and increase their functional airway.

Acupuncture cannot wholly replace medical diagnosis and treatment. However, acupuncture treatment is an incredibly low-risk pathway to explore for patients seeking a more holistic, low-risk way of supporting their body through the challenges of COPD. It can be used in conjunction with other treatments or on its own to reduce symptoms related to COPD and strengthen the respiratory and immune systems, both of which slow the progression of the illness. Finally, acupuncture reduces inflammation which is one of the hallmarks of COPD, allowing patients to live longer, more comfortable lives.

Princeton Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

Our patients know just how effective treatments are for these and a host of other problems. Steven Hoffman, a New Jersey Licensed Acupuncturist and Diplomate in Oriental Medicine, will provide you with a thorough intake and evaluation and a clear, comprehensive diagnosis and treatment plan that will insure that your goals are met or exceeded. Do you want to move past these or other problems? We will help you thrive not just survive!

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