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How acupuncture can mitigate the impact of mitochondrial disease

This month (September) saw us mark Mitochondrial Disease Awareness Week.

Mitochondrial diseases are a group of rare genetic conditions relating to the impaired function of the body’s mitochondria, compartments which form an essential part of the structure of nearly every human cell, and which are largely responsible for generating energy.

These disorders can manifest in various ways, causing a wide range of symptoms that often significantly impact a person’s quality of life, and while there is no cure for mitochondrial disease, several conventional treatments and therapies aim to manage symptoms and improve overall well-being.

In recent years, complementary and alternative therapies like acupuncture have gained attention as potential additional approaches to help individuals with mitochondrial disease cope with their condition.

Who is susceptible to mitochondrial disease, and what happens when mitochondrial function is compromised?

Because mitochondrial diseases are typically genetic, they are often present at birth, but they are conditions that can arise at any time in life, and they bring with them debilitating symptoms that can cause severe stress and anxiety.

Mitochondrial disease can affect any organ system, leading to symptoms such as muscle weakness, fatigue, seizures, developmental delays, gastrointestinal problems, and more.

There is no cure for mitochondrial conditions, but the symptoms can be managed through medication, physical therapy, and dietary modifications, although there is no one-size-fits-all treatment due to the complex genetic characteristics of individual cases.

The role of acupuncture in managing mitochondrial symptoms

Acupuncture is an ancient healing practice rooted in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It involves the insertion of fine needles into specific points on the body to stimulate energy flow, or Qi (pronounced ‘chee’), and promote the body’s natural healing processes.

While acupuncture has been used for centuries to address a wide range of ailments, its potential benefits for individuals with mitochondrial disease are a relatively new area of exploration.

How can acupuncture help to manage mitochondrial symptoms?

  • Pain management: Many individuals with mitochondrial disease experience chronic pain due to muscle weakness and fatigue. Acupuncture may help alleviate pain by stimulating the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers.
  • Improved energy levels: Acupuncture may assist in boosting energy levels by enhancing circulation and optimizing the functioning of the body’s energy systems. While it cannot correct mitochondrial dysfunction, it may help individuals feel more energized and less fatigued.
  • Stress reduction: Managing stress is essential for people with mitochondrial disease, as stress can exacerbate symptoms. Acupuncture has been shown to reduce stress and promote relaxation, potentially improving overall well-being.
  • Enhanced sleep: Many individuals with mitochondrial disease struggle with sleep disturbances. Acupuncture may help regulate sleep patterns and improve the quality of sleep, leading to better rest and increased energy.
  • Digestive support: Gastrointestinal symptoms are common in mitochondrial disease. Acupuncture may help alleviate digestive discomfort and promote better nutrient absorption.
  • Holistic approach: Acupuncture is often part of a holistic approach to health, focusing on the individual’s overall well-being. It can complement other treatments and therapies used in the management of mitochondrial disease.

The importance of an integrative approach

Acupuncture alone is not considered to be a standalone treatment for the symptoms of mitochondrial conditions but is increasingly being seen as an effective treatment as part of an integrative approach to healthcare involving different disciplines.

Here are some things to think about if you suffer from a mitochondrial condition and are considering alternative complementary healthcare options:

Consultation: Always consult with a knowledgeable healthcare provider – ideally your clinical health practitioner as well as someone who is experienced in both conventional and complementary medicine, before starting acupuncture.

Individualised Treatment: Acupuncture should be tailored to the individual’s specific needs and symptoms, taking into account the severity and type of mitochondrial disease. Your acupuncturist should take the time to talk to you about your condition, liaise with your clinical caregiver where appropriate, and build a treatment routine that is designed to meet your specific needs.

Monitoring: Your acupuncture therapist and clinical practitioner should work together to monitor your response to acupuncture treatment, assess its effectiveness, and adjust the approach as needed.

Acupuncture for generalised symptoms

Naturally, the presence of some of the symptoms commonly associated with mitochondrial disease doesn’t necessarily indicate the presence of the condition.
Many people experience fatigue or pain without being diagnosed with an underlying health issue, and just as acupuncture is effective in managing the impact of these symptoms in people who do have a mitochondrial disease, so it is also effective in more generalised instances of these symptoms.

Elsewhere on our website you can read how acupuncture can help with pain management, fatigue, sleep issues, generalised digestive issues (as well as those relating to specific gastric conditions, immune deficiencies, hormonal balance, and fertility issues – among many other things.

If you’d like to find out more about acupuncture, whether in the treatment of mitochondrial disease or as part of your general health management, please get in touch for a friendly, confidential chat.


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