Monday Medical: Acupuncture in winter |

Monday Medical: Acupuncture in winter

Susan Cunningham
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Interested in fending off a range of ailments from the common cold to the winter blues? Then you might want to consider adding acupuncture to your winter routine.

Below, Kelley McDaneld, a licensed acupuncturist with UCHealth Integrative Medicine Clinic in Steamboat Springs, describes how acupuncture can be especially beneficial through the long, cold months of winter.

Preventing sickness

Acupuncture has been shown to boost the immune system, which helps prevent colds, the flu and other illnesses that are more common in winter months.

It works, in part, because acupuncture increases white blood cell counts — specifically T-cell counts — which are an important component of the immune system, while also decreasing inflammation throughout the body.

“One hypothesis for why that happens is that, when the needles are inserted, you’re creating a little irritation that the immune system responds to,” McDaneld said.

Regular acupuncture can help prevent an illness from taking hold, especially when done 12 to 24 hours after the first sign of sickness.

“If someone gets acupuncture right away, when they first feel that little soreness in the throat or a headache, it works quite well,” McDaneld said. “A lot of times, people feel worse right after treatment, but then the next day, the pathogen causing the illness is gone, and they don’t get the full-blown cold.”

Improving mood

“With less light, people may be a little more prone to feeling down, but regular acupuncture can really improve mood,” McDaneld said. “Acupuncture has been shown to increase endorphins in the body, and that naturally boosts your mood. It can increase the release of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, which also help.”

In Chinese medicine, mild cases of depression are attributed to a stagnation of “qi” or “chi,” also called the life-force or energy, and acupuncture can help get that qi moving.

Every individual reacts differently to acupuncture, so benefits can be more pronounced for some patients than others.

“It depends on the person,” McDaneld said. “Some people really respond while others don’t as well.”

Decreasing stress

In traditional Chinese medicine, winter months are considered a good time to rest and let the body rejuvenate. But with the holidays — and the travel, family obligations and extra work they entail — right in the middle, winter can become a stressful time of year.

“The winter season in Chinese medicine is the time to slow down, to replenish your energy, to store up for the upcoming spring and summer months,” McDaneld said. “Acupuncture helps people relax. It’s not very often that people take an hour out of their day to mindfully rest. That really calms the nervous system overall.”

Decreasing stress not only helps you feel better, but it also decreases risk of illness.

“Stress depletes qi, or one’s energy stores, but by reducing stress, you’re more resilient and stress is less likely to take a toll,” McDaneld said.

If you decide to try acupuncture and are not dealing with a specific injury or illness, McDaneld recommends scheduling a session once a week for two or three weeks, then spacing sessions out further. It’s ideal to try acupuncture first when you’re well, so you and your practitioner understand how your body reacts to the treatment.

And don’t forget to find other ways to slow down and rest.

“People here tend to really push their bodies all seasons of the year, and they don’t tend to allow time for rest and rejuvenation. In the long-term, that can be detrimental,” McDaneld said. “It’s all about moderation and listening to your body. In the long-run, you’ll be able to stay active longer if you don’t overdo it.”

Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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