Nearly two decades ago, Dr. Elizabeth Trattner embarked on a career that most Americans would have found dubious. Though she was fortunate to have Dr. Andrew Weil, a Harvard-educated wellness guru, as a mentor, her decision to become an acupuncturist was off the beaten path for most aspiring health practitioners.
“Back then, people viewed acupuncture as fringe, freaky, weird,” Trattner tells MainStreet. “They thought, ‘you’re putting in needles while someone’s lying down on a table.’ That’s not soft and fuzzy.”
Years later, alternative medicine is booming, and acupuncture, in particular, is big business. American adults spent $33.9 billion on visits to practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and on purchases of related products, according to a study completed last year by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Additionally, visits to acupuncturists tripled between 1997 and 2007 to 17.6 million, according to a recent federal report, reflecting a change in the way Americans spend on health care. It appears that acupuncture is finally going mainstream.
Originating in China, acupuncture is a thousands-year-old treatment used to treat a wide variety of diseases and ailments, from post-partum depression to lower back pain, and even menstrual cramps and migraines. The process, which entails sticking hollow needles on specific points of the body, is said to relieve discomfort. And today, more Americans than ever are swearing by it.
Bekah Seitz, an acupuncturist based in Portland, was first turned on to the treatment after she’d exhausted every option under the sun to treat her chronic eye allergies and skin irritation.
“We tried pills that I took orally, at least 20 kinds of drops and even steroids,” Seitz recalls. “The steroids didn’t do any good. Actually, it didn’t do anything … Everything was so uncomfortable and I was so desperate. Our insurance covered acupuncture, so I figured I’d give it a shot. Within two weeks, there was some relief, and by a month, it was gone for good.”
This miraculous cure-all effect is what many Americans are looking for.