By Sarah Starr

Acupuncture, a form of traditional Chinese medicine that involves needle insertion, has been leaving its mark around Santa Cruz.

A new acupuncture clinic, Grassroots Acupuncture Project, recently opened off Soquel Ave. in Santa Cruz. The clinic-one of over 35 private acupuncturists and clinics in the City of Santa Cruz-strives to provide affordable, high-quality acupuncture to the Santa Cruz community.

Sage Warren, a Santa Cruz local and a frequent visitor to the Five Branches Institute, says that acupuncture is a holistic approach to one’s general health and wellbeing.

"Acupuncture doesn’t just help heal the pain, it helps heal you as a whole," Warren said.

Acupuncture, with roots in Taoist beliefs dating back 8,000 years, is used to treat pain, addiction, colds, migraines, nausea and more.

The Chinese believe that the body has energy flowing through it, and when that energy is blocked, the body cannot heal itself.

The use of acupuncture to treat pain is not uncommon and involves a three-step process. Before the procedure begins, the practitioner asks the patient about his or her physical and emotional ailments in hopes to address multiple problems.

In the second step, the needles are inserted into certain distal points in the body to destroy blockages and stimulate the healing process. The third step utilizes prescribed herbs to further treat the specific ailments.

There have been many medical disputes as to whether this ancient method is a placebo or if it truly does stimulate the healing process. Much of the research on its effectiveness has been done in China. However, it seems that the United States is also interested in the benefits of acupuncture.

The Federal Government’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) has been researching the effectiveness of acupuncture.

According to the NCCAM website, "Acupuncture provides pain relief and serves as an effective complement to standard care.

Further research is likely to uncover additional areas where acupuncture interventions will be useful."

Jennifer Lokey, a practitioner at the Grassroots Acupuncture Project, views acupuncture as more than just a short-term solution.

"The Eastern form of medicine is good for treating chronic symptoms," Lokey said. "It can help people with their depression and acupuncture is complementary to many Western medical practices."

Western medicine may be looking to the East for answers, as many clinics offer the opportunity to use health insurance on acupuncture. UCSC’s health insurance offers $250 for use on acupuncture visits on campus. Depending on the clinic, the charge can be anywhere from $15 to $50 for an hour session.

Brandon Smith, a second-year student at UCSC, expressed his excitement to experience acupuncture for the first time.

"I’ve been eager to try this procedure," Smith said. "I’m glad to hear that it can be so affordable."