Acupuncture, Lifestyle and Epigenetics

by Mark Whalen

There is some debate in the acupuncture community about the role of the acupuncturist in regards to lifestyle coaching. Some acupuncturist feel that we should just stick needles in and let the patient rest. Others feel it is incumbent upon us to let patients know how their lifestyle may be impacting their health and how changes can help them get better quicker.

I am definitely in the latter camp. As a health care provider, I feel it is important to let patients know what they can do to improve the state of their health. This is the crux of why patients come to see us-to get better.

There was an article last week in Acupuncture Today that reinforced my belief in this approach. You can read the full article here.

In short, the article compares the relatively new science of Epigenetics to the much older concept of Essence in Chinese medicine (see what I did there).

Epigenetics is the study of how genes can be turned on or off based on our external environment.  Originally thought to occur in fetal development, epigenetic changes are now understood to occur in adulthood as well.

In Chinese Medicine Essence is split into two types: Pre-natal and Post-natal.
Pre-natal essence is what we inherit from our parents (DNA-genes) and Post Natal essence is what we acquire from the environment- food, drink, pollution, toxins etc.

Pre Natal Essence = DNA inherited from parents

Post Natal Essence = Epigenetics

The science of epigenetics is basically the science of how environment impacts our genetic expression. Which genes get turned on/off? Think of it as a genetic light switch.  I'm sure you can imagine the implications for disease states within the body.  We may be predisposed to a certain disease (genetics) but it may not manifest based on our lifestyle (epigenetics).  The first disease linked to Epigenetics was Cancer-  a disease that is expected to affect 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women in their lifetimes.

A full foray into epigenetics is beyond the scope of this article but if you're interested in reading more about this topic, here are a couple of links to recently published articles on the topic.

A mother’s diet PRIOR to conception can influence her offspring’s health.

But wait, there’s more! Epigenetic changes can be traced back even further to your grandparents.

Lifestyle and Epigenetics 

So what sort of environmental factors can influence genetic expression?  It's actually the usual suspects I've talked about in the past.
• Diet
• Environmental Pollution
Chemical exposure
• Stress
• Exercise
• Smoking, alcohol, drugs
• Sleep

This list is not exhaustive.  Our lifestyles- the choices we make every day- influence epigenetics.

Advising Patients

As an acupuncturist, I am always looking to find the root cause of a patient’s condition. The longer I work with patients, the more evidence I see that nutrition/lifestyle is a major piece of many health issues.  I'm not saying nutrition alone is causative or curative, but it certainly plays a major role.

Good nutrition is foundational to good health.  In my opinion, a healthy diet is the number one treatment we can do for ourselves. Increased vegetable and fruit consumption, quality protein, healthy fats; minimize processed foods, sugar etc.  All of these changes add up, but even one change is a step in the right direction.

I'll have more on the lifestyle topic in later blogs.  Stay tuned.


Mark Whalen is a Licensed Acupuncturist and Board Certified Herbalist and the founder of Five Points Acupuncture & Wellness in Reading, MA.

Mark Whalen – who has written posts on .


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Five Points Acupuncture & Wellness
20 Pondmeadow Dr #107, Reading, MA 01867
Phone: (781) 944-3000


Serving Reading, North Reading, Wakefield, Burlington and the surrounding Middlesex County, MA areas.

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