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Are Piercings Worth the Price?

By November 1, 2012January 30th, 20148 Comments

As Spenser said in the last post, we have arrived to sandstone heaven. I could not be happier. Colorado has beautiful stone and a multitude of great climbs, but Joe’s Valley is just easy. Especially after a summer consisting of driving an hour and a half, hiking another hour a half, climbing, hiking over talus for a half hour, climbing, and repeating. Free camping, boulders everywhere, and a town with everything you need just a short ride away. It’s been effortless getting used to life at Joe’s.

But I’m getting carried away. The point of this post is to talk about piercings! Let’s go back to where my curiosity with this began. Towards the end of our first climbing day at Left Fork, we met Mina Leslie-Wujastyk and David Mason. Mina and I started talking about physical therapy and the recurrent shoulder/neck injury she used to struggle with.

Spenser working the moves to They Call Him Jordan. This starts and finishes on one of my big projects at Joe’s Valley: Wills a Fire.

Mina’s shoulder would act up, especially during training, much like my injury (similar neck pain with numbness down the arm). She went to a chiropractor in Britain that was more on the alternative side of things and he told her that her piercings could be hindering her recovery. Piercings? Really?

Her chiropractor explained that because of the repetitive stress on her body from traveling, climbing hard, training, and so on, her immune system was already working overtime. To add the piercings on top of all that was possibly the straw that broke the camel’s back, in a way. Since her immune system was constantly working to fight foreign bodies (her piercings), it was unable to properly heal her shoulder.

They followed up this discussion with proprioceptive muscle strength tests – measuring how strong her arms were at opposing force with or without the specific piercings. Apparently, the difference was striking – especially for the tongue ring (Mina said she had a tongue, nose, and earlobe piercings at the time) initially. Then, after a relapse, it looked as if her nose stud was also a problem. One by one, all the piercings were gone. Since then (around the beginning of February), she was finally able to take her training to the next level and the rest is girl crushing history – I’m sure many of you have seen Mina’s recent sends of Tetris and Mecca.

So I know this is all sounds like “airy-fairy stuff,” as Mina’s boyfriend, David, likes to say. But can there be some truth to it? I decided to get on the laptop at the good ol’ Food Ranch and do a bit of my own research.

I did a bit of online scouring prior to getting my tongue pierced. At that time, my research led me to the conclusion that the worst I could really end up with was a chipped tooth or lisp. I was willing to take those chances. As most of you already know, the exact words that you Google make a huge difference.  When I started researching piercings and the effect they can have on the immune system, I was given a completely different world of information.

What Mina’s chiropractor was saying apparently makes complete sense. Piercings stress out your body and cause increased cortisol (the stress hormone) production. Pumping out cortisol is your body’s natural reaction to a threat, but sadly our body’s flight-or-fight response can’t differentiate between a real threat (a bear attack) versus a perceived threat (a really bad day at work or a piercing). Too much cortisol in the body is linked to weight gain, depression, and high blood pressure. Sure, I’m not worried about weight gain, depression, or high blood pressure necessarily, but continuously elevated cortisol levels inhibits the immune system while also leading to an overall cortisol depletion in your body. Low levels of cortisol can lead to low energy. A lowered immune system AND low energy?! Now this is very bad for climbing. Especially for a climbing road trip. This just skims the surface of what elevated cortisol levels do to your body, for more check out the Wikipedia page on it.

I then did a little more digging into tongue and navel piercings specifically, since those are the two that I am attached to, or that are attached to me, I guess. This is where we get into the more “airy-fairy stuff.” In acupuncture and related practices, such as acupressure, the tongue and navel are high-energy zones and metals (body piercings) are supposed to be avoided because they impede energy flow. What acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine refer to as “energy balance” can be related to the balance of our body’s endocrine system, for those of us who do not like to use words like “energy” and “flow.”

Acupuncture regulates our body’s Qi (pronounced chi) by improving energy flow through 14 meridians, channels that carry the Qi to various organs to keep our energy fields in balance. Before many of you start to dismiss this altogether, let me remind you that acupuncture is now recognized by NIH, the World Health Organization, and most medical doctors as an effective health therapy for certain medical issues.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the belly button is located in the middle of a primary energy line, the Conception Vessel Meridian. This is a forbidden acupuncture point known as CV8 and, in theory, can lead to core energy burn-out and cause fertility issues in women. While the tongue is divided into 5 parts: stomach, lungs, heart, gallbladder, and liver. The middle of the tongue (what is traditionally pierced) involves the spleen and stomach points, related to chronic digestion problems. Of course, we’re getting into theories at this point, but I found this all quite interesting. Anyone with piercings experience these types of issues?

The parts of the tongue according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.

I’m still figuring out what to make of all this. So far, my conclusion is the same as it has been for a while: every part of our body is connected, a disturbance in one part will inevitably effect the rest of the body in one form or another. I think the point that resonated most with me after all my reading was that a piercing will undoubtedly cause extra stress on the body. This, in addition with other common stressors, such as training, not getting enough sleep, and improper diet, will add up and the piercing could make the difference between your body healing properly versus the issue becoming chronic.

This clicked with me. I have an overactive immune system and continuing digestive problems due to Celiac Disease. Anything that could be getting in the way of me having an awesome climbing day and enjoying every day of this road trip needs to go. I took out my tongue and belly button piercings a few days ago. I figure it’ll be a fun little experiment (of course there are too many other variables, but a test nonetheless).  I have grown quite attached to my piercings (I’ve had my belly button ring for 10 years now), especially the reaction my tongue ring gets from certain people, but I don’t need it.

A quick update, it’s been about a week since my tongue ring and a few days since I took out my belly button ring. My shoulder has really been doing well in spite of the heavy climbing load. I’ve even been sleeping on my left side (which I have not been able to do comfortably for months). This is also great since I’ve haven’t been able to do my physical therapy exercises consistently at Joe’s. Nevertheless, no shoulder pain. I know this does not prove anything, but I think it’s extremely fascinating and hopefully helpful to somehow else out there! Even if it’s just the placebo effect, who really cares? What I do know is I’m done with piercings for the moment.


  • Cory says:

    I would love to see a source that shows piercings cause an increase in cortisol production. The link you post is a very “airy-fairy” article, and none of the scientific articles at the bottom mention cortisol at all. Did you find any other sources?

    • Vikki Glinskii says:

      Thanks for asking for clarification! Although I cannot find any studies that scientifically prove this, here’s my explanation (of note, this is how it was explained to me by a practicing medical doctor). A foreign object (piercing, implant, or otherwise) in your body will cause increased stress and inflammation. The hypothalamus will react to this by telling the adrenal gland to pump out more cortisol. The increased stress, inflammation, and subsequent cortisol production will vary per person. Regarding piercings specifically, there will be an immediate spike in cortisol production when you actually get the piercing since you have an open wound in your body. Once the piercing heals, there is no scientific proof (at least that I could find) that your cortisol level will remain elevated. The thing to keep in mind is some piercings never fully “heal” and continue to be irritated or inflamed (as in the case of my tongue piercing). As long as there are signs of inflammation/irritation, cortisol will continue to be produced as a response (proof for this can be found with a simple PubMed search about Cortisol). With no sign of inflammation/irritation, the jury is still out on whether or not cortisol production will be affected- I can’t find studies providing proof one way or the other.

      I hope this is helpful!

  • Alexis says:

    I got my tongue pierced a little over a year ago, and I have noticed my digestion has slowly gotten worse and worse over time.
    I started with no problems, but about 6 months later I started to get really loose bowels. Then as time went on, it turned into chronic diarrhea every morning. I only eat pure, clean foods. So i figured I developed an egg intolerance over time. (I used egg protein powder for after workouts).
    It seemed to get a little better, but then it came back about 3 weeks later. Keep in mind, I would randomly take out the piercing for work or for dinner with relatives. So maybe those brief piercing-free moments were the random days of normalcy.
    After doing research on acupressure of the tongue, I am really hoping this is the root of my problem! I have been living in pure hell for almost a year. I never linked the two together, so lets hope this is the cause!
    Have you had any more luck after removing yours? I also heard the scar from the piercing can cause problems too. Would acupuncture help?

    • Vikki says:

      Hey Alexis! Really interesting stuff. When did you take your piercing out? Wondering if your digestion issues have gotten any better. I have way more control over my bowel movements nowadays. Of course I can’t guarantee it’s the tongue piercing, but I haven’t changed much else! I hope it works for you and you are feeling better. Regarding acupuncture, I’ve only tried it once (actually about two months) and I can’t say I saw a difference but I’m not having digestive issues at the moment – just got it to see if I would like it in general. Which I didn’t really… Might have been my acupuncturist, though. Would be willing to give it a shot again when I have the $$. Let me know if you try it and see any benefit!

  • Jenna says:

    I just went to an acupuncturist last week who told me my tongue piercing could be causing me problems. I’ve never heard this before, though my old chiropractor mentioned that scars can cause issues sometimes. My symptoms are related to the lungs/large intestine according to the acupuncturist and it’s interesting because my tongue piercing goes through the lungs and the heart meridians on the tongue (it’s slanted, I guess because of how my tongue is).

    Anyways, I wanted to ask you if letting your tongue piercing close has helped your health a lot. I don’t really need mine but would still hate to let it close up for nothing. Also, have you experienced any food sensitivities since having your tongue pierced and have they resolved after letting it close?

    • Vikki says:

      Hi Jenna! There are still days when I miss my tongue piercing, but I think the decision to let it close was a good one. Since I have Celiac Disease, my food sensitivities will never go away – but I’ve seen immense improvement in my bowel movements. Sorry to be graphic, but I now rarely have issues with my stool, where I used to have frequent loose stools. This has been a huge change for me since I am outside all the time, and often do not have access to a toilet. Let me know if this helps, or if you have any other questions!

  • Natalie says:

    Hi, just wanted to let you know the link for piercings causing increased cortisol levels is broken. I wondered what it pointed to, as I’d like to get a grip on the research behind this for a friend. Many thanks!

    • Vikki says:

      Hey Natalie! Thanks for letting me know. Unfortunately, I can’t find anything to replace the link at the moment. The link pointed to an article that showed how having a piercing (anywhere) increased cortisol levels in the body. Again, if I remember correctly, it was related to how piercings are foreign objects in the body – which would cause your body to fight off this foreign object. I think it also mentioned how depending on where your piercing is, and what the jewelry is made of, also affects cortisol levels. For example, if it’s your ears vs. tongue, or gold vs. silver – it’s all case by a case, and all depends on the person. For me, my tongue piercing never felt quite right and I think that was a sign that it needed to go. Sorry I couldn’t provide you any actual data! Feel free to ask any more questions you might have.

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