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Saturday, September 17, 2016

DOES ACUPUNCTURE WORK?

I admit I don't like to be punctured by needles.  Prejudicial, perhaps, but acupuncture reminds me of religion.  Without any compelling proof,  a remarkable number of people in our country still believe both concepts to be meaningful.

Here is one reason why this acceptance with regard to acupuncture seems to generally prevail.  The media selectively reports on isolated studies, keeping the subject at the forefront.  This morning, for example, my local newspaper indicated that acupuncture eases bad constipation:

After eight weeks of treatment with electroacupuncture -- acupuncture involving electrical stimulation -- study participants experienced significant symptom and quality-of-life improvements, the study found.

Who did this study?  Researchers in China.  

Why am I skeptical?  A couple of decades ago, my wife had some minor problems with her bowel movement.  So she bought a laxative.  She thought she read a few minutes after taking the pill, relief would come.  Surely enough, just a couple of minutes, and success.  For some reason I later decided to read those directions.  They did not say minutes, BUT SIX TO TWELVE HOURS.  There is something mental about defecation.  Some have no problems, some do.  Self-fulfilling prophesy tends to work.  One good reason why acupuncture is rewarding for a few could well be this placebo effect.

I'm not alone in my belief.  The August issue of Scientific American, entitled, The Acupuncture Myth, is subtitled:  Scientific studies show the procedure is full of holes.  The article goes on to say that:
  • the Chinese wrote off acupuncture as a superstition in the 1600's
  • by the 1800's China altogether abandoned this practice in favor or more scientific approaches
  • however, Mao Zedong revived the concept in the 1950's, for with a dearth of financial and medical resources, he needed something to convince the masses he had a health plan
Medical studies have shown no meaningful difference between acupuncture and a wide range of sham treatments.  To quote from that Sci Am paper:

Whether investigators penetrate the skin or not, use needles or toothpicks, target the particular locations on the body cited by acupuncturists or random ones, the same proportion of patients experience more or less the same degree of pain relief (the most common condition for which acupuncture is administered and the most well researched).

Says physician Harriet Hall:

We have no evidence that acupuncture is anything more than theatrical placebo.

Okay, then, why have 30 million Americans tried acupuncture for a variety of reasons, and our Federal Government spends tens of millions of dollars (about $10 million/year since 2008) to study the subject?  Call it effective lobbying or whatever, but the Mayo Clinic and Massachusetts General Hospital have been successful gaining these funds and have hired acupuncturists.  Probably to be open minded, medical practitioners tepidly accept this spending, for there is that possibility there could be something to this form of alternative medicine.

Turns out there just might be something more than psychology at play.  Mice poked with needles release adenosine that diminishes pain.  As current intractable-pain treatment tends to be mostly opioid-based, a dangerous and habit-forming practice, pharmaceutical companies are jumping on this pathway.  Mind-you, any insult to the body--pinching, pressure and the like--induces adenosine release, so there could well be a lot of nonsense to qi and block meridians as justification for acupuncture.

As a quick aside, remember those Olympic athletes, like Michael Phelps, with round circles on their skin?  Called cupping therapy, doctors general consider this to be pure pseudoscience.  Acupuncture?  Well.....

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Typhoon Malakas has weakened to 100 MPH, and is now headed for Japan:


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