Acupuncture works - but why?
Acupuncture is a popular, inexpensive, and effective method for pain relief and addiction treatment and should be included in the medical curriculum by the first semester. This thesis was presented at a specialist conference in London. However, the reasons for acupuncture's effectiveness remain unclear, so further research is needed. "There is compelling evidence for the specific efficacy of acupuncture in treating nausea and vomiting," said Jacqueline Filshie of the Royal Marsden Hospital in Surrey, UK, at an acupuncture conference organized by the Novartis Foundation in London in early March 1998. "Ideally, once acupuncture is widely recognized as the best therapy for certain conditions, it will become part of the curriculum for medical students," she adds.
Research has shown that the use of acupuncture to treat pain provided relief 70 percent of the time. Clinical tests show that acupuncture is successful in treating osteoarthritis of the knee, tennis elbow, headache, face and back pain. In the United States alone, one million people undergo acupuncture each year.
Eastern philosophy holds that acupuncture balances the body's energy flow, qi, by inserting needles at specific points along the body's twelve energy channels, or meridians. According to this theory, disease occurs when there are changes in the direction and intensity of this energy flow. These changes can be corrected by putting needles in the appropriate places.
There are few Western experts who dismiss acupuncture outright - largely because of its success in relieving pain. However, the reasons for their effectiveness are hotly debated among experts.
"Despite extensive research, no one has presented any convincing scientific evidence for the existence of the meridians or 'energy flow'," said Adrian White of the Department of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter Medical School. White believes that acupuncture's effectiveness is owed more to the "I'm feeling good" factor, as well as triggering the production of various chemicals in the body, such as endorphins - the body's natural pain killers - and serotonin, the stuff, which is responsible for regulating moods.
Acupuncturists generally spend more time with their patients than conventional physicians. This, White believes, helps make such patients feel more cared for. "Apparently, acupuncture has a strong placebo effect. It offers an aura of Eastern mysticism, time spent with the patient, and the influence of the needle treatment." He also believes that more research needs to be done to determine whether acupuncture is effective for pain management, as opposed to the long-term treatment of disease, where the results of this method are less impressive. "There is encouraging evidence that acupuncture can help patients to recover from a stroke. However, as of now, we don't know if this is just due to extra interest and attention being given to the patient."
Hagen Rampes, Hospital Physician at South Kensington and Chelsea Medical He alth Center in London, informed the conference that acupuncture can also have negative side effects, but these are rare - in one in 10,000 to 100,000 cases. "More than 300 serious adverse effects have been reported worldwide over a 30-year period," he said. Side effects include bacterial and viral infections, pain, drowsiness, and worsening of diseases due to incorrect diagnosis. Most reported cases (more than 100 worldwide) were pneumothorax, and trauma to tissues and organs.