Pinpointing the truth about acupuncture

Are you afraid of needles?

I used to be! I used to hate needles! It wasn’t until I had a horribly painful experience as a teenager and begged nurses to stick me with some morphine that I let that go. Well, sort of… I’m still not a fan of needles, and this has been something I’ve had to address when considering acupuncture as an alternative form of treatment.

Why acupuncture?

I tried acupuncture and Chinese herbs in 2010 to help me with pain and mood disorders. I was skeptical, but was desperate for something else other than popping pills that doctors kept giving me but didn’t really do the job (or had bad side effects if it did!). Compared to my childhood fears of being jabbed with a needle by a big, sweaty, hairy doctor, the experience wasn’t as painful as I had expected. It was actually quite relaxing, to the point that I would regularly fall asleep! But did it help… I don’t think so. So I quit.

Then I decided to try it again. After becoming a host slut to all the viruses going around last year, I was desperate to get through this year without spending weeks being used up by all the bugs. I went to the acupuncturist my dentist recommended. During the initial consultation, she asked me about all of my health concerns and suggested that these are all interlinked and can be treated by Chinese medicine. Again, I was skeptical. Nine months later, and I am still seeing my acupuncturist regularly and things overall are better than they were before being regularly uses as a human pin cushion.

How it works?

The idea is that the body has energy channels flowing through it (meridians), and blockages in these channels cause health issues. Acupuncture helps unblock these channels to let the energy (qi) flow.

In western medicine, there is no anatomical, physiological, or histological equivalent to meridian or qi. But it is thought to be linked to the sympathetic nervous system (our fight or flight response).

Does is work?

The jury is still out on this – at least in the western world of science which finds conflicting results. Many studies have three study groups:

  1. One which receive acupuncture in line with TCM;
  2. The group that receives ‘sham’ acupuncture;
  3. And the control group.

It would seem that, in the very least, people who receive acupuncture are better off than those who don’t. Placebo affect? Maybe…

Why is it so hard to pinpoint the trust?

The problem is controlling the effects of the ‘sham’ acupuncture. Sticking a needle in someone’s body seems to illicit a response whether this is in line with TCM or not. It seems that the way around this is to use ‘sham’ acupuncture that doesn’t actually puncture the skin.

But who really cares if it is TCM acupuncture or ‘sham’ acupuncture that gives the person a good result? For me, I’m just happy lost my slutty reputation amongst the viruses. I’m overall feeling healthier and more at peace – surely that is a benefit?

Where to from here?

If people want to pinpoint if acupuncture really works, then scientists need to consistently use the same technique of ‘sham’ acupuncture which doesn’t puncture the skin. But then do we need to scientifically prove this? Maybe it’s the power of the mind? If acupuncture and ‘sham’ acupuncture make you feel better than no acupuncture, then that’s better than nothing – isn’t it?

Check this out:

The Science of Acupuncture – BBC Documentary

Blog informed by:

BISHOP, F. L. & LEWITH, G. T. 2013. Patients’ preconceptions of acupuncture: a qualitative study exploring the decisions patients make when seeking acupuncture. BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 13, 102.

DENNEHY, E. B., SCHNYER, R., BERNSTEIN, I. H., GONZALEZ, R., SHIVAKUMAR, G., KELLY, D. I., SNOW, D. E., SUREDDI, S. & SUPPES, T. 2009. The safety, acceptability, and effectiveness of acupuncture as an adjunctive treatment for acute symptoms in bipolar disorder. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 70, 897-905.

HE, W., TONG, Y., ZHAO, Y., ZHANG, L., BEN, H., QIN, Q., HUANG, F. & RONG, P. 2013. Review of controlled clinical trials on acupuncture versus sham acupuncture in Germany. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 33, 403-407.

PAULSON, K. L. & SHAY, B. L. 2013. Sympathetic nervous system responses to acupuncture and non-penetrating sham acupuncture in experimental forearm pain: a single-blind randomised descriptive study. Acupuncture in Medicine, 31, 178-184.


One Response to “Pinpointing the truth about acupuncture”

  1. chingp says:

    Hi, I am surprised by this post, because I thought of writing on a Chinese medicine topic weeks ago but abandoned it; it was too complex to explain.
    But this post is simple enough to understand, I like your own experience (I have never tried acupuncture but the herb medicine) and that you addressed the issue if the effectiveness could be due to placebo effect.
    It is really hard to prove Chinese Medicine by science but I still wish scientists and Chinese medicine practitioners will keep trying; this can save more lives by providing more alternatives or by eliminating some practices that are not effective at all.

    Nice post! 🙂