S3:E11: What’s the deal with acupuncture?

So, Donald Trump has the country freaking out once again over his racist statements. This time they are regarding four congresswoman.   

Trump seems to want us to believe this is a strategy to bring out his base.    The media, Democrats and most Americans believe it’s blatant white supremacy.  

Republicans believe two things.  Tax cuts and conservative judges.

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I can imagine this whole ordeal stresses most readers out. That’s why we at The World As I Like It To Be podcast will sit this one out.

Instead, in this episode and blog, we will be discussing health and well being with Meena a certified yoga and pilates instructor.

Even with an active, healthy lifestyle, Meena has had a number of health crisis in her life including brain surgery which we talk in detail in another episode.  But in this episode, we focus the beneficial effects of acupuncture.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture began as traditional Chinese medicine (or TCM) as far as the Han dynasty around 200 BCE -200 CE according to some estimates.

As stated in the podcast, the practitioner of acupuncture, known as an acupuncturist, uses needles to stimulate points in the body.  Those point correspond with areas of the nervous system. 

When done correctly, the needles are able to release endorphins and other natural responses in the body.

The earliest acupuncturists used needles made from stone and bone. Later, needles were made from metal (bronze, gold, and silver).

The practice became popular in the US around the 1970s, thanks to President Nixon’s famous trip to China.

The first known mention of acupuncture was in the American media was an article by “New York Times” reporter James Reston, in which he described how it relieved his pain after appendix surgery.

Use of the ear

In our podcast Meena talks about acupuncture of the ear. Acupuncturists believe it has a powerful effect on the mind and body due to its proximity to the brain.  

A Woman’s Health article cites Marina Richardson, M.D., instructor in clinical medicine at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University who said:

 “It counteracts the effect of stress on the whole body with far-reaching effects on digestion, fertility, recovery from injuries, mental health, and overall wellbeing.”

There are yoga instructors who combine the technique with yoga for what is called “yoga puncture”.  An instructor who uses the technique said:

“The ear acupuncture is meant to sustain the changes that were making with the restorative yoga…People are leaving and feeling good up to a week after because were targeting the nervous system.”

Below is a list of conditions ear acupuncture is said to treat.

  • Allergies 
  • Anxiety
  • Arthritis 
  • Chronic pain 
  • Constipation
  • Depression 
  • Fibromyalgia 
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Irritable bowel syndrome 
  • Low back pain
  • Migraines 

In addition, the technique is sometimes used to enhance mood, aid in alleviate pain, promote sounder sleep, relieve stress, and support weight loss.

Research seems to indicate it has had mixed results when  curbing cigarette smoking.

Research published in the Swiss Journal of Research in Complementary and Natural Classical Medicine suggests ear acupuncture may help people quit smoking. The one-year study followed 126 smokers who used ear acupuncture and found more than 40 percent of subjects were smoke-free at the one year mark.

According to the study’s authors, this success rate makes ear acupuncture “a competitive alternative to orthodox medicine withdrawal methods.”

In a study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, however, a trial involving 125 people found that ear acupuncture was no more effective than placebo treatment in improving the rate of smoking cessation.

The study involved five consecutive weeks of once-a-week treatments.

Controversy

Not everyone is rushing to recommend acupuncture.  In western civilizations, it is still seen as a “pseudoscience” because its practice and techniques are “not based on scientific study”.

From Wikipedia:

The conclusions of numerous trials and systematic reviews of acupuncture are inconsistent, which suggests that it is not effective.

An overview of Cochrane reviews found that acupuncture is not effective for a wide range of conditions. A systematic review conducted by medical scientists at the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth found little evidence of acupuncture’s effectiveness in treating pain.

 Overall, the evidence suggests that short-term treatment with acupuncture does not produce long-term benefits. Some research results suggest that acupuncture can alleviate some forms of pain, though the majority of research suggests that acupuncture’s apparent effects are not caused by the treatment itself.  A systematic review concluded that the analgesic effect of acupuncture seemed to lack clinical relevance and could not be clearly distinguished from bias.

One meta-analysis found that acupuncture for chronic low back pain was cost-effective as an adjunct to standard care, while a separate systematic review found insufficient evidence for the cost-effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of chronic low back pain.”

While many, including Meena, have had different experiences, it is important to note there is such a thing as fake acupuncture.  

As mentioned in the podcast, the techniques uses specific points in the body as outlined on a map of the human body (see above). 

Only a skilled acupuncturist knows and understands where those points are and what points effect what parts of the body.  A fake acupuncturist doesn’t know these pressure points and will stick needles anywhere in the body to make the person believe they are getting relief.  

For those that experience “the placebo effect” they believe they are getting relief while not getting proper care.  

Some like Vitaly Napadow, director of the Center for Integrative Pain Neuroimaging at Harvard Medical School says, even placebo may not be as bad as it sounds.

Many people equate placebo effects with scams. “The term placebo has always had this very negative connotation,” But Napadow says our poor opinion of placebo needs revising. The human body has built-in systems for stoking or calming pain and other subjective sensations. “If a placebo can target and modulate these endogenous systems, that’s a good and a real thing,” he says.

But some, like Andrew Vickers, a biostatistician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, took a look at the placebo effect and saw that those who did not get proper treatment had benefits, but the benefits did not persist. 

“It could be acupuncture has a large placebo effect, or it could be that pressure points”—the precise locations at which needles are inserted—“are less important than acupuncturists claim,” he explains.

Either way, he takes issues with these studies claiming acupuncture is a sham:

“There are many poorly designed acupuncture studies out there, so we tried to include only the best trials,”

When comparing legit acupuncture to standard care, there was a statistically significant benefit to acupuncture, Vickers says. “We saw a measurable effect there,” he explains. “If acupuncture were a drug, we’d say the drug works.”

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