Research and the Efficacy of Acupuncture
Acupuncture is an ancient form of healing with a documented history of roughly 3000 years. In China and other Asian countries, this form of healing is a foundational part of the overall culture, and people are aware of the benefits of receiving acupuncture. In fact, some of the population is educated in terminologies (i.e. hot/cold, yin/yang, damp/dry, wind, etc.) used to diagnose conditions. However, there are very few research studies in the United States that demonstrate the effectiveness of acupuncture.
In the past year, studies have been released that demonstrate the benefits of acupuncture. In October 2012, a systematic review of twenty-nine randomly controlled trials provided indications for the efficacy of using acupuncture in treating pain. A meta-analysis of over 17,000 individual patient results was conducted during this review. The researchers concluded that the patients receiving acupuncture had less pain than patients receiving "fake" (sham) acupuncture or no acupuncture. This particular review looked at multiple studies over a period of years. Since acupuncture has a very individual approach to treatment, the results were unable to specify definitive acupuncture treatments that could be used in treating pain.
Another study, published in February, evaluated electroacupuncture and its effectiveness in reducing stress responses. A researcher at Georgetown University Medical Center, Ladan Eshkevari, Ph.D., evaluated the stress hormones of rats exposed to cold. There were three groups evaluated in this study—one receiving electroacupuncture, one receiving "fake" (sham) electroacupuncture and one receiving no electroacupuncture. Of the three groups, the group receiving electroacupuncture showed significant reductions in peripheral stress hormones (corticotropin and cortisol). In addition, there was also a reduction of stress hormones (corticotropin-releasing hormone) in the brain. This current scientific study shows promising results in using electroacupuncture for treating stress.
In clinical practice, many acupuncturists witness the benefits to their patients. They observe phenomenon such as lighter mood, relaxed muscles, improved skin color, brighter complexion and other acupuncture diagnostic measures such as Chinese pulse and tongue diagnosis. These phenomenon are highlighted by patients’ subjective reports, which include reduced pain, lower stress, better appetite, increased energy and an overall better quality of life.
While many case studies emphasize the benefits patients experience from receiving acupuncture, these studies do little to quell the need for large randomized studies supporting the efficacy of acupuncture. Researchers from around the world continue to conduct and publish research studies about the efficacy of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. In fact, China is currently the leader in producing both case studies and randomly controlled trials about the positive effects of Chinese herbal medicines. As the health care system in the United States begins to change in the coming years, we will begin to see more scientific studies about the positive results of acupuncture.
References: Journal of Endocrinology, March 2013, 217(1) “Acupuncture Blocks Cold Stress-induced Increases in the Hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal Axis in the Rat” by Eshkevar, L., Permaul, E., and Mulroney, S.E. Archives of Internal Medicine, October 2012, 172(19) “Acupuncture for Chronic Pain: Individual Patient Data Meta-analysis” by Vickers, A. et al.
Adam Miramon, LAc, DiplAc, is a licensed acupuncturist in the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia. He holds his Diplomate of Acupuncture through the National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). Adam is founder and owner of Ix Chel Wellness (www.IxChelWellness.com), an acupuncture practice based in Washington metropolitan area.