Acupuncture’s effectiveness confirmed in major new study

A major new study consolidating data from over 18,000 patients proved the most concrete scientific evidence yet that acupuncture can treat chronic pain has just been released and has been on national news.

Here is a nice summary in the New York Times:

This shows that acupuncture is steadily become more mainstream. This was a really good quality study that may move more insurers to cover acupuncture like any other medical therapy. I never forget that there is a national crisis in chronic pain management. Millions of people are addicted to narcotics and pain killers and thousands die every year because of the limitations and dangers of the conventional approaches to pain management.

Acupuncture is a much safer and increasingly proven alternative.

Pet acupuncture growing in popularity

More and more pet owners are finding that acupuncture can help their beloved pets. I was delighted to see this article in the Washington Post this week which highlighted my old acupuncturist,  Greta McVeigh. Greta treated me during my student years when I was training to be an acupuncturist and I learnt a lot from her. She is a wonderful practitioner for people and I have no doubt that animals will also benefit tremendously.

Pet acupuncture does not involve any placebo effects, so any response is a true effect of the needles. My mother had  a dog who suffered severe arthritis from Lyme disease even after she was treated by conventional veterinarian medicine with antibiotics and pain medication. She was a big dog who became aggressive and even dangerous as a result of chronic pain. After a course of acupuncture therapy she was back to her old happy self.


Scratch not! Acupuncture works for your allergies

Although acupuncture has established a reputation for pain control, fewer people are aware that it can be very effective for various types of allergy-related issues and asthma. Research is beginning to demonstrate what I see frequently in my practice. I’ve just seen this recent study in the respected medical journal, Allergy, showing that acupuncture was MORE effective than standard medical therapy for itching associated with the most common type of skin allergy, atopic dermatitis. Standard therapy is an antihistamine such as cetirizine (Zyrtec) with annoying side effects such as drowsiness. Here is the link:
Acupuncture compared with oral antihistamine for type I hypersensitivity itch and skin response in adults with atopic dermatitis – a patient- and examiner-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover trial
This builds on earlier research from 2010, that showed that when allergies were experimentally provoked by injecting allergens under the skin, both the itch and the size of the wheal (the red inflamed area) were significantly lower when acupuncture was used.
Influence of acupuncture on type I hypersensitivity itch and the wheal and flare response in adults with atopic eczema – a blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover trial.
I find that I can reduce the symptoms of many types of allergies and hives with 2-4 treatments, although patient responses do vary.

Acupuncture may help you live longer!

Really! Acupuncture may help you live longer. A pilot study presented at the American College of Cardiology annual meeting this month showed that acupuncture might help reduce the risk of “sudden death” for patients with heart disease. This is a potentially big deal. Sudden cardiac death, or cardiac arrest, kills around 150,000 people a year in the USA. Medicine is still learning about this issue and we know that traditional cardiac risk factors (smoking, family history etc) don’t fully explain the risk.
So what did the study show? Bear with me, since it’s a little bit complicated. Acupuncture for 12 weeks increased the variability of heart beats. Some background physiology is necessary here. Put simply, in all of us there are subtle variations in the timing of each heart beat. This in turn reflects the neurological control of the heart by the “autonomic nervous system”, the background wiring of the body that helps control unconscious functions, like heart rate, throughout the body. We know that healthy people have higher rates of heart rate variability. In fact, athletes have the highest variability of all. Importantly, there is mounting evidence that people with heart disease who are at the highest risk of sudden death, have LOW heart rate variability. You can read the technical details here, in Circulation (a major cardiology journal) for those with a scientific frame of mind.

In the new study, “true” acupuncture (as opposed to “sham” acupuncture, which is needles in fake points to help exclude a placebo effect), significantly improved heart rate variability. The mechanism seems to reside in modifying the “autonomic nervous system”. It remains to be shown whether acupuncture in patients with heart disease actually live longer, but that is a logical implication that might be proven by future studies. Exciting stuff.

When I was living in Philadelphia, I worked with a cardiology group that was studying the use of complementary medicine to improve the health of its patients. I have successfully helped treat hypertension, and in fact there are studies showing improvement in hypertension in rats as a result of acupuncture (really! there is quite a literature on this). No placebo effect there!

Low Back Pain–A Problem Few Escape

Low Back Pain afflicts most of the population at one point or another. Studies suggest between 59% and 95% of us will experience its misery at some time. For many, it is a short period of discomfort that passes. But for others, it becomes a long, grinding, life-limiting condition. Conventional medicine offers little to many people. The sometimes deadly side effects of pain medication (opioids kill more people in some states than car accidents) are increasingly understood. Surgery is often of questionable benefit. So what to do?
I frequently treat low back pain in my practice, often with patients who have tried everything else and failed to obtain adequate relief. I take a multifaceted approach to this complex problem and approach it from many levels. I am delighted to say that most of my patients experience significant relief. Studies confirm the benefits of acupuncture. If you are interested I recommend this large study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, which consolidated 33 studies and found a significant benefit.

However, most studies focus on acute pain relief–which acupuncture can do. Successful treatment requires much more than just acute pain relief. Once pain becomes chronic, it affects mood and sleep. In turn, patient’s dietary habits deteriorate and they gain weight.
I work with my patients to improve all these areas, taking a deeply holistic approach, which I find is essential for treating low back pain. You can read more about this in my other posts.

Help for patients with Parkinsonism

There is much more to Chinese medicine than acupuncture, one element of which is Qi Gong, which I use with my patients, and involves movement and breathing exercises. It is related to but different from the better known Tai Chi.

I was interested to see this recent study in the prestigious journal, The New England Journal of Medicine, that shows the potential benefits of Tai Chi for people who suffer from Parkinson’s disease. A 24 week course of Tai Chi had significant benefits, including fewer than half the number of falls in participants compared to other forms of therapy as well as improved strength and balance.

My experience with patients with Parkinson’s is that they benefit in a number of ways from acupuncture. Depression and low energy levels, which often affect patients with Parkinson’s, improve noticeable. Patient also feel less stiff and generally feel improved quality of life.

Acupuncture may help restore lost hearing

Acupuncture may have a role in assisting the recovery of hearing loss with some interesting findings from Korea.

[box type=”shadow”]New research concludes that acupuncture treats hearing loss. Researchers measured the effects of acupuncture on patients with sudden sensorineural hearing loss. This type of hearing loss is defined as a loss of 30 dB or more in 3 contiguous frequencies within three days or less. Thirty-six patients of a total of seventy-two “showed improvement” with an average gain of 24.47 dB of hearing restoration[/box]
Here is the link to the report:
Effects and Prognostic Factors of Acupuncture Treatment for Idiopathic Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss. Kyu Seok Kim and Hae Jeong Nam. Department of Ophthalmology & Otorhinolaryngology, College of Oriental Medicine, Kyung Hee University, Seoul, Korea. 2011.

This is not an area I have explored myself, and I will be looking out for for more data.

Dyspepsia–new research shows the power of acupuncture

With our stressful lives, many people suffer from chronic stomach complaints. Of course there are many causes, and some of these, like ulcers, respond well to conventional medical attention. But all too often Western doctors do their tests and endoscopies, and say they can find nothing “wrong”. But the symptoms of what is then called “functional dyspepsia“, continue, with nausea, belching, chronic pain, and bloating. There is then little to offer from conventional medicine. But a new study suggests that acupuncture may be very effective indeed for this problem.

In a large trial of over 700 patients, the response rate to acupuncture was an astonishing 70%. Here’s the link to the article abstract in the GI  journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics. These patients underwent very intensive acupuncture for 4 weeks, but then had a sustained benefit for over 12 weeks after that.

My experience is that dyspepsia often fits into a “mind-body” type problem. The gut has an incredibly complex neurological system of its own that we are only beginning to understand. Acupuncture can be an effective route to bring this system back into balance.

Acupuncture works….but how?

I am looking forward to reading this book by one of my favorite authors, the physician Sherwin Nuland. In his book “The Uncertain Art: Thoughts on a Life in Medicine,”, he visits China, with fascinating results. 

“He travels to China to determine firsthand if acupuncture is an effective technique. After witnessing two operations and speaking to the president of the Shanghai Medical University, who himself had undergone two thyroid operations with acupuncture, Dr. Nuland comes away a believer — even though the procedure “has still not been explained in terms acceptable to most orthodox Western scientists using orthodox Western investigative methods.”

” …he leads readers into “astonishing” realms where science provides no explanation.”

To go through surgery without pain is a pretty convincing test.

How to cure your headache?

This is one of the areas I have had the most success with my patients. I was pleased to see this article in the New York Times.

It takes about 4- 6 treatments to see real improvement

Acupuncture safe in children

From the New York Times in the prestigious journal Pediatrics

Interestingly, the article mentions migraines. In my practice I have seen some excellent results for migraines in teenagers.  Our children are under so much stress at school, and there are some powerful points for relieving the stress they are under

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Sabina Broadhead is a nationally-certified acupuncturist and a registered nurse. Read More.


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