Is Acupuncture a Deception?

For centuries, acupuncture and Chinese medicine have been the sole medical system in many Asian countries. Unfortunately, our modern Western medical and scientific communities are just beginning to catch up.
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On July 24, during a WHYY Radio Times interview with Marty Moss-Coane, Dr. Paul Offit, chief of infectious disease and director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, defined acupuncture as a deception. In his recent book, Do You Believe in Magic: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine, he also takes aim at this ancient form of healing, which predates recorded history, putting it into the category of ineffective, potentially dangerous and usually a waste of money. Such statements made by such an authority figure working in the No. 1 children's hospital in the country, and perhaps the world, raises serious concerns for health care professionals, who have invested in learning and practicing acupuncture, as well as the general public, who can benefit from acupuncture treatments.

Acupuncture is an aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which today recognizes not only what we have learned through contemporary allopathic medicine regarding the human structure and function, but also the energetic foundation for human mental and physical functions. In particular, it has anatomically mapped in detail how human energy circulates, connects, and interacts with the environment. Acupuncture influences human energy through manipulating the meridians of the human body that are connected energetically with internal organs and systems. In TCM, it is the energetic level of any disorder that is considered the primary factor in mental and physical illnesses. Whereas acupuncture treats the root cause of the problem at an energetic level so that the body does not continue to suffer, pharmaceuticals only treat symptoms. They don't cure anything.

Dr. Offit's challenge is that all the energetic structure and function of the body is not visible with the naked eye or any current imaging technology. Unfortunately for many individuals within the conventional medical community, only "seeing is believing." This perspective on observation may sound right; however, it is really incorrect if we take into consideration that we cannot see the wind or the air we breathe, even though it does exist and we could not live without it or the oxygen we inhale into our lungs. We also cannot see the heat or humidity, but we can feel them because they do exist. Our heart beats, our bowel moves fecal matter through it and our brain thinks, yet we do not see how these things work. Although our medical technology is limited, no one should deny that acupuncture is clinically proven and effective medicine -- not even a doctor from a top academic institution.

For centuries, acupuncture and Chinese medicine have been the sole medical system in many Asian countries. Numerous pieces of literature have documented the efficacy of it in treating both chronic and acute conditions. Unfortunately, our modern Western medical and scientific communities are just beginning to catch up.

In November 1997, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published an Acupuncture NIH Consensus Statement, which noted that acupuncture is an effective treatment for pain and an adjunct treatment in situations such as addiction, stroke rehabilitation headache, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other conditions. A 12-member panel representing the fields of acupuncture, pain, psychology, psychiatry, physical medicine and rehabilitation, in addition to other fields of medicine, developed their conclusions based upon the scientific evidence presented in an open forum as well as scientific literature.

The World Health Organization's 2003, 87-page Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials specifically listed 28 diseases, symptoms or conditions for which acupuncture has been proven through controlled trials to be an effective treatment. Nearly 100 more conditions were reported by controlled trials to have some therapeutic benefits. In addition, The American Medical Association Journal of Internal Medicine (JAMA) concluded that acupuncture is effective for reducing chronic pain with few side effects. JAMA reported that acupuncture's efficacy is not a placebo effect although authors of the studies were puzzled regarding why sham acupuncture (a control group receiving non-skin puncture stimulation of non-acupuncture point stimulation) is still more effective than conventional therapies for pain management. To learn more about sham acupuncture and why it works better than conventional therapies, look for my next post.

Basically, medical science in the last century has discovered multiple biochemical and physiological impacts that acupuncture can produce in animals and human beings. This includes modulating neurotransmitters, hormones, and the immune system. It also affects brain reception of pain signals and autonomic nerve responses.

Presently in the U.S., there are 82 accredited colleges and universities that offer professional training for a Masters Degree and/or Doctoral Degree in acupuncture. This includes the College of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine at Northwestern Health Sciences University, a natural health care university in Bloomington, Minnesota, which has been an international leader in natural health care education, patient care, and research for more than 70 years. Since 1971, Northwestern's Wolfe-Harris Center for Clinical Studies has become one of the largest natural health care research institutions in the world. Additionally, The Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine have been functioning since 1982.

In April 2000, The American Board of Medical Acupuncture (ABMA) formally established an independent entity within the corporate structure of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture. ABMA promotes safe, ethical, efficacious medical acupuncture by maintaining high standards for the examination and certification of physician acupuncturists as medical specialists. The World Health Organization and the World Federation of Acupuncture and Moxibustion Societies (WFAS) publicized acupuncture training and education standards for Western trained physicians that reflect the minimum level of training necessary for a Western trained allopathic physician or doctor of chiropractic to be licensed to practice medical acupuncture.

Due to an increased awareness of the benefits of acupuncture, more health care providers such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Aetna, and Cigna Health Insurance are providing coverage for acupuncture used to treat chronic pain as well as conditions such as migraines, osteoarthritis, vomiting due to chemotherapy, post-operative pain, and post-operative dental issues. With continued research and constant improving methodology and technology, it is realistic to expect that more health care providers as well as the general public will be awed by the value of acupuncture.

Overall, it is non-scientific behavior to ignore the clinical and scientific value of acupuncture. And, it is irresponsible, unethical and unprofessional for someone who lacks training and knowledge to misinform and mislead the general public in this very specialized medical area.

Jingduan Yang, M.D., FAPA
Fifth Generation of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine

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