Does Acupuncture Work?
There is much talk these days about ‘evidence-based medicine’. Many people are only willing to suggest Acupuncture works for a specific condition if there is sufficient evidence that it does. On first pass, this seems very reasonable. But, scratch beneath the surface and it is not so straightforward. There are many standards for evidence. A small but growing number of medical researchers are realising that the standards used to assess Western medical therapies such as pharmaceuticals are not appropriate for the assessment of an interactive body-based therapy like Acupuncture. When the randomised, controlled study designs so highly revered in Western medical research are applied to Classical acupuncture, mediocre research and inconclusive results are almost guaranteed.
For an excellent discussion of problems applying what is being called ‘Evidence-Based Medicine’ to Acupuncture research, see http://www.jcm.co.uk/SampleArticles/59-32.pdf
Research into the effectiveness of Acupuncture is mushrooming these days. A good website to search the biomedical literature is operated by the American National Institutes of Health (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi). Simply enter the keywords ‘acupuncture’ and whatever health condition you are interested in and you will gain access to a world of biomedical research. But beware, there is much biomedical research published in credible journals that appears to be authoritative. But from the perspective of a Classical Acupuncturist, it is very poorly designed. You will need to be a critical thinker if you wade into the biomedical literature. You may want to take any articles you get to your local Acupuncturist and ask them what they think.
Consider the following example. Querying the NIH website with the words ‘acupuncture’ and ‘rheumatoid arthritis’ will lead you to a 1999 article published in the British journal, ‘Rheumatology’ entitled ‘The Effect of Acupuncture on Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Cross-Over Study’. The article looks impressive, the authors seem credible and the journal is certainly prestigious in biomedical circles. This article concludes that ‘acupuncture cannot be considered as a useful adjunct therapy in patients with rheumatoid arthritis’. This is a bold and definitive statement. Upon reading this article, a Classical Acupuncturist will immediately notice that the entire study is based on the repeated use of a single Acupuncture point. Not only does this bear no relation to how Acupuncture is administered, but the Acupuncture point chosen for the study has limited relevance to the treatment of most cases of rheumatoid arthritis. Imagine if a researcher studied the effectiveness of surgery in treating appendicitis by doing ankle surgery and concluded that surgery is ineffective in the treatment of appendicitis?
The research literature abounds with poorly designed studies. This is unfortunate because many of these studies are repeatedly quoted and cited as proof that there is no conclusive evidence for the effectiveness of Acupuncture in treating many conditions. This is beginning to change. There is a small but growing community of researchers worldwide who are developing research protocols with relevance to Acupuncture. Foundation for Traditional Chinese Medicine -Acupuncture Research Organization But it will take time.
In the mean time, it is possible to consider the simple fact that a therapy with thousands of years of history and application across many cultures must have some merit based on its durability, highly extensive clinical evidence and accumulated clinical refinement. For some people, this carries a lot of weight. For others, this has no relevance and they await more research. Each of these are equally valid opinions and nothing more. Each person must make up his or her own mind.