The New York Times Weighs in on Acupuncture

We made it!!! The New York Times has a new article about acupuncture - and it is a good one. The reporter presents a well balanced view to the debate about whether acupuncture works and notes the desire of Western doctors to explain this treatment in terms of a science that matches their training.

Here are some excerpts but the entire piece is well worth reading.

“There is little dispute that people feel better after receiving the treatment, in which thin needles are inserted deeply into the skin at specific points on the body. But are they benefiting from acupuncture itself, or just getting a placebo effect?

The debate was fueled last week by a study in the journal Arthritis Care and Research. Researchers from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston found that among 455 patients with painful knee arthritis, acupuncture delivered no more relief than a sham treatment.

Actually, patients got significant pain relief from both treatments — an average reduction of one point on a scale of 1 to 7. And critics contend that the study was poorly designed.”

“In the real world, however, a trained acupuncturist would customize the treatment to a patient’s specific symptoms. But in this study, the patients in the “real” acupuncture group all received needles inserted in the same way.

Rather than proving that acupuncture does not work, in other words, the study may suggest that it works even when administered poorly. But the real lesson, acupuncture supporters say, is how difficult it can be to apply Western research standards to an ancient healing art.”

This year, researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit solved the problem of creating a sham acupuncture treatment: they didn’t have one. Instead, they compared acupuncture to a proven remedy — the drug Effexor, an antidepressant that has been shown to significantly reduce hot flashes in breast cancer patients.

The results were striking. Acupuncture relieved hot flashes just as well as Effexor, with fewer side effects. The acupuncture recipients reported more energy and even an increased sex drive, compared with women using Effexor.

“There are some things you can’t study the same way we do with drugs,” said Dr. Eleanor M. Walker, director of breast radiation oncology at the Henry Ford Health System. “The thing that can’t be argued in my study is the duration of the effect. It lasts, and the placebo effect doesn’t last once you stop a treatment.”


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