Dr. Gray's Straight Talk

Honest and blunt healthcare discussion and advice.

Acupuncture… Does It Work?

Posted by Dr. Gray on Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Found a great article in the Wall Street journal from March 2010. In it, the journalist gives an account of her experience with acupuncture, and details some of the new scientific evidence proving the effective results associated with this form of treatment. For me, this was a great and timely article. I am often asked, “How does acupuncture work?” Well, you all know that I am often honest to a fault, therefore, my answer usually begins with, “We don’t exactly know!” Wow… now if that doesn’t inspire confidence, I don’t know what will! (obvious sarcasm)

A technique that has been around for 5000 years or so has got to have some validity to it, right? So why are there so few scientific studies and such little research done on the subject? The answer to that question is two-fold:

First, I believe that we do not yet fully understand how to evaluate and quantify the effects of the biomagnetic and bioelectric fields that surround and travel through us. Physics can measure, predict, and detail very accurately the electric and magnetic fields created by the interaction of positive and negative charges when we pass electricity through a copper wire. On a very basic, simplified, and cellular level, the interaction between nerves, cells, and other tissues in our body is not that different from passing electrons through a wire. In nearly all functions of the body, there are positive and negative charges being exchanged, transferred, or retained in and between our cells. Individually, this interaction between two cells may be extremely small. However, collectively, these interactions could theoretically develop significantly large biomagnetic and bioelectric fields due to the interaction of positive and negative charges. This model could explain why many seemingly strange techniques work; such as: acupuncture, applied kinesiology, contact reflex analysis, muscle testing, etc. Many of these techniques involve weird and unexplained responses from the manipulation or interference with these fields; such as holding a particular food item causing the strengthening or weakening of a muscle. At this point in time, we just don’t know how to measure or evaluate these responses. Most of these techniques also suffer from interexaminer deficiencies… which means, different practitioners may do an examination on the same patient yet interpret the results differently. Here’s the strange part… even though different results are obtained from examination, and different acupoints may be chosen for treatment, positive outcomes from treatment are still realized… and outperform placebo!

The second reason that research and documentation is scant on acupuncture and energy-based medicine is… say it with me folks… Follow the money!!! That’s right, boys and girls. There’s no money in it for the pharmaceutical, insurance, or medical corporations. Acupuncture, chiropractic, kinesiology, and other energy-based techniques are largely practitioner-based. Face it; if they can’t bottle it and sell it, they’re not going to support it. Who do you think pays for all those research papers in JAMA, NEJM, or any other “peer-reviewed” research journal? And why do they pay for or support these research articles? Because they expect a return on their investment. I don’t have a problem with it… that’s the way the free market works, and I’d rather have it that way than have some moron in Washington deciding what’s good or not (besides… who do you think is paying that guy?). All I’m saying is that the lack of big-money research doesn’t necessarily mean that something doesn’t work. Like I’ve told you before, in anything you read or hear (including this blog!), consider the source and motivation behind what you’re hearing. The pharmaceutical industry is a trillion dollar per year industry… why would they finance, support, and publish any research that encourages a medical treatment option that renders their products unnecessary? Not gonna happen.

That said, there were a couple good videos included with the Wall Street Journal article linked above. Having trouble embedding them here, so follow the link and watch them there. I’ll update this page if I figure out how to embed the video here. If you want to go directly to the videos: here’s the first one… and, here’s the second one.

Dr. James C. Gray

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2 Responses to “Acupuncture… Does It Work?”

  1. page crow said

    You are right on the money Jim. When the medics acknowledge acupuncture, they call it “medical-acupuncture” and say they’ve improved it. How? By medical-izing it? Hardly. page crow

  2. Peter said

    This article is great. Often I can see people shouting placebo, people that I think are engineers trained in scientific methods, however, usually they may not even know any medicin, just that they think that the same medthods used on machines shold also be ok when investigating people. The others that shout is those with some kind of interest in the pharmaceutical business.

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