Scientifically when it comes to acupuncture,
it’s hard to see the point.
Hello everyone, Julian here for DNews.
Acupuncture is the practice of pricking skin
or tissue with fine needles; it’s usually
used for pain relief although it’s claimed
to have a plethora of other benefits.
The first definitive description of acupuncture
is from China over 2000 years ago. and at
the time it was believed that illness was
caused when life force, known as qi, couldn’t
properly flow through the body.
Or when the two forms of qi, yin and yang,
were out of balance.
Prodding certain points would clear the blockages
and restore the flow of qi, causing the illness
If this sounds silly to you, remember that
around the same time in the western world
we had a similar theory about the imbalance
of “humors,” and doctors used to think
people were sick because they had just too
much of this blood stuff and it needed to
But while bloodletting went out of style around
the same time as child labor, acupuncture
has been making a comeback since the 1950s
as a tool for pain relief.
It’s also used to treat depression, irritable
bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, smoking
addiction, chronic asthma, stroke rehabilitation,
epilepsy, insomnia, morning sickness, and
glaucoma, high blood pressure, low blood pressure,
Protip: if something claims to treat all of
these ailments, that might be a red flag.
Whether or not acupuncture works is controversial,
and part of the problem is that it is inherently
difficult to study scientifically.
Some factors like the soothing nature of the
acupuncture room are easy to control for:
just turn up the lights and cut out the Careless
But the act of putting in the needle itself
causes headaches for researchers.
If the researchers know if the treatment is
a placebo, it can affect their results.
So, scientists have developed a sort of stealth
needle to overcome this problem.
It’s concealed in a sheath, and either goes
in all the way or only pokes the surface.
The goal is for the patient to believe the
needle is in, and the researcher won’t know
one way or the other.
But even with these sham needles and with
a plethora of research, there is still considerable
A 2003 World Health Organization review of
multiple acupuncture studies showed oodles
of positive results.
This review, however, omitted trials were
sham acupuncture and the real thing had similar
Plus, a majority of the studies were published
in Asian journals, and as Andrew Vickers of
the Research Council for Complementary Medicine
pointed out in a different review of acupuncture
studies, “all trials originating in China,
Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan were positive.”
By comparison 53% of reviewed trials in the
US favored the treatment.
More recent reviews have debunked acupuncture.
A 2006 meta analysis published by the Journal
of Internal Medicine found that the results
of acupuncture treatment couldn’t be differentiated
from the placebo.
A 2010 meta analysis of meta analyses (that’s
so meta) in the Journal of the International
Association for the Study of Pain concluded
there was little evidence supporting acupuncture
as an effective form of pain relief.
But in 2012, a meta analysis out of the Memorial
Sloan Kettering Cancer Center – authored by
that same Vickers guy from earlier – came
out in favor of acupuncture, finding it had
an effect greater than the placebo, but conceded
it was “relatively modest.”
Now this is the point where I’d normally
conclude more research is needed, but this
time I’m not so sure.
There have been over 3,000 trials on acupuncture
there’s still no conclusive evidence that
being poked with needles alone reduces pain
or other ailments in a significant way.
I’ll… let you draw your own conclusions.
Even if Acupuncture doesn’t have a positive
effect, at worst it’s usually harmless.
The same can’t be said for homeopathy.
To learn more about this alternative “medicine,”
check out Julia’s video here.
Have you ever been acupunctured?
Did it help with anything?
Do you think it was the placebo effect?