Chinese Medicine Demystified (Part I): A Case of Mistaken Identity:
"The first evidence of the type of medicine that led to the Chinese Medicine in use today dates back to about 6,000 BC, which was during the neolithic (new stone age) period. Stone tools from this period have been found that were specially shaped for making small incisions in the skin, which was the early form of acupuncture. That’s 8,000 years of uninterrupted use. To put this in perspective, western medicine as we’ve come to recognize it today wasn’t even invented until the 1350s (the middle ages), which makes it less than 700 years old. Ah hem." (Kresser 2010)
"Let me ask you this. Do you think Chinese medicine would have survived for more than 3,000 years and spread to every corner of the globe if it wasn’t a powerful, complete system of medicine?" (Kresser 2010)
"The reason Chinese medicine isn’t more popular in the west is that it’s completely misunderstood even by the people who practice it. And as long as acupuncturists continue to promote the “energy meridian” model as the explanation for how Chinese works, it’s destined to remain a fringe alternative modality." (Kresser 2010)
“Biology is the study of living things. There is no biological basis for acupuncture as a way to make people healthy. Still, many people around the world say acupuncture works. What they mean is that they feel better or think they feel better after getting acupuncture. Many scientific studies have shown that when patients are stuck in the wrong acupoints or aren't even stuck at all (though they think they are being stuck), they say they feel better. If a scientist has only the word of those who got either real acupuncture or fake acupuncture, she would not be able to tell who got which. About the same number in each group will say it works.” (The Skeptic's Dictionary 2010)
Chinese Medicine Demystified (Part IV): How Acupuncture Works:
"As methods of scientific inquiry have progressed, the mechanisms of acupuncture are beginning to be more clearly understood." (Kresser 2010)
“As methods of scientific inquiry have progressed, the mechanisms of acupuncture are beginning to be more clearly understood that it does not show any effect greater than the placebo, therefore, it doesn’t work the way that acupuncturist's say that it does.”
"Broadly speaking, acupuncture has three primary effects: 1. It relieves pain. 2. It reduces inflammation. 3. It restores homeostasis." (Kresser 2010)
"Homeostasis refers to the body’s ability to regulate its environment and maintain internal balance. All diseases involve a disturbance of homeostasis, and nearly all diseases involve some degree of pain and inflammation. In fact, research over the last several decades suggests that many serious conditions like heart disease previously thought to have other causes are in fact primarily caused by chronic inflammation. If we understand that most diseases are characterized by pain, inflammation and disturbance of homeostasis, we begin to understand why acupuncture can be effective for so many conditions." (Kresser 2010)
“If we try to manipulate people's understanding into fitting the notion that most diseases are characterized by pain, inflammation and the disturbance of homeostasis, we can begin to understand why acupuncture can be applied to so many conditions and be so effective in attracting so many people, especially if they don’t understand how the mechanisms of human biology actually work”
In section four of "How Acupuncture Works", Kresser makes the following quote,
"While I agree that we don’t yet fully understand how acupuncture works, I think it’s vital that practitioners of acupuncture are able to explain what we do know about it from a biomedical perspective to their patients and colleagues in the medical profession." (Kresser 2010)
“We don’t yet fully understand how placebo works, I think it’s vital that we do explain what we do know about it from a scientific and biomedical perspective to their patients and colleagues in the medical profession, which is that there is sufficient evidence to conclude that acupuncture doesn’t work they way acupuncturist's say that it does.”
“But ultimately acupuncture is a remarkably simple technique that depends entirely upon one thing: the stimulation of the peripheral nervous system. It’s important to point out that when nerves supplying acupoints are cut or blocked there is no acupuncture effect.
A large body of evidence indicates that acupoints, or “superficial nodes” as they are more accurately translated, have abundant supply of nerves. According to Chen Shaozong, 'For 95% of all points in the range of 1.0 cm around a point, there exist nerve trunks or rather large nerve branches'.” (Kresser 2010)
• Acupuncture promotes blood flow.
• Acupuncture stimulates the body’s built-in healing mechanisms.
• Acupuncture releases natural painkillers.
• Acupuncture reduces both the intensity and perception of chronic pain.
• Acupuncture relaxes shortened muscles.
• Acupuncture reduces stress.
“if modern acupuncture texts are to be believed, there is no skin left which is not an acupuncture point.” (Imrie et al. 2006)
“…acupuncture points are no more real than the black spots that a drunkard sees in front of his eyes.” (Imrie et al. 2006)
“acupuncture was no longer a subject for examination.” (Imrie et al. 2006)
“In science, and in medicine more specifically, if the effect that you propose cannot out-perform placebo, there is no effect (not the one that you claim). Acupuncture does do something for people, but it is not because of qi, ancient body maps, or pressure points. If your brain can recreate the effect of all this ancient wisdom, simply by being worked on by someone who just looks the part (to create the ritual sensation), and placing needles where ever they want (not following any of the procedures), the procedures do not work.” (Hill 2010)
“Though the results of this study add evidence pointing to the existence of a placebo effect in a clinical environment, Kaptchuk* does not recommend the use of placebos with patients or deception in the doctor-patient encounter. The aim is to understand how the ritual of healing affects health outcomes.” (Harvard Medical School 2006)
*Ted Kaptchuk is the assistant professor of medicine and associate director of the Division for Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies and the Osher Institute at Harvard Medical School.
The following is a quote and suggestion from the article on NeuroLogica Blog, Does Acupuncture Work or Not?, by Dr. Steven Novella,
“We need to develop an experimental acupuncture needle that is housed in an opaque rigid sheath. This has been done with glass sheaths in some studies because when pressing the sheath against the skin the subject cannot tell if a needle is inserted or not (because of limitations in what we call two-point discrimination – the nerves cannot separate the stimuli). This is a good idea to blind the subject, but now we must take it a step further to blind the acupuncturist. Modify this setup so that a plunger is depressed that either will or will not insert a needle into the subject, in a way so that the subject and the acupuncturist cannot know if a needle was inserted. What this will accomplish is to truly isolate the variable of needle insertion.” (Novella 2007)
While I sought to read Kresser's compilation of work covering acupuncture with an open mind, hoping to encounter some new scientific evidence showing something that science hasn't shown in past studies, after reading all six parts of this Acupuncture series on "Chinese Medicine Demystified", I was let down in those aspects and it seems this has only re-mystified acupuncture for me. In conclusion, I would say that it is more than obvious that we don’t yet fully understand how placebo works.
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