NPR Promotes Military Acupuncture

I was dismayed to see a headline from NPR today saying, “Military pokes holes in acupuncture skeptics’ theory.” Acupuncture is founded on the hypothesis that needles will redirect bodily energy to improve overall well-being. The problem? The bodily energy (called “qi,” pronounced chee) doesn’t exist. Acupuncture can’t work, just as antibiotics couldn’t work if germs didn’t exist. And so, with soldiers facing real medical issues and NPR being a reputable news source (normally), is there anything to this article?

In the NPR article, I looked for some evidence, maybe a double-blind placebo-controlled study, or a meta-analysis of such studies. What did I get?

Pain is an everyday occurrence, which is where the needles come in. “I’ve had a lot of treatment, and this is the first treatment that I’ve had where I’ve been like, OK, wow, I’ve actually seen a really big difference”…

Strike one and two. Anecdotal evidence of efficacy for pain. Anecdotes aren’t science. Also, while pain is certainly a real ailment, pain is well-treated by placebo medicine. (Placebo means there is no real medicine and the patient’s mind provides the cure based on the expectation of getting well.) So this is to say that acupuncture did nothing but help the soldier fool himself into ignoring the pain. Also, the pain may have naturally reduced over the course of treatments. He could have blown in a whirligig and had the same effect.

Army doctors have been told by the top brass to rethink their “pill for every ill” approach to treating pain.

We’ll call this a foul ball rather than a third strike. So there’s a real problem — too many pharmaceuticals. Well, that’s a real problem unless pharmaceuticals work. What they’re really saying is, “medicine is expensive.” To be fair, they’re also saying, “medicine has side-effects.” So it’s fair to look for alternatives. The alt-med advocates are also saying, “pharmaceutical companies are evil, so use something else.” That’s just conspiracy theory. Maybe there’s another reason:

Wasserman is the top doctor for the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Campbell, Ky. To her own surprise, she’s also now the unit’s physician trained to do acupuncture. “I actually had a demonstration of acupuncture on me, and I’m not a spring chicken,” she says, “and it didn’t make me 16 again, but it certainly did make me feel better than I had, so I figured, hey … let’s give it a shot with our soldiers here.”

This is strike three. As noted earlier, “It worked for me” is no scientific study. And this is the top doctor, and so she gets to try out her placebo affect on her patients. Again, this is no study. Just that it worked for her, and all of a sudden, she, as the only trained acupuncturist (whatever that means) gets to decide that is a real treatment. This prior bias from a top official puts this firmly in the realm of bad medicine.

New academic studies from places like Duke University back up acupuncture as an alternative to medication.

Oh we have an alibi, maybe… An academic study referenced, but uncited and unexplained. The article then immediately discounted the study as “quack-ademic.” They didn’t support that assertion any more than they provided an explanation of why the study should be accepted. I found a 2008 Duke study indicating headache relief. The meta-analysis found that in 17 studies comparing acupuncture to medication, the researchers found 62% of acupuncture patients reported relief, versus just 45% taking medication. I’m not sure what medication was only 45% effective in relieving a headache, but I’m no doctor. I just wanted to at least reference the one study, if I could. Maybe next time NPR will do us that favor.

The point here is that the military is pushing acupuncture, which is, Duke study notwithstanding, not effective beyond placebo. This hurts troops by keeping them from effective treatments and promotes an industry that is founded on dishonesty. You can find a good review of Navy acupuncture at Science-Based Medicine (definitely read this article), an acupuncture overview at SBM and Skepdic, and how acupuncture can be dangerous when prescribed for physical illnesses or when the pins are improperly pressed into the body.

The real question here is how humans can benefit from placebo medicine. Placebo medicine can recognize the effectiveness of reducing pain without lying to patients. People can mitigate their own pain (not diseases or broken limbs) with their own minds. The trick is to 1) relieve pain while 2) being honest with patients. What’s the line between “this treatment will work (because you think it will)” and “this treatment will work (because it’s magic)”? That is a line on one side of which is patient health and physician integrity and on the other side is snake oil sales.

Edit: Several commenters have recommended the book Snake Oil Science: The Truth about Complementary and Alternative Medicine (Bausell). I have read the book as well and recommend it as a fundamental primer for any medical skeptic.

About Jason Torpy

**Comments at Friendly Atheist do not necessarily reflect the official policy or positions of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers are any other organizations.** Jason Torpy serves as President of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers (MAAF), a nonprofit community for atheists and humanists in the military. MAAF also educates military leaders about the needs of nontheists and advocates where necessary. Jason is a former Army Captain and Iraq veteran with a Bachelor of Science degree from West Point and an MBA from The Ohio State University.

  • Brian Scott

    The point here is that the military is pushing acupuncture, which is, Duke study notwithstanding, not effective beyond placebo.
    Given that (as you mentioned) it was a meta-analysis of other studies, it’s sort of odd to state that something is merely a placebo when the studies in question indicate that it is more effective than a placebo (or other medication which are themselves [presumably] more effective than placebos).  The mechanism used to justify acupuncture may have no evidence, but mechanisms are different from predictive power.

    That being said a) I know null studies tend not to get published nor get as much media attention so I’m hoping we can find some if acupuncture is indeed a placebo and b) you’re right that anecdotes are not good means of ascertaining the general efficacy of a particular intervention.

  • Anonymous

    From what I’ve read, acupuncture fares somewhat better than a placebo. However, the whole “theory” behind it is bunk. The needles reduce pain no matter where you put them. You don’t have to divert any “chi” or cross any “meridians”.

    It may be just that pain in one place distracts you from pain in another place or something like that.

    • Dan

      Accupture is no better than placebo in most of the large, better controlled studies, and is sometimes worst. I posted above about a study comparing accupucture to twirling toothpicks on a patients skin in random places. The results showed that sham accupucture was a little ‘better’ than real accupucture (really it showed it was a placebo). Of course the alternative med people just said, “Well look-y there, sham acupuncture works too!”

    • http://profiles.google.com/nathanlee2 nathan lee

       Depends on the placebo. It’s just as good as random needles in random places, or even needles that don’t break the skin at all.

      It’s more effective at relieving pain than sugar pills, for the same reason that small colored and strange-shaped sugar pills are more effective than large white sugar pills.

  • rhodent

    “The bodily energy (called ‘qi,’ pronounced chee) doesn’t exist. Acupuncture can’t work, just as antibiotics couldn’t work if germs didn’t exist.”

    The second sentence is incorrect.  Consider, for example, the theory of Ignaz Semmelweis, who first proposed that doctors in hospitals wash their hands to prevent puerperal fever.  Semmelweis’ theory — that “cadaverous particles” picked up by doctors when they performed autopsies was the source of puerperal fever —  was incorrect.  But his suggestions did work, because handwashing prevented the transmission of germs that Semmelweis was unaware of and which were the actual cause of the fever.  In short, his suggestion was sound; he just didn’t know why it was sound.  By the same logic, it is theoretically possible that acupuncture could work even without the existence of qi, as long as it worked via another method.

    Mind you, I’m not saying acupucture works; all evidence point to it working about as well as any other placebo.  But the nonexistence of qi is not a slam-dunk disproval of acupuncture any more than the non-existence of “cadaverous particles” is a slam-dunk disproval of washing your hands to prevent the spread of disease.

    • Spencer

      This. Another example is meditation — it may have first been invented because of supernatural reasons, but studies suggest it can have a real effect.

  • Dhjdhj

    Not that I disagree but what does this have to do with atheism? Make a new blog called “friendly skepticism” for such things!

    • Spencer

       Atheism and skepticism are intertwined.

    • http://www.facebook.com/chrisbrock.nc Chris Brock

      I do kind of understand your point, but this topic does brush up against the atheist theme. If this were a posting about Bigfoot (the myth, not the truck) I’d be right with you.

    • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

      Why do you draw the line here? Because it isn’t about Christianity?

  • Babsva

    Like the above poster notes, perhaps the pain from the needles distracts away from the source of the pain? perhaps the placebo effect (shown to work, though temporarily) is at work? The mechanism may not be understood, but this is true for many medical procedures, and belief – in the treatment, in the practitioner, etc – is a powerful thing. I keep an open mind about acupuncture because I have seen it work for animals, where placebo effect is obviously not a factor.

    OK flame away.

    • Dan

       The placebo effect is well documented in animals. The placebo effect includes the effects of attention on an individual, the bias of the investigators, random factors, regression to the mean, the patient trying to please the investigator, and lots of other factors that can influence the study.

  • madphd

    I wonder if there are endorphins released during acupuncture treatment…

    Patient:  My knee hurts.
    Doctor:  I’ll stomp on your foot and you’ll forget all about your knee.

    • http://chronosynclasticinfundibulum.wordpress.com/ Salo

       I vaguely remember a study a few years ago that study acupuncture done properly compared with needles placed randomly versus control. The study found that the both the correct acupuncture and random needles performed the same, but better than the control. If this study turns out to be true (and that I remembered it correctly), it may be an endorphin thing.

      • Dan

         There was a similar study done where scientists compared a trained acupuncture expert using meridians to a non-professional twirling toothpicks on the skin, without breaking the skin, in random places. The placebo effect was the same. Of course I still see that study actually used as evidence FOR acupuncture, because the alternative medicine jokers just say “see, even fake acupuncture is effective!” Well, then stop creating infection risks by breaking people skin with needles.

        I’d love to see what the alt med people would say if a pharmaceutical company used that logic. “See, even a sugar pill works as well as our antibiotic, therefore our antibiotic is great!” Can you imagine?

      • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

         I think Penn & Teller repeated that as an exercise in Bullshit! This should be the episode.

        • http://www.fertilityacupuncturesydney.com.au/ Pierce Mendoza

           Yes. This was the episode. Who else was thinking of avatar when she was talking about the chakras? :)

  • Kai Price

    I don’t think the nonexistence of qi disproves acupuncture anymore than the lack of phlogiston disproves, I don’t know, breathing. I’ve never had it myself. I’m open to the possibility that it is nothing more than placebo. But is it really so terrible to help people manage pain with less drugs, if that is what they want? And it is not as if we know everything there is to know about how the body works. For instance, many doctors fail to understand the complexities of weight management (and merely prescribing diet and exercise does little to help people lose weight). And furthermore, pain is experiential, so there is little difference between reducing perceived pain and “tricking” people into perceiving less pain. This is not that different than when the government disingenuously argues that smoking pot doesn’t give chemotherapy patients the “munchies,” and rather it just tricks people into thinking that they are more hungry and less nauseous–which is actually irrelevant, as what matters is just that they eat something. Besides, if acupuncture is completely bogus, not just in theory but also in practice, then certainly a widespread military study would do a lot to clear that up

    • Dan

       You can maximize the placebo effect without
      lying to patients or charging them for sugar pills while pretending they are
      something else (the more expensive the placebo the better subjective results
      patients report). Again, the placebo effect is not really objective, it is often
      just subjective, and can lead people astray, for example people with asthma can
      think they are better than they really are while on placebo, and thus ignore
      dangerous symptoms. Relying on pure placebos goes against the heart of medical
      ethics, which is informed consent, a trusting doctor-patient relationship, and
      evidence-based therapy. Do you really think it is ethical for the doctor to lie
      to patients and charge them expensive prices for placebos because it is ‘for
      their own good?’ That hearkens back to the bad paternalistic days of medicine
      when patients were expected to shut up and obey the doctor. Now patients have a
      right to fully understand the treatment and the evidence for it. Informed
      consent is a good thing, and is violated when relying on pure placebos.

  • Anonymous

    The problem is that no one recognizes the true therapeutic value of sugar (specifically in the pill form).

    Why not just prescribe it and get it done with?  For all you ethical, anti-sugar treatment nay sayers: It works just as well as acupuncture.

  • chicago dyke, evolved outlaw

    this type of post is my one and only complaint about this blog. the medical technique described here works, has for hundreds and maybe even thousands of years, and has a scientific basis, for all western white coat research hasn’t taken the time to study it. ask any practitioner; they don’t lack for business for a reason.

    i have a client who researches integrative medicine. i am his assistant, and i read all sorts of stuff for him, so he can pursue his own research more quickly. the real problem is this: the american research community is dominated by one type of researcher, and thus all the funding goes to them. these folks are trained MD, PhD and DSc types, for whom the only way to research something is by traditional methods. many of these folks are completely ignorant of research and training outside of the typical american medical school or bio dept, despite the fact that there is a great deal of such. it’s just not published in “the journal of studies funded by big pharma” so they aren’t aware of it. 

    there are many members of my family who are physicians and researchers. and they are honest people; they admit what they don’t know b/c they haven’t studied it. rather than lump all non-traditional and integrative medical ideas into the same bin as religious hoo haw, i really wish the writers on this blog would keep a more open mind. billions and billions of people in asia have used techniques like these, with actual, demonstrable success. sure, it doesn’t always work. but it certainly hasn’t failed, in the case of millions or even billions of people in china and india, for whom american style pharmaceutical treatment is neither wanted nor available. i am a staunch, militant atheist. but i use many different “alternative” medical and holistic techniques to achieve optimum health. and of late, i’ve gotten more and more informed about the actual science behind them, for all those studies are underfunded or not in the english language. americans are conditioned via advertising and corruption of government regulatory agencies to believe that big pharma always and only has the cure/answer/pain relief. this is as ridiculous as believing in the sky fairies. health is the natural, normal state of the body, and a lifetime addiction to a drug to alleviate pain or suffering is on the order of being an alcoholic or drug addict. think about it. taking drugs for the rest of your life =/= ‘health.’ try something different, like changing your diet and exercise habits, having your body worked on by a hands on professional who can realign your spine and joints, and yes, even stick needles in certain places where the electro-magnetic energy that literally defines ‘life’ gather or are stopped from proper exchange. anyone, even an atheist like me, who has ever done something like yoga can tell you: you feel better, all with out drugs. please, open your mind just a tiny bit. no one is asking you to pray to anything other than your own body, which wants to be naturally healthy and fit. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/chrisbrock.nc Chris Brock

       I have opened my mind and am prepared to review any and all proof that you can provide.

      • chicago dyke, evolved outlaw

        give us some money, Chris. seriously. we’ve got 50 MD, DO, PhD, ScD and other researchers on board. we’re trying to fund a study right now

        http://www.healingwithdrcraig.com

        it’s not bunk. i swear this on the lives of my n&ns (best i can do as i myself am childless). 

        • Dan

           Try NCCAM, the Federal government has funded over a billion dollars in alternative medicine research, at the expense of much better medical research, with no real alternative medical treatments being conclusively shown to be effective. And its much easier to get money for pseudoscience studies from them than from the rest of the NIH.

        • Charon

          I would also recommend that you and your colleagues take a look at Snake Oil Science: The Truth about Complementary and Alternative Medicine (Bausell). The author is a biostatistician who goes into great detail about what studies are reliable and why. Not all studies are created equal, and the reasons the studies you mention are ignored is not because they’re not in English.Also, diet, exercise, meditation, yoga – these are not alternative medicine. You can’t claim these as your own to lend credence to the wacky things like homeopathy and acupuncture.

          • Guest

            I can second (third?) that book. It’s excellent. It’s readable by a layman, but at the same time it also goes into a tremendous amount of detail. So much that it almost verges on being a fullblown (paperback) textbook at time.

            And, despite not being a brand new book, it does have several well-conducted studies and meta-analyses that demonstrate that acupuncture is bunk. Saying that “western white coat research” is stating a complete falsehood.

            • Guest

              I somehow half-typed that. 

              Saying that “western white coat research” hasn’t looked into acupuncture is…

        • Charon

           So I had a long, thoughtful reply here that was posted and has now disappeared?

          Summary:
          1) it really is all bunk. It’s been tested. Good place to start reading about it, Science-Based Medicine.
          2) we don’t think you’re all knowing frauds. Most practitioners really believe it. They’re still wrong. Ptolemy would have sworn on the lives of various people that the Sun orbited the Earth.
          3) they get lots of business because of crappy US healthcare and the fact that people are easily mislead to believe wrong things (e.g., How We Know What Isn’t So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life, Gilovich).

    • Dan

      I suggest you read the blogs Science-Based Medicine and Respectful
      Insolence to see what is really going on with alternative medicine. We had a ND
      come to our medical school to lecture and he was so full of pseudoscience that
      it was ridiculous. He denied germ-theory, said quantum mechanics proved
      homeopathy, and said he used homeopathy, which is literal just water, to treat
      acute appendicitis (which can be fatal). He said he doesn’t have a thermometer
      in his office because temperature isn’t a ‘real’ vital sign. He also said that
      he often took advantage of the placebo effect by giving sugar pills or tap
      water to patients and telling them it was herbs or potentiated water (and still
      charging patients full prices). He also calls himself a physician, even though
      he said that under our state’s law that was illegal unless you are an MD. And
      he went to the best ND school in the country, and was actually LESS crazy than
      most of the NDs I’ve heard about from family members who go to them.

      The Bravewell Corporation spends millions every year to get alternative medicine
      into academic centers, and your claim that alternative medicine isn’t
      researched isn’t correct, there is a whole department set up at the NIH to
      study alternative medicine (NCCAM), with MUCH lower standards for funding than
      real medical research. So far they haven’t been able to validate any
      alternative medical practices, despite spending literally over a billion
      dollars on alt med research. NCCAM annual budget is just a little less than
      National Cancer Institute. A lot of the stuff claimed as alternative, like
      relaxation, diet, and exercise are not alternative, but alt med people try to
      trick everyone by claiming they are, that way they can smuggle in pseudoscience
      like acupuncture, homeopathy, faith healing, telling people to use herbs for
      cancer, chi, applied kinesiology, reike, etc. Some of what naturopaths do is OK,
      like some of their diet and exercise advice (although even that is often extreme
      and without evidence), but the real alternative stuff they are pushing is a
      waste of money and can hurt patients. As Dr Harriet Hall likes to say, “what [naturopaths]
      do that is good is not special, and what they do that is special is not good.”

      You might want to pick up Edzard Ernst’s book “Trick or Treatment”, he is a Professor of Complementary Medicine in the UK and even used to use it in his practice, until he did scientific research on it himself as saw it wasn’t effective.

  • anon

     “did nothing but help the soldier fool himself into ignoring the pain.” is a factually incorrect description of the placebo effect. The placebo effect includes a real, physiological effect. In many cases, there is (unfortunately) no better treatment, and acupuncture is fairly cheap, so it’s a better treatment than a more expensive, and higher-risk placebo (for example, many surgeries).

    I also find the tone of your argument against the placebo effect inflammatory (especially the quoted sentence above and similar statements elsewhere), so whether or not it fits with the atheism theme, it certainly doesn’t fit the “friendly” title.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jasontorpy Jason Torpy

      I am guilty of being not nearly so friendly as the Friendly Atheist. But I hope you see that this post is intended to create an ethical space for use of placebos, like acupuncture. What we cannot do is claim a real effect from the acupuncture when it’s nothing more than placebo. That is unethical, at least according to the medical profession.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    An excellent source for medical issues is Respectful Insolence. You can find numerous posts there about acupuncture.

  • Chikili

    Dear Mr. Torpy,

    interesting post,  I do have a few observations:

    You seem very entrenched in a doctors & drugs = good, other stuff = no good or quackery. You do not strike me as an inquiring mind, but rather one who has already made up their mind – and that’s the end of the story for you. You state that Qi does not exist, even as an atheist I have to allow for a possiblity (however remote) that there may be a god or gods, no such wiggle room for you, qi and acupuncture.

    Question: you reject anecdotal  evidence, what if the anecdotal evidence is true? I think that’s what rhodent was alluding to in his post.

    In closing, here is more personal anecdotal (non scienc-y) evidence: trained in Chinese martial arts for 25 years, have been treated with acupuncture with success many times, on a couple of occasions after conventional medicine told me they could not help me. I have seen chi-gung practionioners demonstrate (what they call qi) in various ways. 

    I have seen a man break a spear by putting the sharp point to his throat, he told me he did it with his qi, a qi-gung guy fixes my injuries, he says he does it with his qi. I don’t know what  it is, but if they want to call it qi I’m o.k. with that, so I call it qi too.

    Your post has not ruled out for me the possibility ( however remote) that qi may exist and acupuncture works, 

    best regards

    M

    • http://profiles.google.com/nathanlee2 nathan lee

      I think he was simply being slightly less careful with his words, which a person can get away with when writing for a blog that thinks in a similar fashion to themselves.

      Yes, technically, anecdotal evidence is still evidence, and thus scientific.

      What isn’t scientific is to use that evidence as support for a larger truth on something as vague and variable as pain response. A single person who has been treated with acupuncture for 25 years and swears by it isn’t any more useful than a person who has been treated with a carrot-soup bath for 25 years and swears that it relieves their back ache. It’s possible, but it’s also possible and even probable that it’s elaborate placebo effect, or a fluke.

      By the way, for the other things you’ve put at the end of your post, this is stuff that is done on a regular basis by magicians. If, however, any person were ever to submit to a simple controlled setting to prove that it’s qi (or at least not normal biology), then they’d be instant millionaires. http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/1m-challenge.html

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Chikili: Question: you reject anecdotal  evidence, what if the anecdotal evidence is true

      Then someone should be able to set up a decent controlled clinical trial to support it. For acupuncture, that hasn’t happened.

      Do you know what they call alternative medicine that has passed controlled clinical trials? “Medicine.”

      • Logic

        Do you know what they call pharmaceuticals that are used for purposes that haven’t passed clinical trials? Medicine

    • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S
  • Charon

    “pain is well-treated by placebo medicine” -> “pain is temporarily well-treated by placebo medicine”. E.g., Snake Oil Science: The Truth about Complementar (Bausell).

    • Charon

      Oops.

      Snake Oil Science: The Truth about Complementary and Alternative Medicine

  • Keulan

    What the hell, NPR. I expected better of you.

  • Mrglum

    Acupuncture works wonders for chronic pain by the way.  Yes to friendly atheist and you commentators this is  just another anecdote from the internet, but to me an occasional treatment it’s the difference between getting sleep or not.

    I suppose I could just take some kind of pill for pain, another to help me sleep, and another to control the side effects, and yeah I’d probably get to sleep also.  Yeah, I’d rather have my mythical needle medicine.

    • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

       If you aren’t abusing yourself, I think most people here would forgive an occasional indulgence in fantasy. There’s a pretty broad line between what you describe and letting an entire industry grow around the ignorance of those with less restraint than you. That’s why we aren’t happy to hear NPR and military officials support it.

  • Wildrumpus

    “Alternative Medicine…
    Has either not been proved to work,
    Or been proved not to work.
    Do you know what they call “alternative medicine”
    That’s been proved to work?
    Medicine.””

    • Transformations

      A great quote from Dara O’Brien

      • http://www.facebook.com/LucyM121 Lucy Merriman

        Wait, isn’t it Tim Minchin?

  • Carla

    I have to agree with some of the other commenters. This was a sloppy post, compared to the usual care with which you present your opinions. But facts about effectiveness aside, I’m troubled by your ethical standpoint on this. These soldiers have endured intense mental and physical trauma. What right do you have to want to deny them whatever *harmless* crutch may help them return to peaceful, normal lives? Why does it matter if they believe that these needles are working because they redirect “magic energy” in the body? It doesn’t matter to me if the crutch is needles or Jesus or voodoo or scientifically-back (although frequently more harmful) medication. If these men and women are given a way to remove their pain and suffering *that works for them,* then I wholly support it. It’s not like the military is saying, “You only get acupuncture,” or, ” I don’t care if you’re an atheist or Christian or Muslim (etc) who doesn’t believe in this sort of medicine; do it anyways.” As long as these soldiers are offered other care before, after, or in conjunction with acupuncture, you really have no right to complain. At least not until you’ve been shot a few times, or had your leg blown off by a roadside bomb. And lay off NPR; they’re just reporting the facts.

    • Anonymous

      Other than spending tax dollars on quackery? Promoting belief in magic? Not too mention, the ethical issues os using the placebo effect as treatment……

      • KM

        God does not exist. No one can prove “he” does. How many billions in tax-payer dollars does the military waste on RELIGIOUS crap? It makes believers FEEL better.

        Yeah, justify THAT.

        • sunburned

           Acupuncture isn’t a protected right?

          • KM

            I thought your complaint was TAX DOLLARS SPENT on something YOU felt was worthless crap, same as I feel about the billions poured into all things religious. Not talking rights, talking your money and mine being spent on things we don’t necessarily agree with. You have a right to be religious, but why do I have to help pay to support it?

            Just deal with it. This pittance doesn’t compare in scope!

            • sunburned

              It’s not a matter of me *feeling* that acupuncture is worthless crap, it has never ever been proven to work beyond the placebo effect.

              However religion is a protected right, and in the military it’s a necessity to provide those services to members who may not be able to find them at the local level for whatever reason.

              • KM

                Whatever. If you don’t approve of acupuncture, then don’t get any! If THEY want acupuncture, then providing this very inexpensive service to them is the LEAST you can do for our service members. Bitch about something that MATTERS!

                Get some perspective! You live in a bubble where only YOUR beliefs are valid. Enjoy your tiny worldview. Goodbye (derived from “God be with you”). Go enjoy all that freedom that you have to decide what services other people should get.

                • sunburned

                  WTF?  Your commenting on a 6 month old story about acupuncture….

                  Acupuncture isn’t about belief.  It’s a fucking practice that hasn’t shown to be effective.

                  It has nothing to do with belief or religion other than the crappy analogy that you insist makes sense.

    • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

      Someone who has endured intense mental and physical trauma is vulnerable and in need of support. It’s the last person we support quacks access to.

      When it comes to alt med, “what works for you” is arbitrary.

      • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

        Hurling veterans into the sun might make their pain go away, but that doesn’t mean we have any ethical obligation to provide them that option.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jasontorpy Jason Torpy

      “If these men and women are given a way to remove their pain and suffering *that works for them,* then I wholly support it.”Me too. The problem is, it doesn’t. They say it does, and science, by one definition, is a set of tools we use to avoid fooling ourselves. They’re fooled, taken advantage of, if you will.The only valid defense here is ‘placebo medicine’, as I said in the post, which is the ethical quandary of giving someone a treatment that has been proven to have no effect other than placebo (eg, acupuncture). This post, more than anything, is about placebo medicine, not acupuncture. NPR did not just report the facts. They pulled a feel-good story to promote pseudoscience. They could and should have used this to highlight ethical quandaries of placebo medicine, as I did. That way their facts wouldn’t have implied an unscientific conclusion (ie, acupuncture is efficacious)

  • Deltabob

    Again, this is my anecdote and not evidence; however, I decided some years back to try acupuncture for pain in my rib tips caused by a viral infection. I had also just been diagnosed with mitral and aortic valve leaks via an echo cardiogram.

    My acupuncturist talked far less about qi than about triggering specific nerve clusters to stimulate other systems – lymphatic, endocrine, etc. While she was getting my medical history, I told her about the vale leaks, so she treated for that.

    The pain relief in my rib tips was comparable to taking Vicodin – in the amount of relief and time relieved – so I’m sure it was as much placebo as anything.

    The surprising thing was that when I went back for my second echo cardiogram, there were no leaks in either valve. So, it could have been coincidence that my valve leaks healed spontaneously; or it could have been the acupuncture, somehow; or it could have been placebo. I don’t have any way of knowing – but at any rate, I don’t have any valve leaks in my heart anymore.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      but at any rate, I don’t have any valve leaks in my heart anymore

      So they poked holes in your body, and now you have fewer leaks?

  • Transformations

    I agree with Carla – these soldiers have been through enough and if acupuncture works for them then so be it – stop criticizing.

    I am a pharmacist and also practicing hypnotherapist. I also have collleagues who are pharmacists and practice accupuncture. Sometimes these complementary therapies work better than mainstream medicine. We know that there is controversy and publication bias in many of the trials for mainstream pharmaceuticals (consider the controversy over SSRI’s for depression treatment) and as some of the comments here have stated accupuncture works for them in a comparable way to some pharmaceutical pain killers without the side effects.

    As for the posts comments on refuting “qi” energy for how accupuncture works – the same can be said for many mainstream pharmaceuticals – we simply dont know exactly how they work. The often reductive views that “more serotonin makes you happy” is very limited – we simply dont know enough about the workings of the brain, all the neurochemicals and how and were they interact. We are beginning to chart the landscape, there is amazing progress, the neurosciences are stunning in what they have acieved – but its still in its infancy. All because I dont understand exactly how a pharmaceutical works does not mean it is wrong or false to believe its effectiveness or cannot work.

    • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

      Whether we completely understand how a technique works is a different issue from whether it is being practiced responsibly.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    In my personal experience, needles do relieve muscles that are in spasm.  I don’t know if they are affecting the nerve nodes in some way or if it’s an endorphin thing.  I have mild scoliosis, and when I get “out of whack” I find that acupuncture works better than having my spine cracked by a chiropractor and has no side effects, unlike muscle relaxants and lidocaine injections.  I’ve tried TENS, but it stops working for me pretty quickly. 

  • Anonymous

    When I lived in Japan, I had severe asthma, and my boss’ wife was a trained acupuncturist, and she gave me free treatments. It didn’t cost me anything, so I figured why not, but you know what? It did SQUAT to relieve my asthma. I know that she was well-intentioned, and believed in the efficacy of acupuncture, so I am forced to conclude that *I* just didn’t believe strongly enough! But I doubt I even COULD believe strongly enough in the face of a serious, life-threatening disease which has a proven biological basis. Placebo effect, no doubt, but for real illness, acupuncture is just as bad as faith healing.

  • Azathoth144

    Haha I love this. None of you know anything about acupuncture and take science as dogma without understanding the variables of a study. There are so many unknowns in health studies it possible to really obtain objective results. People often cite studies that disprove acupuncture but never the dozens that prove it’s effectiveness. Way to be objective. Acupuncture isn’t a magic bullet but is great at treating some conditions including many systemic issues. Not to mention “control” groups often include a variety of etiologies for a single complaint. The study mentioned above is about lower back pain, they use a standard treatment protocol for every case even though the etiology isn’t specified. Chinese medicine treats every etiology different so a standard point selection might as well be random points for everyone that doesnt fit the etiology that the protocol was designed for.
    Conventional medicine is great but anyone with a grain of medical training quickly realizes that the mechanism of action is unkown or no clinical trials have been performed for many commonly prescribed medications. If you don’t have medical training then please just put your foot back in your mouth where it belongs. If you do on the other hand, and you share these perceptions, then you might be a hypocrite.

  • Atny05

    This article is ridiculous at the beggining. The author made comments not from his brain. If you have no energy ( Qi), how you can live? There is enery everywhere, The world is made up by energy no matter bodies or the enviroment.

  • PreposterousSpoon

    I am actually Atheist *and* an Acupuncturist. Yes, we do exist. You should try visiting China sometime. Contrary to what many of you seem to believe, there are quite a few Acupuncturists who practice using a functional, biomedical approach. In fact, there are many of us who feel that the “old language” needs to be updated. After all, terms like “qi”, “essence”, etc are thousands of years old, and were created at a time when people didn’t know anything about anything. It is still fascinating to study from a medical anthropological perspective, but this is 2012 and at this point we are sincerely selling our profession short. It always baffles me to read forums like this and hear people say things about there being “no evidence” to support the effectiveness of acupuncture. How many of the over 17,000 studies of Acupuncture on PubMed have you actually read?

    There is a biomedical explanation for acupuncture, and in fact, there are several mechanisms that have already been identified. Acupuncture points are areas of electrical sensitivity which, when needled, stimulate various sensory receptors that, in turn, stimulate nerves that transmit impulses to the hypothalamic-pituitary system at the base of the brain.

    The hypothalamus-pituitary glands are responsible for releasing neurotransmitters and endorphins, the body’s natural pain-killing hormones. It is estimated that endorphins are 200 times more potent than morphine. Endorphins also play a big role in the functioning of the hormonal system. This is why acupuncture works well for back pain and arthritis and also for P.M.S. and infertility.

    The substances released as a result of acupuncture not only relax the whole body, they regulate serotonin in the brain.This is why depression is often treated with acupuncture.

    Some of the physiological effects observed throughout the body include increased circulation, decreased inflammation, relief from pain, relief of muscle spasms and increased T-cell count which stimulates the immune system.

  • http://www.facebook.com/peter.sill.5 Peter Sill

    Acupuncture when done by the right person works as long as the patient sticks to the regimented or relaxed program. for those of you who naively/ignorantly say that it’s hogwash, are fine to think that. However, it’s extremely advanced and can enhance better blood flow, health and longevity.


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