Millions of Americans are into some of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), according to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). In total 38% of adults and 12% of children in the US are “doing” CAM. One of the most common forms of CAM is acupuncture.
Acupuncture is a well-known form of traditional Chinese medicine although there are actually other forms which include (aside from classical Chinese style), Korean, Japanese, Tibetan, and Vietnamese acupuncture.
Acupuncture utilizes the principle of stimulation of certain key body points. Traditionally, stimulation is done manually using thin, metallic needles penetrating the skin. However, the practice has evolved to include the use of modern technology for stimulation – including electrical impulses, lasers, moxibustion, and heat.
The practice of acupuncture used to be dismissed as “quack medicine”. However, the health benefits of acupuncture have slowly been recognized by medical experts. In a consensus statement in 1997, the National Institute of Health (NIH) stated
“Acupuncture as a therapeutic intervention is widely practiced in the United States. While there have been many studies of its potential usefulness, many of these studies provide equivocal results because of design, sample size, and other factors. The issue is further complicated by inherent difficulties in the use of appropriate controls, such as placebos and sham acupuncture groups. However, promising results have emerged, for example, showing efficacy of acupuncture in adult postoperative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting and in postoperative dental pain. There are other situations such as addiction, stroke rehabilitation, headache, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and asthma, in which acupuncture may be useful as an adjunct treatment or an acceptable alternative or be included in a comprehensive management program. Further research is likely to uncover additional areas where acupuncture interventions will be useful.”
In recent years, acupuncture has gained popularity as an alternative and complementary treatment of various ailments and symptoms. The main reason for this is the non-pharmacologic nature of acupuncture, thus avoiding the side effects and complications that many drugs can cause.
Acupuncture has been recommended in the control and management of hypertension and other cardiovascular disorders. In a meta-analysis study, Korean researchers conducted systematic review of clinical studies to evaluate the effect of acupuncture on blood pressure (BP) in hypertensive patients. The results showed that there is actually a paucity of good and reliable data on this topic.
The meta-analysis concluded that “…evidence to date does not support acupuncture treatment to reduce BP…controlled trials found no difference between acupuncture alone and active medication, small numbers and poor reporting should be carefully considered before jumping into a promising conclusion…”
In other words, the results are inconclusive. The authors further recommend that more studies with “rigorous methodology” are needed to find out the truth between acupuncture and BP.
However, this doesn’t mean to say that acupuncture and other CAM are worthless. As NIH observed that
“…the scientific basis of some of the key traditional Eastern medical concepts … are difficult to reconcile with contemporary biomedical information but continue to play an important role in the evaluation of patients and the formulation of treatment in acupuncture.“
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