Acupuncture: Research

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What research is being done in the area of scientific inquiry into acupuncture? 

Acupuncture has a long tradition in Chinese Medicine and is increasingly being used in health care settings in the United States.

This is the second roundtable of a two part series on acupuncture, presenting the thoughts of two clinicians who are active in acupuncture research. Part one in this series focused on how they were drawn to the study and practice of acupuncture.

DAVID SOLLARS M.Ac., Lic.Ac.:

David Sollars is the Clinical Director of FirstHealth of Andover, in Andover, Massachusetts. Founded in 1990, the program serves as a practice model that blends the skills of practitioners trained in fields including: acupuncture; oriental medicine; chiropractic rehabilitation; massage therapy; and nutrition counseling. He is a frequent lecturer, consultant and author.

Acupuncture research has certainly aided our profession in the development of effective treatment protocols and establishes more credibility with conventional medical providers. While more research is certainly needed, we have seen a steady increase in funding and interest for learning more about the potential role acupuncture may play in a variety of conditions. As a provider, research is needed to assist us in our communication with both patients and practitioners. When the National Institutes of Health (NIH) came out with their consensus statement in 1997, it gave those of us in practice therapeutic guidance and a powerful bridge building tool. Their statement reinforced what I had seen in practice; that acupuncture could be an effective treatment for pregnancy induced nausea, chemotherapy induced nausea and post operative dental pain. The study also showed some smaller studies findings showing relief of pain from such as a diverse set of conditions such as menstrual cramps, tennis elbow and fibromyalgia. Subsequent studies have continued to provide evidence of potential collaborations such as hypertension, infertility and a wide variety of pain conditions.

Belinda Anderson, Lic.Ac., MAOM, Ph.D.:

Dr Anderson is Chair of the Biomedical Department and Senior Research Faculty at the New England School of Acupuncture in Watertown, Massachusetts. She also has a clinical practice of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine at First Health of Andover in Andover, Massachusetts.

There has been a lot of research done looking at acupuncture from the point of view of “does it work”. Research clearly shows that acupuncture works to reduce pain. It also helps with many other conditions. At the New England School of Acupuncture in the Research Department we are currently developing a study to look at the beneficial effects of acupuncture for women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF). I am also involved with studies investigating “how it works”. We know that acupuncture increases the levels of a number of different neuropeptides including beta-endorphins. This is particularly so when electrically stimulated acupuncture is used. We also know from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies that specific areas of the brain become active during acupuncture. It is concluded that one way acupuncture works is through the nervous system. Research is also going on to look at the role of connective tissue and electric and magnetic fields in the body’s response to acupuncture needles.

A challenge for modern biology is to look at acupuncture as an energetic phenomenon, focusing on effects that involve waves and fields, rather than from the traditional perspective of molecules and chemical reactions. Both of these aspects are involved and important, however energetic effects have never been given serious scientific consideration and require a whole new way of thinking.

There is a great need for research in Chinese medicine that addresses clinically relevant issues. Most of the research to date has been of interest to scientists and doctors who do not actually practice Chinese medicine. They are interested in whether it works and how it works. Considering that Chinese medicine has been consistently practiced for thousands of years, and is used by hundreds of thousands of people in the western world, it would seem important to focus some research on issues of relevance to patient care. Of particular interest is finding out if the methods that have been developed in Asia are equally effective in the West, or do we need to modify treatment methods for different lifestyles, genetics and environmental conditions. There is also a need for more acupuncturists and Chinese herbalists to be involved in research. As Chair of the Biomedical Department at the New England School of Acupuncture I am very focused on integrating Western science and Chinese medicine. We want our students to be experts at both, and to make a significant contribution to clinical practice and research.