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Studies on acupuncture

Every few months one reads a report in the media about a study concerning
acupuncture. Often the headline is something like “Study finds acupuncture ineffective against back pain” or some similar vein.

It is crucial that you, as an intelligent consumer of medical information, make an informed decision about these reports. Your health lies in the balance. Keep in mind that many Western practices would not stand up to the kind of scrutiny that acupuncture has undergone.

A few years ago there was a study which evaluated acupuncture and the treatment of arthritis. The study choose Liver 3, a point between the first and second toes and measured the pain intensity of patients before and after treatment. No other point was given. The study then concluded that not only Liver 3 was ineffective in the treatment of arthritis, but that all of acupuncture was ineffective in the treatment of arthritis.

Things to Look for in Studies on Acupuncture

1) Is it published?

Often the media will jump upon preliminary reports of a study before the information is completely evaluated. The study should be published in a professional peer reviewed journal. But that is no guarantee of a lack of bias. You should get or research a copy of the original study and look at that, not a journalist’s opinion of the facts.

2) What is the sample size?

There needs to be a minimum of 38 people in a study for it to have statistically significant results. But a good study will evaluate outcomes or have a very large population. It is very difficult to run an experiment on a group of people because though they might all have “migraines” from a Western medical perspective, acupuncture defines a migraine in multiple ways. For example, some migraines are “hot” and others are “cold”. It is like measuring a round hole with a square peg.

3) Was the acupuncture standardized?

If someone has a “hot” migraine and they are treated with cold techniques, then you are performing an improper treatment from the acupuncturist’s perspective.

The issue is that by trying to adhere to a randomized controlled trial ideal and standardizing the process, the art of acupuncture is lost. Some studies actually have covered a patient with a sheet and only allowed the acupuncturist to select a point that has been predetermined at a quarter inch.

4) Was placebo acupuncture used?

Some studies use placebo needles that retract when the practitioner puts the needles on the point, others put needles “off the point” in areas that have nothing to do with acupuncture theory. Acupuncture has its origins in body work, has there ever been a study that used placebo massage?

These are just some of the questions that you should ask yourself before you believe in the credibility of any research done. In essence, using a Western research model to study treatments done in a true Chinese medical setting is almost impossible. When an acupuncturist treats the “root” of the problem, rarely is a researcher able to compare the efficacy of the exact same points used for one patient that a randomized trial would use for another patient whose “root” of a common ailment may be completely something different. For example, one’s cause for a headache may be a completely different cause for someone else’s headache. Using the same points for both individuals suffering from a headache due to two different Chinese medical theory causes may not work because of the treatment protocols that we use in our medicine. If the research is based on this example, the results may show a complete failure on the acupuncture. If 200 people using acupuncture are being studied and they are all suffering from different causes according to Chinese medical theory (i.e., some causes may be due to “heat, cold, excess, deficiency, internal, external, yin or yang” issues), and all of them get treated with the same acupuncture points without regard to each person’s specific health condition, then the results are basically hit or miss. People suffering from their health complaints must be treated for their specific health condition. We do not have a simple “headache point”. Everything in our medicine is very specific, as to location, nature of the disease (cold/hot/internal/external/deficient/excess/yin/yang), time of day, duration of the headache, quality of pain, etc. The same idea is applied when it comes to Chinese herbal formulas, which are used by licensed acupuncturists in the treatment of ANY disorder. The RIGHT herbal formula must be used for each specific individual in order to receive benefits. The WRONG herbal formula may not just be ineffective, it can cause damage to an individual’s health.

It is not only discouraging to some prospective patients of acupuncture who are paying due diligence in researching about acupuncture and Chinese herbs when it comes to investing their resources into a medical practice outside of the traditional Western medical model, it is disgusting to us practitioners when we read something ridiculous that acupuncture has negative effects when it comes to the treatment of infertility or is ineffective when it is used for the treatment of pain.

Use your sensibility before you believe in someone else’s “research”. In my practice, I research every day. I have been practicing since 1999 and I was an intern at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, Samahan Community Medical Clinic (National City) and at Pacific Beach Methodist Church (treating the homeless community). I was the first hired licensed acupuncturist at National City and Mira Mesa Samahan Clinics and I have volunteered my time at AIDS/HIV events. I have given my time freely and for very low pay before I even experienced any true financial prosperity in my practice. I did this in order to see for myself what acupuncture and Chinese herbs are capable of doing. From musculo-skeletal pain to the treatment of congenital heart disorders, I have seen nothing short of miracles before my eyes, the eyes of the patients’ family and friends and, above all, the eyes of my own patients. Hundreds and hundreds of positive outcomes are not results from placebo effects. I am a results-driven practitioner. I am a very proud Dr. Tan Balance Method practitioner. I have an extremely high success rate when it comes to helping my patients graduate from their health complaints. My patients see immediate and long-term results. If you are reading this and are curious as to how Chinese medicine can be so effective, then it is best that you try the medicine on yourself. How can a medicine last thousands of years of practice? Why would Prince Charles of Wales, and many other such advocates voluntarily urge the world to implement Chinese medicine into their current medical models? Why is the AMA teaching their medical doctors how to practice acupuncture? No, I do not endorse “medical acupuncture.” I only endorse medical doctors practicing acupuncture if they themselves are licensed acupuncturists. Why are insurance companies only covering acupuncture if a medical doctor performs acupuncture or if a surgeon performs acupuncture during surgery? Why are these institutions not in favor of licensed acupuncturists practicing the medicine that we study for four or more years, but they are in favor of medical doctors learning within a few months (and just during the weekends) to practice medical acupuncture on their patients? Ask yourself why money is being spent to disprove acupuncture’s effects on a wide array of health issues, but the World Health Organization (WHO), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) all endorse acupuncture. And finally, ask yourself why an acupuncturist has to fight for his/her right to have their patients receive acupuncture from a licensed acupuncturist, NOT a medical doctor whose training is thoroughly in Western medicine, and be paid from their health insurance plans.

When you ask yourself those questions, a light should go off in your head that there is something wrong out there when it comes to these so-called “research” stating that acupuncturists like myself are not doing anything beneficial for our patients. Please do not be a puppet. Think for yourself.

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