This is one of the most common questions I get for any given condition. In general, acupuncture works on a large variety of conditions with few contraindications or side effects. Many insurance companies are now starting to pay out, as they are seeing the benefits of it, but researching acupuncture is very difficult.
So, does acupuncture work? On paper, versus in the clinic, it really is different. I have reviewed three different meta-analyses, which are a review of all the research that has been conducted in a similarly grouped study and a final determination of their efficacy. People seek acupuncture for these conditions daily in my clinic. Therefore, I can give an honest review on whether acupuncture does or does not work for the following specific conditions.
,,LOW BACK PAIN
Thirty-three rigorous studies were included and the meta-analysis results showed acupuncture is significantly more effective than the placebo. (bit.ly/2SdsTv6) My take: This is by far the easiest, besides neck pain, to treat. It typically takes 2-4 treatments, depending on the severity, acuteness, and whether there are any other physical issues such as scoliosis, herniations/disc bulges, etc. For chronic, idiopathic low back pain, patients do very well coming in once per month or less.
I included two meta-analyses here for a reason reason. Depression didn’t score that high in the first eight small studies, which showed little to no effect. The results were determined possibly because of the small sample sizes. (bit.ly/2SaForc) The second meta-analysis reviewed 207 trials. In this one, they found that acupuncture performed better than antidepressants, however, they found that true acupuncture performed just as well as “sham” or fake acupuncture (needling into non-acupuncture points, but still needling into the body with acupuncture needles). This is why I love medical acupuncture and research. A massive, I mean massive, research study came out just two months ago about locating immune cells in relation to traditional acupuncture points. These immune cells carry around serotonin, and when an acupuncture needle punctures these cells, it releases more serotonin into your bloodstream, and further, it causes your brain to produce more serotonin.
The funny thing about this research is that they found that where most of these immune cells hang out are in areas where you wouldn’t necessarily needle for depression in the “traditional acupuncture point system.” Therefore, research studies like this, where they compare “traditional acupuncture points” to “non-acupuncture points” are a big problem! These points are used in medical acupuncture to treat depression and are possibly the points they used for the “sham” or fake acupuncture points. Regardless, I see clinically that medical acupuncture is a wonderful, powerful, safe and natural way to treat mild depression. The other overlooked problem is that depressed people have less serotonin to begin with. Therefore, it takes more time for depressed patients to feel the effects of acupuncture treatments than non-depressed patients. And that has been my experience as well. It just takes a bit longer, but those who have stuck with it and done just a few more treatments to build up that serotonin a little more have done well. Their depression has decreased and stayed at bay.
This one included seven trials and 1,366 women undergoing IVF, and the outcomes were beneficial and did improve the live births. My thoughts: I think this is grossly underrated. We see patients all day for fertility problems and it is quite the miracle how well acupuncture works for fertility. Fertility acupuncture is becoming more and more widely used and accepted. Acupuncture helps regulate hormones better than most other therapies and works incredibly well. Unfortunately, the fertility treatments do take longer than other treatments. We see patients twice per week for several weeks in a row. (bit.ly/2vmCSVC) So, when asked if acupuncture works, the answer is a resounding yes. However, there is a flawed system in how we are researching it. Currently, in the “sham model,” we are taking 5,000-year-old, anecdotal texts as a basis to research a physical entity versus another physical entity and expecting them to be different. Or even worse, putting up pharmaceuticals versus acupuncture—which is synthetic chemicals versus natural chemicals—not a fair comparison. If acupuncture didn’t work, people wouldn’t be getting it, especially for thousands of years all around the world. The biggest problem I see is that patients come in for chronic problems and expect to be better in 2-3 treatments and unfortunately, that is not very realistic. If you’re looking for a natural approach, it is going to take longer. This is not a synthetic medicine that can just turn the lights on/off—poof! It takes time to correct the systems in your body. People giveup too fast and then say it doesn’t work. The most powerful evidence for me is fertility. Patients try for years to have children and then they do acupuncture alone, and all of a sudden, they are pregnant. That is undeniably powerful. Acupuncture really does work.
Dr. Christina Fick
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