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Acupuncture and the Placebo Effect

placebo effectAs holistic medicine is on the rise, such as Acupuncture, Herbalism or Ayurvedic Medicine, it’s natural that skepticism will rise with it. Many (but not all) western medicine sites or blogs, not understanding how our medicine works, claim that acupuncture is nothing more than a placebo effect.

Researchers especially hold strong to a bias against acupuncture and understandably so. There hasn’t been enough clinical trials in the United States and unfortunately, some of the best research in acupuncture hasn’t been translated from Chinese to English. With acupuncture, in any case, it’s nearly impossible to do the “gold standard double blind type studies” and this is because:

1) a holistic system does not match well to reductionist methods
2) sham acupuncture is a very poor control
3) many studies are designed and performed by people with no experience whatsoever with acupuncture or eastern medicine and in effect are almost guaranteed to produce a negative result

Although clinical experience doesn’t carry the same weight as research does in the world of Western medicine, I do believe it’s something worth sharing and taking into account. In my own personal clinical experience, the majority of my patients have not only seen some improvement, but great improvement, especially in their overall condition. The placebo effect is fairly specific and when my patients come in for back pain or general arthritis, they report experiencing other positive clinic results such as improvement in their sleep, stress management, depression or digestion.

One other point I’d like to mention about the placebo effect is that “it is widely accepted that animals are not susceptible to the placebo effect.” Many studies with rats or mice have demonstrated that acupuncture can induce very specific physiological effects that are nearly impossible to explain as the result of placebo. A review from the veterinary world concludes acupuncture is both safe and effect for pain and “should be strongly considered.”

So, it it placebo or not? And why does it matter? For researchers, it matters, but for you who are looking for healing, it doesn’t have to matter. What matters is the results your local acupuncturists are getting with their patients. The one and only true wealth you have is your health. I encourage you to invest in it wisely.

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