Even when you stick to a very healthy lifestyle that doesn’t mean you will never become ill. You will certainly greatly reduce your chances, but some factors simply are out of your control. What to do when you suffer some kind of ailment? Acupuncture seems to be a viable option for those looking outside of regular medical treatments.
Although so-called alternative medicine has been in use long before todays regular medicine came into being, it has gained a bad name over the past century. The problem with therapies people have used for millennia to cure illness and get rid of ailments is that they are based on oral tradition and popular belief. They have not been subjected to rigorous, scientific research to prove their worth.
Taking into account the doubts that have arisen about the validity of a growing number of scientific studies in the pharmaceutical industry recently, one wonders whether they are the right persons to point a finger at alternative medicine. But it is true of course that nowadays we want facts and don’t want to base something as important as our health on hearsay. Fortunately, a growing number of alternative therapies are being investigated using the scientific method.
Acupuncture is probably the alternative therapy taken most seriously. It is one of the main branches of traditional Chinese medicine. The first document about acupuncture found so far dates from 100 BC, but it seems logical it has been in use far longer already. Acupuncture concerns the insertion of needles into the body. This is done at certain acupuncture points. The definition and the characterisation of these acupuncture points has been standardised by the World Health Organisation.
The needles vary in length from 13 to 130 millimeters and have a diameter between 0,16 and 0,46 millimeters. Before inserting the needles, the skin will be sterilised. Generally, between 5 to 20 needles will be used in one session. They will be left in place for between 10 to 20 minutes.
It is very important to look for an appropriately trained practitioner when opting for acupuncture treatment. You may also want to make sure the practitioner has a clean needle technique, using gloves for instance when inserting needles, and uses new disposable needles every time.
In China, doctors use acupuncture for a wide variety of diseases and ailments. Western healthcare isn’t quite ready for that yet. So far, acupuncture is recommended for headache, low back pain, and nausea. For most conditions, scientific evidence of the effectiveness of acupuncture is still insufficient.
In Germany, researchers found acupuncture cuts tension headache rates by almost half. Studies in the US turned out positieve results of acupuncture for migraines and for osteoarthritis of the knee. In the UK, acupuncture is recommended for patients with lower back pain. Further research is going on there into the effects of acupuncture on irritable bowel syndrome and on depression.
Patients suffering fibromyalgia, a chronic widespread pain, receiving acupuncture reported a drop in pain scores of on average 40%. Menopause symptoms also seem to be suitable for acupuncture treatment. Although it doesn’t work for all women, participants in studies recorded a reduction in the number of hot flushes and night sweats by almost 40%.
Hypertension is a new field of research, using electroacupuncture. This is a form of acupuncture that employs low-intensity electrical stimulation. Electroacupuncture seems to increase the release of an opioid in the brainstem region that controls blood pressure. Repetitive electroacupuncture can have long-lasting action in lowering hypertension.
Scientists in Sweden studied the use of acupuncture to improve nausea during radiotherapy in cancer patients. They divided the patients into three groups. One receiving real acupuncture, on receiving simulated acupuncture without needle penetration, and one receiving ordinary care. Of both the acupuncture and the simulated acupuncture groups, 63% of patients felt better and reported that the treatment had helped relieve the nausea. Of the ordinary care group, 37% felt better.
Although other research hasn’t come up with similar results concerning real and fake acupuncture, this outcome may be a demonstration of a powerful placebo effect of acupuncture. Maybe it is not important how and where the needles are inserted. In the end, the only thing that counts is that the effects of the treatment are valuable to the patients, even if they are caused by unspecific factors.
In the UK and in the US, the effect of acupuncture on the brain has been studied using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). By administering electrical pain stimuli to volunteers without and with acupuncture, it was shown acupuncture has a significant effect on specific neural structures. It deactivates areas within the brain associated with the processing of pain. Thus, it changes the brain’s perception and processing of pain.
To bee or not to bee
Don’t we all hate it when we get stung by a bee. After the initial pain has subsided, an unpleasant tingling feeling remains for some time. But maybe it’s time to revise our idea about bee stings. The venom a bee injects seems to be beneficial to our health.
Bee-keepers have since long been aware of this fact. They get stung a lot and boast this prevents them from getting rheumatoid arthritis. Research has shown, bee venom contains a component that is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent and indeed may have a positive impact on rheumatoid arthritis.
On a chemical scale, during experimental lab work in the US, nanoparticles carrying a toxin found in bee venom were able to destroy the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). An impressive anti-inflammatory job!
Apitherapy, as the use of beehive products to alleviate various ailments is called, is known particularly for the healing properties of honey. Depending on its quality and geographic origin, honey has proven to have medicinal properties. It has a positive influence on among other things a sore throat and on wound healing.
No problem taking a spoonful of honey from time to time, but you may have to be a daredevil to go to an apitherapy clinic and have yourself voluntarily stung by honey bees to profit from their anti-inflammatory venom.
Traditional Chinese soup © zakiroff – Fotolia.com