Acupuncture Can Work
But Is Not Totally Safe
By Patricia Reaney
LONDON (Reuters) - Acupuncture can be effective in treating back pain and nausea but patients should be aware that the ancient Chinese therapy is not completely safe, medical experts said Monday.
An international meeting of doctors and researchers in London to assess the treatment said acupuncture can work for certain ailments but serious complications can occur when it is done by an unqualified therapist.
``It is not totally safe. We know of severe side effects and complications and we are at a loss of how frequently they occur,'' Edzard Ernst, of the University of Exeter in south-western England, told a press conference. Acupuncturists use tiny needles to try to balance the body's energy flow, or Qi, at certain points along 12 energy channels or meridians of the body.
Western doctors have acknowledged that there are areas in the body where acupuncture needles can work on muscles to reduce pain. They also know that the needles stimulate nerve endings that reach into the hypothalamus area of the brain that regulates metabolism, sleep and other vital body functions. But Dr Adrian White, of the department of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter, said nobody has found any convincing scientific evidence for the existence of meridians or energy flow.
``Acupuncture can clearly stimulate cells deep within the brain to release transmitters; the best known are the endorphins, which should correctly be called opioid peptides. However, just because we now have a possible mechanism for acupuncture doesn't mean it necessarily works in particular conditions: we need evidence from clinical trials in every condition,'' he said.
White added that acupuncture has proven helpful for nausea, lower back pain and dental pain, but said the evidence for its effects on neck pain, headache, stroke and asthma is inconclusive. There is also no proof to show it helps people to stop smoking or lose weight.
The doctors said most of the complications linked to acupuncture -- ranging from lung punctures and drowsiness to blood poisoning and hepatitis B -- are avoidable and result from inadequate knowledge and aggressive treatment.
Unlike osteopaths and chiropractors who are licensed by professional boards most countries, the control of training for acupuncturists is much more relaxed. In some countries acupuncturists need no training or qualifications.
Dr Hagen Rampes, of South Kensington & Chelsea Mental Health Center in London, conducted a review of the published side effects of acupuncture world-wide over a 30-year period. More than 300 cases of serious complications were reported.
Pneumothorax, or puncture of the lung, was the most frequent complication, with more than 100 cases worldwide. ``There have been several clusters of hepatitis B throughout the world and all were due to careless procedures when acupuncture was used,'' he said.

Dear Sightings:
As a student of the Chinese healing arts I was alarmed by this article that seems to show only the dangers of choosing an unlicensed practitioner while failing to point out the beneficial uses of acupuncture.
I would like to point out that the Chinese have used acupuncture for thousands of years. Their medicinal arts far exceded those of the West until nearly the twentieth century. In China today both Western medicine and Chinese medicine are used side by side with exciting results. In a Chinese surgery acupuncture is used in place of anesthesia. Electricity is applied to the needles until the area to be cut has no more feeling. This practice has for the Chinese (and elsewhere such as Sweden and Germany) proven to be far safer than the drugs used for anesthesia in the West.
Much research in currently in progress with the use of acupuncture. To read more about this I would like to direct you to:
In Japan and China acupuncture has been used quite successfully in neurology. Through the combination of both Western medicine and acupuncture people have been brought out of comas; children have overcome various types of paralysis. The research continues as it appears that acupuncture seems to "jump-start" nerve-endings.
Many acupuncturists are assigned to the task of healing those that Western medicine has failed. They have had great success. I feel that the article in question needlessly promotes fear in the Western world. Already in the West, the standard medical routine has become so insular that it refuses to reach out and try new techniques. If acupuncture works on damaged nerves, why isn't it being tried in the West? If the Chinese have developed a method of treating burns that is more effective in the West, why isn't it being practiced? Instead of the medical community being open and experimental, they have become insular and pompous.
I believe that we should open up to new techniques and use them if they work. I do not advocate using an unlicensed practioner. Most acupuncturists are well-trained and they used disposable needles.
Starla Immak Auburn, Wa

From Victor Fletcher
Acupuncture sounds pretty safe to me!
If only 10 people a year are having a problem when it is allowed to be practiced by rank amateurs it sounds a lot safer to me than institutionalized and professional medical care that allows drug poisoning prescriptions, inadequate monitoring of antibiotic medication follow-through, inadequate monitoring of seniors prescriptions, etc.
Then, we're talking hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of
instances of "professional" medical abuse. If you're dead by
professional malpractice you're just as dead as if it were by a rank
amateur. Should there be standards for acupuncture practitioners -- yes.
Should there be condemnation of institutionalized medical practitioners
for their medically induced problems -- also yes.
In Canada it is estimated on average that every senior citizen is on
three prescriptions.
Victor Fletcher

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