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According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, life force circulates in the body along 12 major energy pathways called meridians. There are over 1000 acupoints within the meridian system that can be stimulated to optimize the flow of the life force or qi. Acupuncture is the use of tiny needles to direct qi to the places within the body where it is lacking or stagnant. It has almost no known side effects, and can be used to treat any illness or simply as a health maintenance or preventive measure.
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Research Evidence on Acupuncture
A 2011 randomized control study on 267 women compared guided self-care (control) with individualized acupuncture treatment (experiment). The experiment group received 10 treatments in twelve weeks, in addition to a one-page leaflet recommending soy, herbs, physical activity, relaxation techniques, and decreasing alcohol and tobacco consumption. The control group received only the leaflet. Both groups were encouraged to use any or all of the recommendations in the leaflet.
Participants were eligible if they reported having seven or more severe hot flashes at least seven days in a row.
The acupuncture group reported the following statistically significant improvements:
- Reduced frequency and intensity of hot flashes
- Improved self-reported health assessment
- Improved sleep
- Better mood
- Less fatigue
- Higher energy levels
Hot flash frequency and intensity went down in both groups:
- Frequency: down 5.8 per 24 hours
- Intensity: down 3.2 units
Self-care only group
- Frequency: down 3.7 per 24 hours
- Intensity: down 1.8 units
58% of acupuncture patients in this study reported greater than fifty percent reduction in hot flash frequency.
A small study comparing Tai Chi, Chinese herbs, and acupuncture and their effect on bone density and menopause symptoms. Each of the 14 participants received 32 half-hour sessions using uniform treatment over a period of four months.
Using broadband ultrasound attenuation (BUA), researchers found that the balance between bone formation and resorption improved, meaning that bone density improved slightly after acupuncture.
There were also statistically significant improvements in the following common symptoms:
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Lower back pain
Serious adverse effects associated with the use of acupuncture are rare. 1,2 The most commonly reported problems include short-term pain from needle insertion, tiredness, and minor bleeding. There is one report of infection caused by acupuncture given to a person with diabetes. 3 Some acupuncture points lie over the lungs and insertion to excessive depth could conceivably cause a pneumothorax (punctured lung). Because acupuncturists are trained to avoid this complication, it is a rare occurrence.
A recent report from China contained an example of another complication caused by excessively deep needling. 4 A 44-year-old man was needled on the back of the neck at a commonly used acupuncture point just below the bony protuberance at the base of the skull. However, the acupuncturist inserted the needle too deeply and punctured a blood vessel in the skull. The client developed a severe headache with nausea and vomiting; a CAT scan showed bleeding in the brain, and a spinal tap found a small amount of blood in the cerebrospinal fluid. The severe headache, along with neck stiffness, continued for 28 days. The man was treated with standard pain medication, and the condition resolved itself without any permanent effects.
Infection due to the use of unclean needles has been reported in the past, but the modern practice of using disposable sterile needles appears to have eliminated this risk.
- Ernst E, White AR. Prospective studies of the safety of acupuncture: a systematic review. Am J Med. 110(6):481-5.
- MacPherson H, Thomas K, Walters S, Fitter M. The York acupuncture safety study: prospective survey of 34 000 treatments by traditional acupuncturists. BMJ. 323(7311):486-7.
- Shah N, Hing C, Tucker K, Crawford R. Infected compartment syndrome after acupuncture. Acupunct Med. 20(2-3):105-6.
- Choo DCA, Yue G. Acute intracranial hemorrhage in the brain caused by acupuncture. Headache. 2000;40:397-398.
Hall, Elise et al. “Non-Hormonal Treatment Strategies for Vasomotor Symptoms: A Critical Review,” Drugs 71, no 3 (2011): 287-304.
Borud, Einar Kristian MD, MPH et al. “The Acupuncture on Hot Flushes Among Menopausal Women (ACUFLASH) study, a randomized controlled trial,” Menopause 16, no. 3 (2009): 484-493. doi: 10.1097/gme.0b013e31818c02ad
Dormaenen, Annbjorg. “Depression in postmenopause: a study on a subsample of the Acupuncture on Hot Flushes Among Menopausal Women (ACUFLASH) study,” Menopause 18, no. 5 (2011): pp. 525-530. doi: 10.1097/gme.0b013e3181f9f89f
Xu, Hong et al. “A study on Tai Ji exercise and traditional Chinese medical modalities in relation to bone structure, bone function and menopausal symptoms,” Journal of Chinese Medicine, no. 74 (2004) : 10-14.
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