Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a common complication of long term smoking. It interferes with the ability of people to breathe easily and exercise, and it can have a devastating effect on the quality of life. Now Japanese researchers report that a placebo-controlled trial of acupuncture shows promise for this condition. The 68 patients in the study were randomly assigned to receive acupuncture at traditional points associated with asthma and lung problems or to receive sham acupuncture at the same points with needles that did not go through the skin. The subjects completed a six-minute walking test at the beginning and end of the three-month study. Acupuncture sessions were once a week.
Those who got actual acupuncture had a significant reduction in breathlessness and an increase in the distance they could cover. Those getting sham acupuncture made no such improvement. Experts not associated with the study are still skeptical. They point out that acupuncture can be expensive and often is not covered by insurance. But if future studies support these findings, perhaps the insurance companies should be covering acupuncture as well as inhaled steroids.
[Archives of Internal Medicine, online May 14, 2012]