The People's Perspective on Medicine

Show 1042: How Acupuncture Can Help You Overcome Health Challenges

Is acupuncture an option for treating your health problem? Find out about the latest research on safety and effectiveness.
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How Acupuncture Can Help You Overcome Health Challenges

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An ancient Chinese medical modality is gradually gaining converts in the US. In acupuncture, a skilled practitioner inserts thin needles into specific points on the body. The problems that may be treated this way range from allergies and sinusitis to heartburn, PMS, menstrual problems and hot flashes. In addition, this approach is frequently helpful for painful conditions such as headaches, tender muscles or sore joints.

How Acupuncture Can Help You:

When acupuncture was first introduced to this country several decades ago, conventional medical practitioners were skeptical. Now there is research evaluating its safety and effectiveness.

Will acupuncture help you enjoy better health? We discuss the answers to these questions:

  • Where are the needles placed?
  • Is there a risk of infection?
  • Which conditions respond best?
  • Does a treatment hurt?
  • What is the evidence for effectiveness?

This Week’s Guests:

Remy Coeytaux, MD, PhD, is an Associate Professor in Community and Family Medicine at the Duke University School of Medicine and Duke Clinical Research Institute. He is co-founder of Chapel Hill Doctors Healthcare Center. Dr. Coeytaux also serves on the board of directors of the Society for Acupuncture Research. His research on acupuncture to ease hot flashes was published in Menopause (June, 2016).

Cholena Erickson, Doctor of Oriental Medicine and Licensed Acupuncturist (L.Ac., O.M.D.), practices acupuncture at Chapel Hill Doctors Healthcare Center.

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free for four weeks after the date of broadcast. After that time has passed, digital downloads are available for $2.99. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Hi, I am very interested in treating heartburn with acupuncture and would like to hear from anyone who has had success with this. I have tried eating almonds, and drinking Apple Cider Vinegar which helps some but not consistently.
Thank you.

I am an acupuncturist working with Chapel Hill Doctors. Heartburn is a condition that can be treated effectively with a combination of acupuncture, chinese herbal medicine, dietary consideration and when applicable, cleansing and detoxification. I have treated this countless times with great success.

I am licensed acupuncturist work at same office with Dr. Remy Coeytaux. I think acupuncture with Chinese dietary recommendation should help acid reflux with very good results.

Can it be cured by acupuncture? It depends on many factors. I would recommend you try at least 5 sessions. This condition needs an experienced acupuncturist.

My wife did several acupuncture sessions for postherpetic neuralgia as a result of a shingles outbreak. She didn’t get any relief at all from these treatments. We are looking into other theories for treating this chronic pain issue.

How many months you have had this condition? Acupuncture should help. I, acupuncturists, cured many of these cases.

Some insurances do cover medical acupuncture( acupuncture performed by a medical doctor, MD). Some BC/BS Plans cover medical acupuncture. Look for practitioners under “medical acupuncture” on the internet.

The result of acupuncture for postherpetic neuralgia related to the length of history. Sooner you treat, better result you will get. It is usually no response after 2 years you have it.

Is acupuncture effective for treating movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, MS, ALS, etc?

The same acupuncturist I am seeing is treating another friend with MS. She is seeing great improvement. Once again, acupuncturists differ in their skills; some seem to do it like paint by numbers. A real healer works more closely with the patient and is likely to be more creative.

Acupuncture can also help boost the immune system. Since I started seeing an acupuncturist 20 years ago, I have not had a single sore throat or a serious cold. When I start to come down with a viral infection like a cold or stomach bug, I use small magnets to stimulate 7 acupuncture points associated with the immune system. I will feel tired and achy for several days and may have some minor head congestion, but no other typical symptoms. Before I started acupuncture, I would have at least one full-fledged cold a season, starting with a bad sore throat, then terrible head and chest congestion and would be miserable for a week, surviving on over-the-counter cold remedies. I would also typically get a couple of other minor colds during the year.

I have been receiving acupuncture treatment for several months for a bladder condition that began 50 years ago and which, in the last two years before I started the treatment, had gotten much, much worse with new, increasingly debilitating, symptoms. There was never pain, but the discomfort was extreme. My GP sent me to a urologist who tried to tell me I had had a “sub clinical” bladder infection for 50 years (!) and wanted to put me on long term antibiotics, with no evidence whatsoever (except his own arrogance) that antibiotics were appropriate. A friend recommended I try an acupuncturist/chiropractor that she had known for many years, and in absolute desperation, I made an appointment. During my initial hour long appointment, he listened very carefully to my symptoms, asked for everything I could tell him about my medical history, and said he believed the problem was due to bio-electrical messaging and that he felt he could help me. That made sense to me.

I receive treatment twice a week, supplemented by occasional electrical stimulation (E-stim) and stretching of the lower back to relive pressure on the nerves. The treatment has been miraculous; I’m getting the first real relief I’ve had in many years, though because I’ve had the condition for so long, complete success will take a long time. I would not be surprised if it takes two years, though I think that soon I will be able to have only one treatment a week.

This same acupuncturist has helped my daughter-in-law who has a fibromyalgia type condition (lots of pain, inability to sleep) for which her doctor wanted her to see a rheumatologist. She also had increasingly allergic reactions to many foods. She drives 2 hours each way to see him, and she is practically a different person since the treatment began—no pain, sleeps well, good energy and is finally, after many, many attempts, is losing weight.

Another friend was diagnosed with H. pylori; her doctor wanted to put her on the standard antibiotic treatment. But the same gifted acupuncturist has had such success with treating her that her treatments are now just every other week and will probably soon stop.

For all of us, our acupuncturist/chiropractor has also prescribed various supplements as well as the treatments. I consider this doctor to be the first real healer I have ever met in my life. The only sad part about the whole thing is that Medicare, like my daughter-in-law’s insurance, does not pay for one penny of the treatment. It’s time that insurance recognize the immense benefit of acupuncture both for conditions that standard medical treatment can’t help as well as for those conditions where standard medical treatment uses powerful and potentially dangerous drugs and/or surgery.

I am a certified Veterinary acupuncturist in Blacksburg Virginia and can confirm that acupuncture is effective for many conditions in animals. It is not painful and many of my patients go to sleep during their treatment. The animals do not imagine that they are getting better! It is not pIacebo effect, then. I have been practicing for 25 years and am certified by the International Veterinary Acupuncture society. There is research from 2015 in humans that finds neurofibers in acupuncture points which release calcitonin gene related peptide which is a potent vasodialator. This is one way it works to aid healing and unblock Qi or circulation.

I have been having acupuncture for bursitis in my hip, and O/A in my Right hand. So far, after only 2 treatments, I have gotten more pain relief than having cortisone shots or anti inflammatory meds.

Can acupuncture help spinal stenosis and sciatica?

I suffered with painful sciatica for almost a year, seeing many different providers without much improvement. I finally sought acupuncture and had 90% relief after just one treatment. One week later, my second treatment gave me full resolution. It’s been 6 months and I still am pain-free. It was truly amazing.

My friends and I keep hoping that accupuncture prices will go down, or that Medicare will eventually cover all or part of the cost. Until, then, we simply can’t afford it.

How effective is the treatment? And, how long does the relief last?

I think these questions depend completely on what condition is being treated. I expect my condition to be completely cured eventually and so does the chiropractor who is treating me. My daughter-in-law expects her condition to be cured as well. And my friend with the stomach pains from H. pylori. I would think that treatment for persistent pain might require regular treatment.
And bear in mind, just as some doctors are clearly better than others, some acupuncturists are better than others. One person describes the difference as one acupuncturist doing it by the numbers and another paying close attention to the patient and fine tuning his treatment.

I tried acupuncture for 3 months to treat my rheumatoid and osteoarthritis of the knees and spine. With added electro-stimulation and heat, the nearly complete pain relief was immediate, but wore off gradually over a day or two. I still had to take my regular painkillers. It’s great if you can afford frequent treatments out-of-pocket since most insurance policies don’t cover it. But be aware that acupuncture doesn’t seem to be something that will “cure” you, if that’s what you’re looking for.

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