The Tribune - Spectrum

, March 3, 2002

Balancing the chi with acupuncture
Shirish Joshi

ACCORDING to a new study conducted byDr Tong Joo (T.J.) Gan, an anesthesiologist at Duke University Medical Centre, acupuncture is just as effective as other painkillers used to reduce nausea and vomiting after major breast surgery.

Acupuncture, the 5,000-year-old Chinese practice also decreased postoperative pain in these women. They now believe that acupuncture is an effective antiemetic ( a drug that reduces nausea and vomiting) that is less expensive and has fewer side-effects than currently used medicines.

Up to 70 per cent of women who undergo major breast surgery experience nausea and vomiting after surgery. Doctors have known from studies carried out earlier that acupuncture can be an effective antiemetic when compared to a placebo, but it has never been tested against one of the most commonly used medicines, Zofran.

They were surprised to find that acupuncture turned out to be just as effective as the medicine or better. Other patients also reported much less pain after surgery.


Specifically, the researchers applied acupuncture at a point, which is located 50-mm below the bottom of the palm of the hand and between the two tendons connecting the lower arm with the wrist.

For their study, the researchers used electroacupuncture, which uses an electrode— like that used to take a standard electrocardiogram, — at the appropriate point. Instead of actually breaking the skin with the traditional long slender needles, the electroacupuncture device delivers a small electrical pulse through the skin. "Electroacupuncture is said to enhance the effects of traditional acupuncture".

The researchers also will look to combining acupuncture with antiemetics to see if this combination of eastern and western approaches has greater effectiveness.

Dr Arthur Margolin, research scientist Yale University in the US has successfully used acupuncture to treat cocaine addiction, a disorder for which there is few effective treatments. His study showed that participants who received auricular acupuncture — needles inserted into specific parts of the outer ear — were more likely to have cocaine-negative urine over the course of the study compared to those in control groups.

His study supports the use of acupuncture for cocaine addiction and shows that alternative therapies can be combined with the Western treatments for fighting addiction.

This finding suggests that further research on acupuncture in this application should be taken up.

Auricular acupuncture consists of inserting three to five small needles in both outer ears. Needles remain in place for about 45 minutes. Acupuncture has been found to soothe nausea associated with other medical procedures or problems, from chemotherapy to morning sickness.

Not only does the treatment ease the pain and nausea, but it also helps them put on weight and feel more energetic — while avoiding the side-effects of anti-nausea drugs.

There are some problems for which acupuncture is not useful. Acupuncture therapy cannot fight infection or treat cancer. Acupuncture is even used as an anaesthetic for some surgeries in China, where they would not use anything else. It’s also used during delivery instead of an epidural. Of course, nothing works for everyone, and that certainly also includes regular drugs. Acupuncture has also been used to treat dogs and horses.

When conventional drug therapy couldn’t help an arthritic dog, his owner tried acupuncture. The results were astounding. A twelve-year-old dog, that had been unable to rise to his feet, soon was rushing to the door to greet his veterinary acupuncturist.

A recent survey indicated that veterinarian acupuncturists were increasingly recommending acupuncture for the treatment of horses. While it is not completely known why or how acupuncture — whether electroacupuncture or traditional — works, recent research seems to point to its ability to stimulate the release of hormones or the body’s own painkillers, known as endorphins.

According to Chinese healing practices, there are about 360 specific points along 14 different lines, or meridians, that course throughout the body just under the skin. The Chinese believe that our vital energy, known as chi, courses throughout the body along these meridians.

While healthiness is a state where the chi is in balance, unhealthiness arises from either too much or too little chi, or a blockage in the flow of the chi. By applying acupuncture to certain well-known points, the Chinese believe that they can bring the chi back into balance.

The benefits of acupuncture include its low cost, and that it seems to have few, if any, adverse side-effects.

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