We are reaching out to medical experts and acupuncturists asking them to explain the actual validity of acupuncture and whether it’s a valid science. We are looking for science-based arguments that are backed up by real research only — no anecdotal reports. So far we’ve just heard pro-acupuncture arguments from acupuncturists, but would like to hear arguments and studies against acupuncture too and will update this post if and when such comments come in. You may add a comment to this article here (as mentioned, we’re looking for science-based comments only, so for any claims please mention relevant studies supporting the claim).
To answer is there is reasonable scientific evidence on the efficacy that acupuncture can help people, absolutely.
According to an NIH study (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28598785) one of the crucial benefits of acupuncture is that it can facilitate the release of certain neuropeptides in the central nervous system (CNS), eliciting profound physiological effects and even activating self-healing mechanisms.
In addition more acupuncture research (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4540978) has shown to help with immune regulation and an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
Acupuncture has shown to be effective in treating PTSD (https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02869646) and is being used by the military (https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2018/02/09/battlefield-acupuncture-yes-it-exists-and-the-military-is-using-it-to-fight-troops-pain) to help fight pain and prevent addiction to opioids.
Acupuncture is the insertion of fine needles into specific points on the body along meridians, these are energy lines that are known to have a different electromagnetic (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2907515) properties and resistance.
Scientific research is reductionist, meaning breaking things apart to study. The challenge with studying physical medicine through a “scientific” model can leave more questions than gain answers.
Acupuncture is a physical medicine, and is empirical or evidence based. Thousands of years of evidence based practice of acupuncture has culminated in a set of principles of how it works. The language of acupuncture is based on daoist principles of Yin and Yang and a holistic approach that is body, mind and spirit.
The debate (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3190445) of whether a medicine is an art of science can create a lot of confusion. Medicine is not necessarily considered a science, it is an art or practice based in science.
What happens when someone receives acupuncture? The needles stimulate the nervous system and elicit the rest and digest response
Who would you recommend considering acupuncture (if anyone)?
I recommend acupuncture for people that are interested in prevention and promoting overall health and wellness. This segment of the population has a vested interest in optimizing their health long term and recognize the benefit of mind body medicine as a way to “hack” their health.
Acupuncture is very effective for stress relief, poor sleep, digestion, all kinds of pain, headaches, cancer pain (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23338773) and fertility. Each person would be assessed as to the frequency and duration with a plan for improving overall wellness.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine (https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/acupuncture) there are many more conditions that can be treated by acupuncture.
Acupuncture is part of Chinese medicine and the cultivation of health where the patient has an active role in their health destiny. Identifying root or underlying conditions that the patient can address such as diet, exercise and lifestyle choice as well as integrate western medicine to have the best of health.
–Tsao-Lin E. Moy, L.Ac., MSOM, Integrative Healing Arts Acupuncture, P.C.
There’s a great meta analysis that was last updated in 2018 for The Journal of Pain, which shows that acupuncture improved chronic pain conditions better than either sham acupuncture or no control. This means that research has proven there is clearly a result from acupuncture above and beyond the placebo effect. This meta analysis looked at 39 trials of 20,827 patients with a variety of chronic pain conditions. The researchers found that if a penetrating needle was used for sham acupuncture in a trial, the effect size was smaller than when compared to the sham acupuncture not being penetrating, indicating a beneficial effect on chronic pain conditions from needling even if the acupuncturist doesn’t get points exactly right. Anecdotally, acupuncturists know that it’s important to get the correct points in order to have a good effect…in clinic, it’s the difference between a patient going home with some pain remaining, or them going home totally pain free. This is something which research is unable to show. Additionally, the meta analysis found that acupuncture’s effects on chronic pain are lasting, with only a 15% decrease in treatment effect after one year, overall. So, the researchers conclude that: Acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic musculosketal, headache and osteoarthritis pain. Treatment effects of acupuncture persist over time and cannot be explained solely in terms of placebo effects. Referral for a course of acupuncture treatment is a reasonable option for a patient with chronic pain. (source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5927830)
Another interesting study was a randomized controlled trial in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, published in 2016. It compared 150 patients receiving acupuncture to 150 patients receiving IV morphine in the Emergency Department, and found that acupuncture was more successful at reducing pain (92% vs 78%), was more efficient at it (16±8 minutes vs 28±14 minutes), and had less minor adverse effects than morphine (2.6% or 4 patients vs 56.6% or 85 patients experiencing minor adverse effects). Very interesting to see a study saying that acupuncture is more effective, faster acting, and less dangerous than IV morphine for acute pain. (source: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27475042)
Of course, when I see people claiming that acupuncture is pseudoscience, I wonder how something which outperforms the placebo effect, and even IV morphine in some cases, can be viewed so skeptically. Are the detractors not aware of the current research?
Aside from pain conditions, acupuncture is a modality of East Asian Medicine, which treats many different health conditions successfully. Pain is just commonly researched, so it’s easy to provide some studies about it. East Asian Medicine practitioners also practice herbal medicine, and sometimes certain conditions respond better to that than acupuncture (and vice versa).
For further research, it’s good to check out evidencebasedacupuncture.org. For instance, they have a section on research about acupuncture’s effects on mental health: https://www.evidencebasedacupuncture.org/present-research/acupuncture-anxiety
–Scott Schauland, Registered Acupuncturist, Ginkgo Leaf Acupuncture
Acupuncture is an effective and useful treatment for a variety of medical ailments when practiced properly and at the appropriate times. Although there is much skepticism regarding the merits of acupuncture in the western medical community, there is also plenty of well-established evidence, research and studies which support its effectiveness:
The World Health Organization recognizes the effectiveness of acupuncture for more than 60 conditions.
Acupuncture represents a natural course of treatment which can often help to remedy medical problems which western medicine fails to alleviate, or otherwise attempts to mask with prescriptions and pain medication.
With that being said – acupuncture should never be used as a replacement for necessary medical treatment. Western medicine, invasive procedures and cutting edge medical technologies should represent our first line of defense against serious disease, illness and injury. However, for recurring problems which are often tricky to solve such as chronic pain or insomnia, acupuncture is an excellent treatment option.
–Jamie Bacharach Dipl.Ac, Acupuncture Jerusalem
The effectiveness of Acupuncture has come under great scrutiny and as an acupuncturist, I couldn’t be more thrilled. The scientific process is helping to prove what we’ve always asserted; that acupuncture works. In fact, medicaid’s rigorous studies (https://www.forbes.com/sites/robinseatonjefferson/2020/01/24/medicare-will-now-pay-for-acupuncture-in-part-due-to-opioid-abuse/#5ebf8d43378a) convinced them to offer acupuncture as a covered service.
A great deal of information has been gathered concerning the physiological effects of acupuncture. We know that it dampens the need for pharmaceuticals in the treatment of pain by stimulating release of the body’s own engoden opioids (http://vindhaga.se/artikel_akupunktur.pdf). This covers the gamut of musculoskeletal conditions that Western pain specialists struggle with; back and neck pain, frozen shoulder, sciatica, etc.
That’s only a small part of it’s scope, however. Acupuncture can modulate smooth muscle, thus affecting the airways, stomach and bowels. It has also been effective in the treatment of infertility, depression, addiction, and other emotional and psychological disorders – especially when in conjunction with traditional Western treatment methods.
It’s also important to note that acupuncture is only one tool. Separating it from the wider context of CAM/TCM is like calling a flu shot the full spectrum of modern medicine. Practitioners offer electro-acupuncture, cupping, moxabustion and herbal medicine as common adjuncts to treatment, in addition to guidance on lifestyle and dietary adjustments.
In a final, less scientific appeal the fact that this style of medicine has been around for so long and accepted by so many should speak to its efficacy. If all previous evidence were to be ignored and acupuncture labeled a placebo, it would be important to state that the effect of pharmaceutical drugs can be as high as 50% placebo (https://www.health.harvard.edu/mental-health/the-power-of-the-placebo-effect).
At the end of the day, if the patients see sustained improvement does it matter if the whole system can be defined?
–Blake Estape, D.O.M. L.Ac., Miami Acupuncture and Herbal Solutions, INC
Is there reasonable scientific evidence that acupuncture can help people, or is it a pseudoscience?
There have been thousands of studies worldwide on the safety and effectiveness of acupuncture. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health confirms acupuncture’s effectiveness in the treatment of pain, as well as other conditions. It is interesting to note that many medical doctors advocate the use of acupuncture. While it is always best to receive acupuncture therapy from a fully-trained doctor of acupuncture, physical therapists in some states are attempting to have acupuncture included in their scope of practice. It is just another sign of the acceptance of acupuncture in the broader medical community. The American College of Physicians (ACP) recommends in an evidence-based clinical practice guideline (http://annals.org/aim/article/doi/10.7326/M16-2367) published in Annals of Internal Medicine that physicians and patients should treat acute or subacute low back pain with non-drug therapies such as superficial heat, massage, acupuncture, or spinal manipulation.
Who would you recommend considering acupuncture (if anyone)?
As mentioned, everyone suffering from pain should consider acupuncture prior to pharmaceutical treatment. Doctors of acupuncture can also advise patients on various physical therapies, like tai ji and other postural therapies and exercise. They may also perform therapeutic massage. Internal conditions such as digestive complaints, neurological conditions, and respiratory infections can all be addressed by doctors of acupuncture. Patients suffering from irregularities in the menstrual cycle are commonly seen. When combined with medicinal herbs, acupuncture is part of a complete medical system known as Chinese medicine, which can address nearly any health complaint with results varying based on the individual patient and condition.
–Jack Miller, President at Pacific College of Health and Science, pacificcollege.edu
Most people think of acupuncture as a form of alternative or pain medicine. However, acupuncture is proving to be far more potent and complex than previously realized, showing some really fascinating results in regenerative medicine. Our center, Aspire Regenerative, identified some of this early research and integrated it into our service line to enhance our regenerative medicine therapies. A good example of this research was a study completed in 2017 on electroacupuncture and mesenchymal stem cells. The researchers observed an increase in mesenchymal stem cells in the peripheral blood 2 hours following Electroacupuncture in humans. This finding changes our view of acupuncture surpassing the previously established analgesic effect and entering the more profound regenerative category.
–Dr. Ryan McNally, Aspire Regenerative
I am the lead editor of OutwitTrade and an accomplished data analyst, writer and internet marketer. These days I spend a lot of my time organizing community discussions here, writing content, and outreaching to different people.