November 6, 1997
WASHINGTON – A panel of scientists at the National Institutes of Health confirmed something Wednesday the Chinese have known for thousands of years and many Americans are discovering: Acupuncture can work.
The panel, which included doctors who practice acupuncture and some scientists who were skeptical, agreed that acupuncture clearly works to treat several conditions, including nausea and vomiting after chemotherapy and surgery, the nausea of pregnancy, and post-operative dental pain.
The NIH panel also found “intriguing” but incomplete scientific data that acupuncture may also help stroke rehabilitation and relieve addictions, headaches, menstrual cramps, a variety of muscle pains, carpal tunnel syndrome and asthma.
“This is a pretty dramatic finding,” said Dr. David Ramsey, president of the University of Maryland Medical Center and an initial acupuncture skeptic who chaired the NIH panel.
“Acupuncture has fewer side effects and is less invasive than many of the other things we do in conventional Western medicine. It’s time to take it seriously.”
The 12-member group’s decision will undoubtedly bring the ancient Chinese art of sticking needles into specific points on the body into mainstream Western medicine, Ramsey said.
The panel’s “consensus statement” recommends integrating acupuncture into standard medical practice, calls for further study into how acupuncture works, and urges Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance companies to begin paying for acupuncture treatments. Though the recommendations aren’t legally binding, they carry great influence in the medical community.
Acupuncture, which has been used in China for about 2,500 years, is premised on the notion that an energy or life force called qi (pronounced “chee”), travels through the body along 14 different channels. When qi is blocked, people get sick. Sticking needles at various angles into points along the channels is thought to remove the blockage, get qi flowing again and restore harmony between the opposing forces of yin and yang in the body.
Recent studies have shown that acupuncture somehow taps into the body’s natural protective and pain-fighting system. Brain activity increases, the immune system is boosted, and pain-fighting endorphins and peptides are released during acupuncture, studies show. That’s what convinced the NIH panel.
The Food and Drug Administration estimates that in recent years, as many as 12 million Americans have sought acupuncture treatments from about 10,000 medical doctors or licensed acupuncture practitioners