Acupuncture: holistic medicine or superstitious nonsense?
In 1822 the Chinese Emperor, Dao Guang, issued a law removing the practice and teaching of acupuncture from the Imperial Medical Academy. This dismissal of ‘the ancient superstition’ consigned the practice from an officially recognised conventional medicine to a fringe activity practiced only by witch doctors and ‘charlatans’ and, seemingly, doomed to a long, slow death.
The fact that 200 years ago acupuncture had fallen out of favour in China – the country of its birth – makes it even more surprising that its reputation has been rehabilitated to such an extent that it is recognised, in 2015, as a ‘treatment’ on the NHS Choices website. Critics of acupuncture suggest that acupuncturists are pulling the wool over our eyes while they take the pound out of our pocket. On the other hand supporters of this complementary therapy continue to pay for acupuncture and argue that acupuncture should be at the heart of people’s care plans for disease, sickness, pain and low mood.
Proponents of acupuncture disagree claiming that it can benefit – or cure – a raft of ailments ranging from the physical to the mental and even the spiritual. The idea that having needles inserted in various points in the body could prove a better treatment for the chemical imbalances that lead to depression or anxiety than the right psychoactive drugs might seem absurd to some people. However, a growing number of people are throwing away their antidepressants and replacing them with a course of acupuncture. Meanwhile others go further: citing acupuncture as their main support in overcoming an addiction to legal or illegal drugs.
The most common cause for a course of acupuncture remains to gain relief from pain. Whilst much of the evidence for acupuncture is anecdotal there is an increasing bank of evidence to support the idea that acupuncture can treat back pain, particularly pain located in the lower back. A review of 29 studies undertaken by Andrew Vickers in 2012 found that acupuncture had a ‘clear and robust’ effect on chronic back pain. This comes as heartening news to the estimated 8 million people in the UK who suffer from chronic pain. However those who turn to acupuncture in the hope of cure rather than relief are still waiting for science to back up their beliefs.
For many years acupuncture had been heralded as a potential cure for an ear condition called Tinnitus, which involves a ringing sound in the ear sometimes accompanied by pain. A small scale study carried out in 1998 by Furugard et al found that acupuncture healed the symptoms of Tinnitus healed the condition in 45% of sufferers. However, these results were undermined in the long term when it was discovered that the symptoms were only relieved temporarily and that in the long term the condition returned in most cases. Then, in 2000, a systematic and comprehensive study carried out by the US National Institute of Health found no link between acupuncture and a cure for Tinnitus, thus severely undermining the case for acupuncture as a cure for specific conditions.
Considering the lack of supporting evidence it is surprising that acupuncture has garnered a reputation for reversing the decline of Parkinson’s disease. Symptoms of that progressive disease include: tremors, decreased mobility and stiffness. These sypmptoms are reported to have been relieved and indeed reversed by acupuncture in some patients. However, this reversal has only ever been reported by individuals, never substantiated by science. A comprehensive review of the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating Parkinson’s was carried out in Korea between 2000 and 2007 by Myyong Soo Lee and Edzard Ernst. They did not find any proof that acupuncture has any positive effect for Parkinson’s sufferers beyond being an aid for sleep.
Whilst in the last few years acupuncture has failed to find proof in a number of scientific studies it has continued to gain ground sold as a holistic therapy espoused by ex-addicts as one of the main contributory factors in beating their addictions. Many rehabilitation centres have added their support to this view by incorporating acupuncture into their daily programs. However the root of a person’s recovery is subjective and therefore difficult to verify with science. The few attempts that have been made to link acupuncture to recovery have proved unsuccessful.
It is clear that acupuncture still lacks the evidence to justify its recommendation on the NHS website as a therapy for disease and chronic conditions. Acupuncture does seem to have a place as a relief for pain for some individuals. However, the growing clamour to encourage UK doctors to prescribe acupuncture with funding by the taxpayer should continue to be resisted. The right to choose acupuncture for relief of pain remains a right of the individual. But it would appear that all the way back in 1822 Dao Guang made the right call: acupuncture has no place in modern, conventional medicine.
1. Match the paragraph to the Headings
Introduction = Paragraph A
Acupuncture for tackling substance misuse = Paragraph _____
Acupuncture for long-term physical discomfort = Paragraph _____
The suitability of acupuncture to treat disease = Paragraph _____
The suitability of acupuncture to treat a specific complaint = Paragraph _____
Acupuncture’s place within the UK’s health service = Paragraph _____
Outline of the potential uses for acupuncture = Paragraph _____
Conclusion = Paragraph H
3. True, false, or not given
- At present there is no evidence that Acupuncture has any uses. _____
- There are people who claim acupuncture should be the main weapon in the fight against certain diseases and ailments. _____
- Some people who are depressed choose to combine acupuncture and tablets in their fight against their low mood. ______
- Scientists are not convinced that acupuncture can cure diseases.
- There are at least two symptoms of Tinnitus. _____
- Some people believe acupuncture can relieve the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. _____
- One of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is that people are less able to walk. ____
- Science will never prove that Acupuncture can’t cure Parkinson’s disease. ____
- Acupuncture is a conventional medicine in the West ____
- More and more people want acupuncture to be prescribed as a cure on the NHS. _____
3. Writing Task 2
Writing Task 2:
What alternative therapies are still used in the modern world?
How effective do you think they can be used, alongside conventional medicine, in treating disease, illness and stress?
Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.
Write at least 250 words.