Placebo Or No?

There is much debate about Acupuncture and its effects are often compared to that of a placebo.  So what’s the word?  Well, first let’s remind ourselves, what is a placebo and how it works.  According to Wikipedia, “a placebo is a “sham” that creates a placebo effect”… which is “the tendency of any medication or treatment, even an inert or ineffective one, to exhibit results simply because the recipient believes that it will work”.

So really, this begs the question, is Acupuncture simply playing a supersensory magic trick on our nervous systems & making us believe that we are getting better when in fact the treatment is “inert”?  As a student of the medicine, I obviously “believe” that it works, however this really isn’t the point at all.  Turns out a placebo is only as effective as long as it is being administered… and research would have it, that Acupuncture does indeed work long after it’s been administered; from weeks to even years down the road in follow-up studies.   This lasting effect is one of the things I find very interesting in all this research. 

Why am I writing about this?  Well, it’s a very pertinent question that I feel is important to answer and understand.  It is a common topic of conversation that patients & friends bring up when the topic of Acupuncture is mentioned.   Also, I am of the mind that the word “belief” should not be used in the same sentence as Acupuncture; it belongs next to words like Santa Claus & The Easter Bunny.  The mounting research and the personal accounts should be enough for us to know that Acupuncture works; but being of an analytical mind myself I can see the benefit in finding the data to back up an argument.  However, like I’ve said before, Acupuncture may be beyond our capable minds to understand at the moment but that certainly doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work & can’t be used as a health modality. 

The following article was printed up in the New York Times about a month ago.  The bottom line in this article is that Acupuncture works but maybe the research is focusing on the wrong questions.  I highly recommend reading it yourself, it brings up some really great points about how the research design we use with western pharmaceutical drugs just doesn’t work quite the same for studying acupuncture.

“Rather than proving that acupuncture does not work, in other words, the study may suggest that it works even when administered poorly. But the real lesson, acupuncture supporters say, is how difficult it can be to apply Western research standards to an ancient healing art”

Articles like this also lead me to question why Acupuncture is given so much trouble & its efficacy is constantly questioned simply because we don’t have an understanding of its exact mechanism of action.  In fact,  many of the pharmaceutical drugs on the market work by… you guessed it,  “mechanisms of unknown action”; and a few of the antidepressants currently on the market work just as well as Placebo, (meaning; a sugar pill will get you the same results as that antidepressant except you get the added bonus of all the nasty side effects).  

So, you tell me…  placebo or no? 

Sources:

Parker Pope, T. (2010, August 23). Studying acupuncture one needle prick at a time. New York Times, Retrieved from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/23/studying-acupuncture-one-needle-prick-at-a-time/?scp=3&sq=Acupuncture&st=cse

Placebo Effect. (2010). Wikipedia foundation, inc.. Retrieved (2010, September 16) from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Placebo_effect_(disambiguation)

About eresko

I am a licensed Acupuncturist and NCCAOM Board certified Diplomat of Oriental Medicine. I live in Ketchum, Idaho, where I have an Acupuncture practice at Zenergy Health Club & Spa & Pure Body Pilates. I am also a Level I & II certified Kettlebell Instructor and teach private classes as well as classes at High Altitude Fitness in Ketchum, Idaho. I have been very very active in sports and athletics since I can remember. I received my BS in Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado @ Boulder. In my practice I utilize all modalities to help get you where you want to be, whether with Acupuncture or Kettlebell training. I am well versed in treating Sports specific conditions; pain, injuries, strains & sprains and use my knowledge of the body both from a Chinese Medical standpoint and a traditional Western one; a concept that most of my patients are familiar with. In addition, I incorporate my knowledge of the physical body & how we move, where restrictions pain or tightness may reside and how that in turn affects the internal organs. For each individual that walks through my door, I am able to assess what each person needs as far as therapy to achieve their goals. Each person is different, inside and out and treatments should reflect that. Among my modalities, I use Acupuncture, Chinese Herbs, Tuina (a type of Chinese bodywork), Japanese style Acupuncture, Moxibustion, Nutrition, and Lifestyle coaching as well as my Kettlebell training for rehab and for improving one's fitness level.
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