It’s acupuncture awareness week in the UK, and therefore, I will focus on this treatment for a few days.

Yesterday, the ‘HALE CLINIC’, London happened to be in the papers for making unsubstantiated claims. It seems to be THE place where the super-rich take their money when they feel a little off colour.

This institution has for many years been a great promoter of acupuncture. On their website, which seems to have changed significantly since the press report about bogus claims made there, they even advertise acupuncture for children and little babies:

Acupuncture has been a normal part of the healthcare system in China for thousands of years, ever since ancient times, being used on babies and children as well as adults. Paediatric acupuncture is a specialist branch of traditional acupuncture, fundamentally the traditional theory is no different, the difference comes with how we assess the children and the way we use the needles. A child’s vital energy or Qi is abundant and much easier to access as it is young. This often means results can be very dramatic and sustained in a positive way, enabling the child to grow into adulthood without conditions that may have stayed throughout their lives.

Acupuncture involves using very short, fine sterile needles which are inserted using a very gentle needle technique specifically for babies. The needles do not stay in so the consultation is relatively quick and the child feels very little. Moxa is often used which is a herb called mugwart that has been rolled into a cigar shape. This is lit and then it smoulders producing a gentle heat which is held over the skin of the child creating a delightful warming sensation. This therapy is very popular with the children as it is very relaxing.

Acupuncture is an extremely effective therapy for babies and children and they are very receptive to it. Once their initial natural anxieties have been overcome, children often find the whole experience enjoyable and look forward to coming for their appointments.

In the interest of promoting awareness of the truth about acupuncture, I think, one ought to point out a few things here:

  1. The history of acupuncture was not at all as simple as implied above. Acupuncture was even banned in China. Mao re-introduced it, not because he thought it was effective but because he needed to offer some sort of healthcare to the masses.
  2. The concept of vital energy is a pre-scientific myth which has no basis in reality.
  3. To claim that children can grow into adulthood without conditions that may have stayed throughout their lives, implies that acupuncture effectively prevents certain diseases. I am not aware of any good evidence for this claim and would therefore classify it as bogus.
  4. The claim that acupuncture is an extremely effective therapy for babies and children is not supported by good evidence.
So, it took me all of 10 minutes to find therapeutic claims made by one of the UK’s most prominent alt med clinic which are, in my view, not supported by sound evidence or good science. I would not be surprised to find many more, if I spent more time on the task.

What does that tell us about the honesty of the claims made for acupuncture?

You are not surprised?

Considering that the HALE CLINIC now had many hours to ‘clean up’ their website after the allegations in the press, I have to admit that I am a little shocked. They seem to make unsubstantiated claims in order to take parents’ money for sticking useless and potentially harmful needles into their tiny infants.

I am shocked that such misleading information seems to be deemed to be inoffensive.

I am shocked to think that some parents might be sufficiently gullible to do this sort of thing to their infants.

And I am shocked that some people seem to earn their living doing such things.

53 Responses to This week is ‘ACUPUNCTURE AWARENESS WEEK’. So, be aware!!!

  • I’m VERY aware now. Many thanks.
    Couldn’t we organise a Homeopathic Nonsense Awareness Week?

  • My local paper has a full page spread extolling the virtues of acupuncture (with adverts).
    I have sent a letter in response (below).
    Perhaps all of us who value truth above commercial advantage might like to check the local rag and respond appropriately.
    Feel free to cut and paste – inserting your own name!

    Dear Sir,
    The news that Acupuncture Awareness Week is upon us means many readers might be attracted to that healthcare modality – but ‘awareness’ means having an understanding of risks as well as benefits. All patients must give fully informed consent to any treatment, and need to treat claims about this alternative form of treatment with caution.

    Although the British Acupuncture Council claims: “Traditional acupuncture is an evidence-based therapy and can help to identify the root cause of a problem”, there is no plausible evidence to support such a contention. “Traditional acupuncture is based on the meridian system and the movement of energy around the body”. But there is no plausible evidence meridians exist nor that ‘energy’ can be moved by needling the skin.

    We are told acupuncturists believe “Pain or illness can occur if the flow of energy gets blocked or disrupted”. Those who share that belief will probably benefit from the intervention of an empathic practitioner in a therapeutic relationship, but the nature of the ‘energy’ remains mysterious and undefined by scientists. Acupuncture works – by TLC, not needles. Some say “Acupuncture is simply a theatrical placebo.”

    Exeter’s Emeritus Professor of Complementary Medicine Edzard Ernst notes: “Acupuncture was even banned in China. Mao re-introduced it, not because he thought it was effective but because he needed to offer some sort of healthcare to the masses. The concept of vital energy is a pre-scientific myth which has no basis in reality.” Before patients they commit any time or finance to acupuncture, may they be fully aware.

    Dr Richard Rawlins MB BS

    • I never knew till now that wood was an element. Maybe someone has suffered a wood imbalance in their body, and can tell us how it feels?

      • I believe “wood imbalance” is another term for a rather common age related condition, for which there is a well known drug generically known as Sildenafil Citrate.

        • It also occurs during teenage years, but the cure is different; and few acupuncturists are licensed to provide it.

        • I am mistaken!
          The subject of tumescence is apparently closely related to matters of the gallbladder. This is deliberated thoroughly in this learned text which concerns the finer points[sic] of acupuncture for the gallbladder and related problems. Interestingly, there is no mention of wood in this context. Who would have thought that this for all practical purposes disposable bile balloon was instrumental in the proper function of the nether regions?
          Considering this revelation, and reading the following excerpt from the link above, I wonder if I should feel remorse over the innumerable gallbladders I have removed during my life as a surgeon – Have I ruined hundreds or thousands of lives??

          … an effective Gall-bladder function is arguably one of the most important you can have for living an effective life, able to perceive and foresee challenges and then take the necessary decisions to adapt successfully: immensely valuable both for yourself and your community.

          On the other hand, no one has come back and complained of anything like that after a gallbladder removal. And certainly never of loss of tumescence.

          I also wish to draw the audience’s attention to the extraordinary utility of acupuncture as a method for resuscitation of the drowning.
          The point in question is called “Conception Vessel 1: Ren-1: Huiyin Meeting Place of Yin” and is rather awkwardly located. I find it better to refer the description of its localisation to this learned text on its nature and various benefits. According to these instructions, its localisation in male subjects may be aided by the presence of tumescence. Whether the procurement of such a condition is practical in the event of drowning, the text does not cast any further light upon.

          As with any other acupoints, this particular point is not only useful in the event of drowning. As it says in the learned text, its treatment “does bring energy down from above, hence its use in mania and for promoting urination and defecation.”

          Sticking a needle in the perineum for mania!? Did I hear someone shout: “Bat-shit crazy!”

    • Acupuncture has never banned in China. Only short period chinese Royal members were not allowed to use acupuncture . Mao has never against acupuncture. My mother worked with other ophthalmologists used needle to move out his cataract. Because works then Mao agreed to apply those techniques to south of China in year 1970. Of course this technique has been banned today since microsurgery introduced.

  • I am wondering which exhortation is more fitting: “be aware” or “beware”?

  • More from the Hale Clinic website, about Classical Five Element Acupuncture (CF-EA)…

    “In CF-EA, the natural laws are understood as the Five Elements; water, wood, fire, earth and metal. We can observe these forces at work in nature, as well as in our bodies. These elements are associated with different organs, senses, emotions, times of the day, and overall strengths and weaknesses. By observing the five elements within ourselves, we can understand the root of imbalance and how this affects the functioning of our physical and emotional health. The treatment involves identifying which element is in distress and hence disrupting the five-element cycle, leading to symptoms of ill health. ”

    Do these people drive cars, watch television, fly in aeroplanes? Do they truly not comprehend that rational study of natural laws rejected the water, wood, fire, earth and metal approach centuries ago? Any customer who reads this kind of tripe and imagine it has some basis in the real world deserve what they get: a significantly lighter wallet.

    PS: what happened to ‘air’ as an element?

    • That’s Ancient Greece (plus earth, fire and water). Chinese medicine has the five phases as mentioned – water, wood, fire, earth and metal. They used to have grain aswell apparently but that got lost along the way. And they’re not stictly ‘elements’ either in the way the Greeks believed, with every substance being made up of different proportions of them.

      The real history of Traditional Chinese Medicine is truly fascinating, which makes it all the more frustrating when Western Acupuncturists feel they can re-write it for commercial gain.

  • Well, in order to stop perpetuating this nonsense, one step would be towards eliminating such courses in the first place. Take Westminster Uni for example and their TCM course:

  • Bausell’s “Snake Oil Science” was one of the first books I read when initially exploring CAM. If you’re looking for a good read that covers the placebo effect in extensive detail, uses acupuncture as one of the main examples, and gives basic rules for RCTs, this book is it. It’s my primer.

  • Have you read “The Spark in the Machine” by Daniel Keown, who is both a western medical doctor and an acupuncturist? I highly recommend it. It explains acupuncture from a western medical perspective.
    In addition, I have two anectdotal cases for you. I am a dancer was having significant foot pain. I tried all the western therapies, including surgery. Nothing helped. In desperation, I figured I had nothing to lose and tried acupuncture. I walked out of the office pain free.
    My husband was diagnosed with high blood pressure. The drugs had side effects he could not tolerate. I suggested acupuncture. He went for 4 visits and his blood pressure tested normal without the side effects of drugs.
    Placebo effect? I don’t think so, but even if it is, it solved the problems much better than western medicine was able to do. So why not use it?
    Does it work for everything? Of course not. But neither do western therapies.

    • While I wish you and your husband nothing but the best-and I’m sure most of the people on this site agree-your experience still doesn’t take us very far beyond ‘Well it worked for me’. If you read up on the subject-including the Baussell book recommended by the gentleman Ernst-you may well find it’s a little more complicated than that. Or maybe not, if you’re absolutely determined to believe. Which for all I know you may be, since CAM tends towards being a religion rather than a science.

      • I will certainly look up the book you suggest since I definitely believe in reading a wide range of sources. I hope that you will do the same with “The Spark in the Machine” since it is written by a Western doctor and explains functionality in terms that are more palatable to the Western mindset.
        As has been pointed earlier in this venue, it is difficult to get clean double blind tests for acupuncture’s efficacy because it is difficult to isolate the active component(s) from a treatment that includes multiple therapies. That does not mean that it does not work, however. Only that we can’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt why it may work. As I recall, there was a doctor who figured out that washing surgical tools made a difference – before the development of germ theory by Louis Pasteur. Washing definitely helped even though the reason was not fully understood at the time.
        You may be interested to know that Tufts University Medical School currently has a degree program in pain management, which includes acupuncture as a valid treatment. Tufts is also currently engaged in a study in conjunction with the US military on the use of acupuncture in dealing with pain for returning vets. It will be interesting to see the results there.
        I also certainly do agree with the author that, improperly practiced, acupuncture can create dangerous issues – as can western medicine in the hands of incompetent practioners. Where I live in the States, getting fully licensed in acupuncture requires a graduate degree, an extensive internship, and a rigorous state licensing exam. The short quickie course that is sometimes offered for physical therapists is not sufficient preparation and that, I suspect, is where some reports come from of practioners poking long needles into places where they don’t belong.
        In the final analysis, I think that Eastern medicine and Western medicine both have much that they can learn from each other if minds can be pried open.
        If I break a bone, I definitely want it set by a western doctor. If I am in pain, however, I did discover (to my intense surprise, I have to say) that there may be alternatives to drugs – even if we don’t currently completely understand how it works.

        • it’s not so much that we don’t understand hoe it works; it’s much more that the evidence fails to show THAT it works.

          • Well, I guess in the end, it depends upon which evidence you choose to believe. Maybe things are different in the UK than in the US.
            I can only tell you that in my test set of two complete unbelievers, it worked 100% of the time. And that my acupuncturist’s business is very largely driven by referrals from excellent medical doctors who clearly believe that acupuncture has been (as it was for me) a valid treatment option for pain.
            You seem to have your mind made up already however, so I will bow out. We will have to agree to disagree.
            Check out the book I suggested, though. I do plan to check out yours.

          • there is evidence and anecdote – you seem to mean the latter.

          • C Pedrick, I totally echo Barrie’s wishes for nothing but the best outcomes for you and your husband.

            Had you and your husband chosen, say, Reiki or homeopathy instead of acupuncture, and found it helpful, then you wouldn’t be praising acupuncture on Prof. Ernst’s website, you would be praising whatever alt-med treatment you had chosen.

            There are circa 7.4 billion people on Earth therefore each of our individual experiences constitutes anecdotal evidence that has the statistical contribution to the whole population of only 13.5 nano percent. Hopefully, this has enabled you to understand why evidence- and science-based 21st Century medicine is not based on individual anecdotal evidence; and why alt-med thrives totally on gaining a meagre number of positive testimonies, such as yours. The plural of anecdote is not data [empirical evidence].

            What I’ve always found interesting is that the clients of alt-med are very reluctant to say which branches of alt-med they wasted their money on prior to finding the last one that seemingly worked. Alt-med is akin to performing endless variations of a rain dance during a drought: the last variation tried before the rainfall inevitably occurred is touted as being evidence of its efficacy; the long list of failures is never mentioned.

            The multi-billion dollar business empire of alt-med never performs clinical trials of one of its branches versus another. Of course it doesn’t — if it did (as does evidence-based medicine), its empire would rapidly collapse!

          • Wow.
            I first came to this blog because I saw a piece on my Flipboard feed by Dr. Ernst indicating that, in his opinion, acupuncture is always a completely worthless treatment. Since I had some first-hand experience, I thought I would reply. I was only intending to humbly offer a personal experience that might be useful in considering the question of whether acupuncture ever works.

            I certainly did not expect to step into this hornet’s nest of nasty sarcasm and intense ridicule from a group headed by a man of Dr. Ernst’s background and reputation. I was not expecting to be told that the relief of my foot pain was a mirage, that my licensed practitioner was as greedy charlatan, and that the highly respected Tufts Medical School would teach any old weird thing that would make them a buck.

            You ask what other alternative therapies I tried in my “rain dance” toward pain relief. Ok. Here they are: I visited multiple medical doctors and specialists. Treatments included cold compresses, Epsom salt baths, cortisone shots (which did help slightly, but which I was told I could not repeat very often or it would damage my joints), a wide variety of pain killers (sometimes overlapped), and surgery (which reduced my range of motion and slightly increased the pain level in my right foot.) After the surgery, I hobbled around for two years, popping pills as often as was reasonably safe. I’d finish a dance competition feeling like my toes were broken. I considered quitting.

            Then a friend suggested that, since I had pretty much exhausted these alternative therapies, I might try acupuncture. I didn’t think it would help, but what did I have to lose? So I looked up a licensed practitioner and went for a visit. When I stepped down off the table after treatment, my feet didn’t hurt. I spent the rest of that day bouncing up and down on my toes thinking “This should hurt. Why does it not hurt? It should hurt.” Yes, this is anecdotal, but when the anecdote is your personal experience, it can be a pretty powerful event.

            I am very, very glad that I did not see Dr. Ernst’s dismissal of acupuncture before I went because I would very likely not have made that appointment. I would still be hobbling around in pain. My purse would still look like a tribute to drug company marketing. I would not – as I just did – have recently returned from successfully representing my country at a World Championship dance competition in Europe.

            Feel free to discount my experience. It was not yours. It may not have successfully and consistently been duplicated via double-blind trials. Personally, I don’t care. Acupuncture has worked extremely well in the only cases that matter to me.

            One final word of advice for you all, however: You will not convince anyone of the validity of your scientific positions by such caustic belittling of a person’s intelligence and experiences. Clearly, you would benefit from some serious research into what constitutes civil discussion and manners.

          • And in your turn, maybe you could ease off a little on your paranoia and hurt feelings, and show us where you were belittled. All the comments I can recall accept that you believe what you claim, yet question the scientific validity. As was pointed out earlier, it’s no use saying ‘We don’t quite understand how it works yet’ if there’s no evidence in the first place that it does. Millions of people believe in UFOs. Some of them are charlatans, some are gullible, some are idiots, some-like you in relation to acupuncture- genuinely believe.
            You do not know for a fact that acupuncture was responsible for any relief-real or imagined- that you claim.If you bother to check any of the research into this subject, you’ll find that any one of a number of reasons could explain it. The Baussell book goes into the story of his mother in law, who claimed that one treatment after another was the one miraculous answer, until she decided that didn’t work after all and moved on to the next one, and then the next.
            You can’t seriously expect people to accept that acupuncture works just because you and a couple of friends say so. I know somebody who believes in ley lines. Somebody else who believes in government cover-ups. Somebody else again who believes in tarot cards and homeopathy. They haven’t convinced me yet with the evidence.I’ve even had a couple of women become very angry and say-very aggressively-‘Are you calling me a liar?’ when I’ve questioned their belief in homeopathy and ‘toxin-releasing footpads’. I’ve noticed on various sites-such as Quackometer- that fans of CAM can be very touchy, and react very angrily to any civilised request for explanations of their belief, considering it to be a personal and vitriolic attack on them.
            Instead of going off in a huff, why not stick around, stay in the discussion, and try to persuade us with reasoned argument and scientific research, just as we try to persuade you? Who knows – you could be responsible for taking science in a previously undreamt of direction. But it’s not really reasonable to accuse people of aggression just because they won’t accept ‘Well it worked for me’ as being equivalent to scientific argument.

          • Hi, Barrie,
            Thank you for the reasonably worded reply.
            This particular thread does not contain some of the remarks that set my back up, though I have to say equating my successful search for pain relief to a “rain dance” does stick a bit – especially since the things that did not work for me were treatments that this group would, I am sure, likely accept as medically tested and proven alternatives.

            I was also interested to see Björn Geir’s contention that “…many Universities find it more important to cater to any fancy (that brings in money) rather than search for truth”. That is a pretty broad (not to mention derogatory) statement. Does he have any facts to support it? (I’m not sure a YouTube video promoting one offering at a local university counts as scientific research.) As I recall, Dr Ernst indicated that he had some undergraduate course in acupuncture at some point in his training a while ago. Is his university included in this comment?

            I will, as you suggest, stick around, out of curiosity.

            One other question: I see a lot of references to “CAM” (particularly in reference to the group being a bunch of quacks). Can you tell me who (or what) CAM is? Is a some group in the UK? I don’t think we have it in the US – or if we do, I am not aware of it.

          • Hello,
            CAM is simply an acronym for ‘Complementary and Alternative Medicine;.
            Yes, E E did study a lot of this stuff in Germany, and set up a research department at Exeter University. I shan’t go into it here- it’s all explained in his eminently readable book-sorry Edzard if your ears are burning- ‘A Scientist In Wonderland’. In fact some of it is quite shocking, especially the stuff relating to Prince Charles and his bullying and half-witted understanding of science and medicine. But I’ll leave you the pleasure of reading it rather than my trying to paraphrase.
            As to the University stuff- if you read back to the earlier comments you’ll see that one Spanish university has closed down its homeopathy course because it’s finally been concluded that it’s all nonsense. Whether the students-past and current-will be compensated remains to be seen.
            Universities in the UK offer-or did offer-courses in mumbo jumbo since they became businesses to a great extent, rather than places of learning. I recommend you track in relation to this the career of a horrible man called Patrick Holford.
            Welcome back on board, if only as an observer from a distance.

          • @C Pedrick.

            CAM stands for ‘complementary and alternative medicine’, also often known as ‘integrative medicine’. That you haven’t run into the term before backs up the reason why you’re feeling offended at some of the comments you’ve seen posted here. Barrie Lee Thorpe’s suggestion that you stick around, continue to make your points, but also listen to everything that’s being said is one I hope you will take up.

            The idea is that ‘complementary’ medicine is something for which there is no worthwhile evidence to prove it does anything medically important, but which is ‘taken’ along with ‘ordinary’ medicine and surgery because the recipient believes it makes them feel better. ‘Alternative’ medicine is once again something that lacks genuine evidence for efficacy but which people take instead of ‘ordinary’ medicine, because they believe it makes them feel better. ‘Integrative medicine is a term that means the same as ‘CAM’ but emphasizes that its practitioners set out to treat ‘the whole person’ rather than just a disease.

            In practice, exactly the same types of treatment come under all these headings. What they have in common is that the way they are supposed to work makes no sense in the light of the masses we now understand about biology and medicine (also chemistry and physics, in some cases). They almost all claim to cure every known disease (though some CAM practitioners have had their knuckles rapped by authorities for doing so, so the claims are sometimes soft-pedalled).

            The reason why your post that ‘acupuncture worked for you’ so it must be true attracted a lot of forthright responses (including from me, though I hope I wasn’t directly hostile) is that testimony is not really evidence, except for lawyers. For every person who says one or other form of CAM worked for them (acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, reiki, crystal therapy… the list goes on and on) there is another who says the exact opposite. But we don’t know how many people are on one side or the other.

            That’s why the scientific approach to testing medical therapies is to set up studies in which people with a particular complaint are treated either with the real treatment modality or with a sham that looks and feels the same, but (ideally) neither the patient nor the treater knows which is which. That way evidence is obtained that is independent of who shouts the loudest testimony. If you read the threads on this blog you’ll soon get the idea. The book Trick or Treatment by Edzard Ernst & Simon Singh, or Snake Oil Science by Bausell are good overviews of the subject of CAM. Since you’d never heard the term before, I’d also recommend you take a look at the website called ‘quackwatch’. There is a long-standing joke that runs “What do you call CAM that works? Medicine!”

            Sorry to go on so long, but by now you’ll be thinking “I know my pain got better after acupuncture”, so how can I possibly be wrong? There are several answers. Conditions such as pain fluctuate dramatically. If your pain goes soon or immediately after you recite ‘wackety wackety woo’ you’re likely to believe saying that phrase had a medical effect (that’s how superstitions start). I’d call it ‘regression to the mean’ – a term used to describe how certain symptoms (pain is a classic) come and go, often quite dramatically. Another reason people get better is that most conditions cure themselves, given enough time. (Another old saying: “untreated, my headcold recovers in a week, but with CAM it goes in just 7 days!”) It all gets complicated, and this comment is not the place to write a book on CAM.

            I just hope you’ll realize that those of us who post here regularly, and often sound cross, are concerned about folk who develop a religious belief in unproven withcraft that masquerades as medicine and suffer or die as a result of not seeking help from evidence-based medical procedures that really can help. Those who practise CAM earn a living from it. They are unlikely to be critics!

            Oh, and by the way, yes, ‘orthodox’ medicine indeed does get things wrong and, indeed, some qualified doctors leave something to be desired. But ask yourself how come your life expectancy today is tens of years longer than it was in the mid-20th century. A clue: it’s not thanks to CAM!

          • C Pedrick

            “I am very, very glad that I did not see Dr. Ernst’s dismissal of acupuncture before I went because I would very likely not have made that appointment. I would still be hobbling around in pain.”

            Just think of all the folks in pain that DID come to this site first. It’s quite sad.

            Any information on this site I would take with a huge grain of salt. For instance, one of the latest posts is about acupuncture and menopause. Most acupuncturists (and probably most acupuncture students) would tell you that needling wouldn’t be the primary treatment for menopausal symptoms. At best, needles would be used to support a diet/herbal regimen or to temporarily deal with immediate symptoms.

            Comments like Barrie’s “You do not know for a fact that acupuncture was responsible for any relief-real or imagined- that you claim.” show up quite a lot on this site. Again, another huge grain of salt. I work with a couple of acupuncturists, and get to regularly witness the bizarre timing of self limiting conditions, etc, resolve while patients are on the table (like your foot issue, for instance). As I’m sure you are aware, you would have to be very superstitious to think the timing was coincidental.

          • C Pedrick, Barrie wrote an excellent reply, to which I shall add a few points…

            Nothing I wrote was intended to be derogatory. Facts are facts and science is science — they have no emotions and they cannot possibly be insulting or offensive because they are inanimate entities. I’m fully aware that many people get upset when facts are presented to them, but the problem lies with them, not with the facts, and not with the messenger: “shooting the messenger” is one specific case of the generic ad hominem logical fallacy. Stating that you are offended by those of us who are messengers of facts means that you are the one who is being offensive, not the messengers. Being offended is no excuse for your failure to address the logical and scientific points that we have thoughtfully written due to nothing other than our empathy and compassion for the human race.

            I’m certain that everyone here is delighted that you and your husband now have a better quality of life, because the misery of pain and suffering is so difficult for all of us to endure. I fail to understand why you are so upset that your claimed cause of recovery (acupuncture) is being questioned. My personal experience of debilitating health problems is that my recovery is orders of magnitude more important to me than whatever it was that caused my recovery.

            You asked what is “CAM”. The dictionary definitions for this abbreviation are: complementary and alternative medicine; and computer-aided manufacturing. Obviously, the latter does not apply to discussions on health issues. “Alternative medicine” is a misnomer that was deliberately contrived for the purposes of masquerading health treatments that do not work [beyond placebo] as legitimate alternatives to evidence- and science-based medicine. Alternative medicine that is demonstrably medically efficacious isn’t called “alternative medicine”, it is called medicine. Acupuncture is one of the many branches of alternative medicine. Most branches of alternative medicine do not lack evidence of their medical efficacy — i.e, awaiting further clinical trials — they have overwhelming evidence to support their null hypothesis, which is that they are theatrical placebos having risks that outweigh their benefits.

            I shall leave you to ponder this apt and eloquent quote by the late Christopher Hitchens: If someone tells me that I’ve hurt their feelings, I say, “I’m still waiting to hear what your point is.”

          • Firstly, you don’t know how it works though, do you? In fact, you don’t even know how the body works do you? You’re like a Newtonian physicist attempting to explain black holes. The single most important question in health is ‘How does the embryo self-organise?’ and you have no idea. Do you?

          • Secondly, the DBRCT is ONE form of evidence and in effect it is simply a meta-analysis of people’s opinions. In other words it is simply a high powered anecdote. It’s source data is anecdote (peoples stories) so it gets frankly ridiculous when you dismiss all such stories as ‘not evidence’ when DBRCT uses exactly the same.

          • Thirdly (quite frankly your intellectual breadth on this subject is so narrow I could get to 20) the studies clearly show acupuncture works, it’s just that the specificity of needle placement doesn’t appear important.
            A very esteemed acupuncturist said once to me: ‘a professor of complementary medicine who appears to want to find out nothing about how it works, but just wants to show it doesn’t work.’ Is that true?

          • @Dan keown

            “The single most important question in health is ‘How does the embryo self-organise?’ and you have no idea. Do you?” I’m not sure this is “the single most important question” in any branch of biological science outwith embryology: certainly its only relevance to health is when it goes wrong, leading to congenital abnormalities. As for having no idea, science is bringing us ever closer to a full explanation. Clue: stem cell research. You might find this recently published book chapter illuminating.

            “Secondly, the DBRCT is ONE form of evidence and in effect it is simply a meta-analysis of people’s opinions.” Wrong again. The double-blind, randomized, controlled trial is based on objective measurements, not on people’s opinions. Where subjective symptoms are being assessed, considerable efforts have been, and are being, made to obtain as objective, numerical data as possible. (This is one area, in particular, where quality of trials differ.)

            “Thirdly (quite frankly your intellectual breadth on this subject is so narrow I could get to 20) the studies clearly show acupuncture works, it’s just that the specificity of needle placement doesn’t appear important.” (Take care when maligning someone’s intellect, in case you reveal your own to be defective.) The majority of reviews of acupuncture in the Cochrane database which show equal benefits of “genuine” and “sham” acupuncture, which is where your comment originates, still qualify their conclusions about genuine clinical benefits of either. And if it doesn’t matter where you place the needles then (a) the whole edifice of acupuncture theory, with its ridiculous ‘meridians’ comes tumbling down, and (b) you might as well sell acupuncture needles over the counter for people to prick themselves better.

        • As was pointed out a while back, There would be no need to refer to ‘Western medicine’ and ‘Eastern medicine’ if they both worked. If these so-called ‘ancient wisdoms’ worked, they would be incorporated into the whole body of knowledge, and called simply ‘medicine’. But acupuncture depends on so-called ‘energies’ and ‘meridians’ which have never been proved to exist, and whose positions in the body are not even agreed on by various practitioners. And acupuncture had all but disappeared in China before Mao re-introduced it, via his ‘barefoot doctors’, in an attempt to be seen to be doing something.
          And I agree with Edzard Ernst’s comment-which applies also to homeopathy. The idea that ‘we don’t currently completely understand how it works’ attempts to leap over a kind of intellectual canyon, since in order to understand that, we first have to establish that it DOES work in the first place. Which-certainly in the case of homeopathy-hasn’t been shown in nearly 200 years of trying. If there seems to be something that works-beyond placebo-but we don’t know what, and how, then there is nonetheless the possibility of investigating, and finding it. But since homeopathy has never been shown to work, and since there’s no logical reason why it should, then I think there are more valid ways of expending our energy. Proper energy this time.

          • ‘A test set of two complete unbelievers’ is a phrase that falls flat on its face before it’s even got its pants on.
            Why do believers in unproven medicines so often say thy’re resigning from the argument because people disagree with them, and ‘already have their minds made up’? It’s people on this side of the argument who require to see the evidence, and make up their minds accordingly. I didn’t ‘have my mind made up’ about a host of things, until I saw A. The scientific evidence, and B. I saw the stubborn lack of said from the other side. Anecdote is not enough by itself, let alone in such small numbers. And I’m glad I don’t need treatment for an illness, and hear my unqualified doctor say to another, properly qualified one, ‘We’ll just have to agree to disagree’. As I’ve said before, if my TV needs fixing, and a repair man turns up, but another person says ‘I can fix it by waving my hands at it’, I believe I know which one I’m going to trust.

          • C Pedrick – CAM in the UK stands for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The sceptics on this blog like to refer to it as sCAM: all those who have found CAM beneficial are viewed as delusional or idiots etc; experience is anecdotal and evidence (Scientific) is the only proof of efficacy.

            In the meantime, the multitude of CAM users continue to use………….experience telling us all we need to know to best serve our good health.

            My experience of acupuncture is different to your’s in as much as I am a wimp and afraid of needles. My acupuncturist was recommended to me in 2005 – she had a long waiting list, turns clients away and her reputation is first class. . A few years followed before I plucked up the courage to see her; I am so pleased I did, despite gritting my teeth before each appointment, I continue because I feel so much better afterwards.

            The sceptics tell us the needles are ineffective and could be placed anywhere – it is just a placebo. I must work on that theory; however, the truth is the needle does hit the spot, can be painful, and my screams can be heard down the steet………only joking, well just a little bit; the truth is I continue because it is an effective treatment, as you have also discovered. Keep dancing ……

          • A – You’re not really listening, are you?

        • @C. Pedrick

          “As has been pointed earlier in this venue, it is difficult to get clean double blind tests for acupuncture’s efficacy because it is difficult to isolate the active component(s) from a treatment that includes multiple therapies.”

          The author of this blog, Edzard Ernst, contributed hugely to overcoming the limitation of placebo acupuncture, with trials in which acupuncture was applied to the ‘wrong’ points and with sham acupuncture with needles covered so the patient didn’t know whether they were truly being needled or not. Agreed, these may not be perfect ‘placebo’ controls, but the trials failed to show any serious differences between the treatment and controls. It’s a situation similar to ESP, where the claimed abilities of ‘psychics’ fall apart the minute any kind of control or prospective outcome requirement is placed on the way the tests are done. As Edzard has already said in his comment: “the evidence fails to show that it works”.

          “improperly practiced, acupuncture can create dangerous issues – as can western medicine in the hands of incompetent practioners.” Yes, and some forms of treatment have highly undesirable side effects even in the hands of competent practitioners. Therefore, what has to be determined is the ratio of risk to benefit. If there is no serious evidence for the latter, then no amount of risk is acceptable. That is the main reason why it is important for people to recognize witchcraft for what it is.

          “I think that Eastern medicine and Western medicine both have much that they can learn from each other if minds can be pried open.” I think you’ll find that, nowadays, the best practitioners in the East do not use ‘Eastern medicine” at all. And one must always be careful to avoid having one’s mind pried open to the point of the brain falling out.

          “If I break a bone, I definitely want it set by a western doctor. If I am in pain, however, I did discover (to my intense surprise, I have to say) that there may be alternatives to drugs”. Please allow me to ask exactly where the boundaries are to be drawn. Precisely which are the conditions for which a western doctor is appropriate and which benefit from alternatives? The alternatives, from acupuncture to zeta quantum therapy, all claim to be able to cure virtually everything. If you’ll be kind enough to define the exact boundaries we can stop worrying about people putting their lives in the hands of inappropriate therapists: after all, alternatives that work are usually just called ‘medicine’.

    • C Pedrick -I strongly recommend the latest Quackwatch post on the subject of acupuncture and its dodgy history.

      • C Pedrick –By the way- I often confuse them- when I recommended the site, I meant the Quackometer site, and the item ’10 things you should know about acupuncture’.

  • I guess many Universities find it more important to cater to any fancy (that brings in money) rather than search for truth?

    • Wonderful — a university, its lecturers, and students demonstrating that they are masquerading TCM — a 20th Century bastardization of ancient Chinese metaphysics — as being ancient Chinese efficacious medicine.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if the university runs a catering course that extolls the virtues of Indian cuisine by using chicken tikka masala for its exemplar.

      • Pete Attkins- Your earlier point about the way in which believers in Woo don’t tell us about the treatments they tried before they found one that ‘works’ is of course very important. It’s equivalent to the cherry-picking of data that homeopaths indulge in-something covered in the Baussell book with the story about his mother in law.If you don’t take notice of all the results, but only the ones that suit you, then you’re just deluding yourself and attempting to delude the rest of us.In theory, I could believe in anything I wanted-racism, sexism, homophobia, cultural superiority- as long as I were determined enough to ignore the fact the contradictory evidence, or lack of any evidence at all. This is the point of course where seemingly harmless fairy stories-‘What does it matter what people think? It’s harmless’ – turn into something much more dangerous and extreme, which is to say the idea that the truth is there, but just being hidden from us by Big Pharma or the Illuminati or whoever. You only have to check out Kevin Trudeau, or Mike Adams and his utterly insane ‘Natural News’ site to see what it leads to.

  • Anybody else struggling with Dan Keown’s most recent comment as much as I am? I’m stumped I don’t mind telling you.

    • Not surprising. try a dictionary, it might help with the longer words.

    • I understand Dan’s points . Since no one know acupuncture mechanism no sham acupuncture should artificially be made by human. In fact I am acupuncturist and I have found Dan is right to say. Do you have evidence to show sham acupuncture works? No there is no evedence to show sham acupuncture is absolutely not acupuncture . do you believe the assuming because the needle was away from certain classic points that is sham? Or because not pernitrated ? Clearly before real mechan of acupuncture is found no sham acupuncture should be applied . That is all problems for those meta analysis : carbage in carbage out

  • Logical wrong, there is no winner in the world . Just show my hands. It is dirtying needed wash.

  • Well what about cabbage? No one to define what is sham acupuncture ? It may be sham sham acupuncture. Why do I need to wash my dirty hand to hand the dirty cabbage? Logically if someone ate bad baggage sick should we blame Chinese food no good?

  • Sorry it is cabbage. Thanks point out

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