Space & Innovation

Does Acupuncture Even Work?

Many people rave about the benefits of acupuncture but does it actually cure anything? What if it's just the placebo effect at work?

Acupuncture, predictably, weirds a lot of people out. A complex healing system that originated in ancient China, it involves pricking the skin or other tissues with superfine needles -- sometimes hundreds of needles. Proponents claim that the treatment can help with any number of physical, mental and emotional ailments.

But despite widespread practice in the both the East and West, there's an enormous amount of controversy as to whether acupuncture works at all, as Julian Huguet points out in today's DNews report.

The first descriptions of what is now known as acupuncture began popping up in China more than 2,000 years ago. Incredibly, the essentials of that system have largely endured. Radically simplified, acupuncture works like this: Precisely placed needles, inserted into the skin, alter the flow of invisible lines of energy (chi) that move throughout the body. In the hands of a knowledgeable practitioner, acupuncture "re-wires" the body to address specific maladies.

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Acupuncture has been popular in China for centuries, and began to spread in the West in the 1950s. Some people swear by it, especially for pain relief, and its also been used to treat -- deep breath, now -- depression, irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, smoking addiction, chronic asthma, stroke rehabilitation, epilepsy, insomnia, morning sickness, glaucoma, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, and even colorblindness.

As a rule, cure-alls like this make scientists nervous. While anecdotal evidence suggest that many people have genuinely benefited from acupuncture, doctors suspect that the placebo effect may be involved. As such, thousands of studies have been carried out over the years in an attempt to accurately gauge the medical efficacy of acupuncture.

You could spend several lifetimes going over the results, but recent meta analysis -- research which crunches data from multiple previous studies -- tells the tale: A 2006 meta analysis published by the Journal of Internal Medicine found that the results of acupuncture treatment couldn't be differentiated from the placebo. A subsequent 2010 meta analysis of previous meta analyses -- seriously -- concluded there was little evidence supporting acupuncture as an effective form of pain relief.

Julian has more details in the video, or check out our related report on on homeopathic medicine.

-- Glenn McDonald

Learn More:

National Library Of Medicine: Acupuncture -- A Critical Analysis

National Library Of Medicine: Acupuncture: Does It Alleviate Pain And Are There Serious Risks? A Review Of Reviews

Scientific American: 5 Scientists Weigh In On Acupuncture