Alternative medicine, long Acupuncture Acupuncture Alternative medicine, long dismissed by mainstream doctors, is getting a second look as many people in the United States have turned to acupuncture to treat a variety of problems. Proponents of acupuncture have accumulated many statistics and surveys in favor of this ancient method. Even though, many medical professionals still question its validity due to the discovery of adverse effects of acupuncture and problems in researching alternative medicines. Acupuncture is defined as the "art of healing by the inserting of needles into specific points of the body for therapeutic purposes' (Weiss 70).

Needles that are slightly larger than a strand of hair are inserted into different points depending on the specific problem of the patient. The needle is placed in the skin at a certain angle with a particular motion, usually about a quarter inch deep. They are then twirled and sometimes topped with Chinese herbs, which are burned (Abrams 103). Acupuncture is also occasionally combined with electrical stimulation that is supposed to enhance the effects of acupuncture (Consumer 54).

Patients that have experienced the treatment claim that acupuncture "is less painful than getting a shot or having blood drawn because the needles are so thin' (Weiss 73). The question remaining involves the legitimacy of acupuncture treatments. It has a long history of success in Asia dating back over 5,000 years (Duke 224). The method approaches problems as "patterns of disharmony' which are responsible for poor health in individuals (Consumer 55). Oriental acupuncturists believe that either yin or yang, whose balance affects everything in the universe, influences each of the body's organs.

They also believe that the body is full of pathways of energy called qi. Acupuncture restores the normal energy flow of qi that in turn helps the yin or yang, or the organ. Qi can be found on any of the 400 different acupuncture points on 14 meridians, or energy channels in the body (Abrams 102). The Western model of acupuncture is very different than that of Asia. Doctors in the United States have discovered that natural pain-blocking chemicals, endorphins, are released during acupuncture.

These not only relieve pain, but they also trigger anti-inflammatory agents into the bloodstream (Abrams 103). Acupuncture is used for a variety of problems with pain relief as the most popular. Other uses include relieving the symptoms of asthma and additional respiratory problems. Heart attack patients' arteries can be reopened by triggering the release of certain hormones. Stroke patients can enjoy a speedy recovery with acupuncture by improving motor neuron pathways (Weiss 75). The newest use is for drug addiction.

There are over 400 detoxification programs in Europe and the Untied States that specialize in acupuncture. A clinic in New York City treats over 250 addicts a day. In the past six years, 10,000 people have been put through the program either by will or court order (Consumer 57). In China, acupuncture is used as an anesthetic.

Surgeries such as lung removal, open heart, and brain can be performed while the patients are wide-awake. They feel no pain and experience no shock (Duke 224). The Chinese also use it for nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy and chemotherapy (Consumer 55). Much research has been done to prove the effectiveness of acupuncture. According to a study involving 575 patients, "91.5 percent reported disappearance or improvement in symptoms, 84 percent see their MDs less, 79 percent use fewer prescription drugs, and 70 percent avoided recommended surgery' (Weiss 74). Another study involving women with a long history of menstrual cramps was also done.

Ten eleven women reported 50 percent less pain while three had no more pain at all. According to the study, they also had fewer headaches and backaches and less water retention (Abrams 110). Sham acupuncture, a process in which needles are applied to points other than actual acupuncture points, was used to compare the results with real acupuncture. Sham acupuncture helped only 35 percent of people compared to 50-80 percent using real acupuncture.

This was used to "show that the success of acupuncture is not only in the minds of the patients, but is reality' (Consumer 59). According to Ramsay, these studies do not provide actual evidence of the efficacy of acupuncture due to "bad design, small sample sizes, and difficulties in the use of appropriate controls such as creating sham acupuncture groups' (1521). He claims that because alternative methods are "holistic', it is impossible to use the same methods that are used for researching traditional medical procedures. Ramsay also states that "issues of training, licensure, and health insurance need to be clarified before this procedure is used in the United States' (1522).

Adverse effects caused by acupuncture have also been documented. Surveys distributed to acupuncturists and their patients reveal that the most common is increased pain due to forgetting to remove needles. This is conceivable due to the extremely small size of the needles. Fainting, local infections, and dizziness were also reported in abundance (Hitoshi 1564).

Another risk involves the possibility of puncturing a major organ such as the lungs, bladder, or heart. One woman actually died after an acupuncture needle went through her chest plate and punctured her heart. Halvorson concludes that because of this risk, acupuncture is an "unproven treatment with potential harm and even death' (1175). An additional danger is the possibility of catching a disease from the needles. Most acupuncturists use disposables, but sometimes they use the same needles for the same patient on different visits. "This practice still increases the risk of contracting a disease' (Consumer 56).

Like many medical procedures, acupuncture is still being analyzed from every aspect. Proponents claim that it is a useful alternative that deserves a chance to prove itself. It is a useful treatment with minimal risks and a long tradition of success dating back over 5,000 years. Others contend that there are too many adverse effects and that there is no validity in its results. This debate still continues and will not be resolved in any time soon.