By Jane E. Brody
The New York Times
BETHESDA, Md. An independent panel of experts concluded Wednesday that the ancient practice of acupuncture was an effective therapy for certain medical conditions, especially those involving nausea and pain, and should be integrated into standard medical practice for these problems.
The panel emphasized that acupuncture was remarkably safe, with fewer side effects than many well-established therapies.
More than 1 million Americans are believed to be relying on acupuncture to treat a wide range of ailments, from headache and bowel disorders to arthritis and stroke.
The panel’s findings, summarized in a 16-page consensus report of the National Institutes of Health, are expected to encourage more patients and physicians to consider acupuncture as an alternative or complementary treatment for some common health problems, including nausea associated with pregnancy and cancer chemotherapy, and pain following dental surgery.
The group urges doctors to consider acupuncture as an alternative or complementary treatment for nausea and pain in some cases.
The report may also foster the use of acupuncture to treat chronic problems, such as low back pain and asthma, for which standard treatments are inadequate or costly or entail side effects. The panel said its report should prompt medical insurers, including Medicare and Medicaid, to consider covering the costs of acupuncture.
Acupuncture, which originated in China more than 2,500 years ago, involves stimulation of certain points on or under the skin, mostly with ultrafine needles that are manipulated manually or electrically. Other acupuncture methods, still considered by acupuncturists to be experimental, involve use of herbs and heat, or low-frequency laser beams, at the various acupuncture points. Although acupuncture originally involved only 361 such points, there are now upwards of 2,000 recognized by licensed acupuncturists.
Acupuncture has been slow to gain acceptance by the Western medical establishment, largely because traditional Chinese explanations for its observed effects are based on theoretical concepts of opposite forces called Yin and Yang, which, when out of balance, disrupt the natural flow of Qi (pronounced chee) in the body.