Acupuncture & the placebo effect

by Rachael Forrest


I once sat next to an anaesthetist at a wedding who spent a long time telling me that the medics don't actually know (and this may worry some of you) how anaesthetic works.  It's thought that it has something to do with the vibration of cells but, beyond knowing that x amount has y effect on a person of a certain age and weight, they don't know how or why it puts someone to sleep.

Then, the quite drunk anaesthetist went on to ask what I did for a living and when I said "I'm an acupuncturist" he responded "Ah,  the placebo effect".  I was speechless.  

And yet, it is such a common response to something that has been around for 3000 + years and has centuries of empirical and now also, scientific, data to back it up.  It is sensible to a accept that some of what acupuncture does is down to the placebo effect, or due to having 30 minutes to lie in peace, as long as we acknowledge that western medicine attributes 27% of positive results from pharmaceutical drugs to the placebo effect.  It's not a case of 'one works and the other's a sham', more a case of 'both work and sometimes it's down to the placebo effect'.

What interests me most, is how the Chinese knew these things 3000 years ago.  How did they know that a point above the ankle on the outside of the leg can effect eyesight? Now, under an MRI scanner when that point is needled, the visual cortex lights up - showing that vision is effected.

The current research is finding more and more evidence for the existence of acupuncture points and the effects they have on muscles, nerve pathways and hormones.  

It is fair and wise to question something you don't know but there are still a large number of people who dismiss acupuncture without doing any background reading or research.  This article is a short blog from the US where a lady is using acupuncture and experiencing the results but is also questioning the results.  Fair enough, as she's giving it the benefit of the doubt, which is all anyone can ask for.