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The Science of Acupuncture

Like many other traditional Chinese medicines, acupuncture has for many centuries been viewed suspiciously in the West. It seems to work, but how? Is a scientific answer possible?

Most Chinese doctors and patients have, for example, long regarded acupuncture as an effective treatment for stroke, using it to improve motor, speech, and other functions that have been destroyed. One survey showed that 66% of Chinese doctors use acupuncture routinely to treat the effects of stroke, with 63% of the doctors surveyed believing it to be effective. Some 36% of Chinese doctors think the effectiveness of acupuncture remains uncertain, perhaps because the scientific basis for it remains so new.

Recently, however, systematic scientific studies of acupuncture’s effects in such treatment has begun. Almost all trials on acupuncture as a treatment for stroke conducted within China have been positive. But another recent study done in the UK showed that research conducted in several countries was uniformly favorable to acupuncture as a treatment for the damage caused by stroke. Indeed, all the trials performed before June 1995 in China, Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan were deemed positive by the British researchers.

The Cochrane Collaboration, an international non-profit organization providing healthcare information, conducted a systematic review of the benefits of acupuncture, including 14 trials, of which 10 were conducted in China, involving 1,208 patients. Acupuncture started within 30 days of stroke onset, with control groups receiving a placebo – sham acupuncture – or no treatment. Compared to patients who received sham acupuncture or no treatment, far fewer of those who received acupuncture died or became invalid within three months. After three months or more of treatment, the numbers rose even more significantly in favor of those treated by acupuncture.