Archive for tag: research

Is Homeopathy Part of Chinese Medicine?

Nope. So, why I am writing about a modality or medical system that is not part of the Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Program? Much like the use of essentials oils, the use of homeopathic remedies can be incorporated as part of an approach to overall health and wellness. Building on our theme from last week of "words that are hard to pronounce," today we'll start with "homeopathy." Go ahead; try to say it aloud. (home-ee-AH-puh-thee)

Now that we can say it, let's keep working. What is homeopathy? Where does it originate? If it is not part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, then where does it belong?

As part of my continuing effort to bridge the gap between programs here at NUHS, I recently sat down with a student in the Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine Program -- the only program that includes the study of homeopathy. As a student of both western naturopathy and eastern AOM, he is perfectly poised to take on the questions I shot off rapid-fire style.

To understand homeopathy better, focus in on the keyword--remedy. While we tend to toss this word around willy-nilly in daily life, in this context it has a more specific meaning. Before this discussion, my basic understanding of homeopathy was simply the principle of "like treats like." So, a homeopathic remedy for a heat condition would be hot in nature. Uh-oh. That's the opposite of Chinese theory, where we would answer a heat condition with cold.

How will we ever get along? Rest assured, I was able to reconcile this in my brain by using the analogy of how a person becomes immune to a particular virus after exposure to an attenuated piece of that same virus. That's not exactly a Chinese principle, either, but OK. At least I'm back on board with homeopathy after relating it to my western understanding of immunology.

How homeopathic (home-ee-oh-PATH-ick) remedies are made is my favorite part. My brilliant colleague and naturopathic doctoral student explained the rigorous and extensive process in such a way that an outsider, like myself, could visualize it. After the diagnostic portion of the show (which I'm definitely not well-versed in) is complete, and the correct remedy has been selected for the person, I was eager to find out where to obtain the remedy and how it was made.

Similar to TCM, most homeopathic remedies are derived from plant, animal or mineral sources. Many remedies are inexpensive and available at health food stores, while some are more costly and more difficult to order. Either way, here's how most are made:

  • A substance (let's say arnica) is diluted in a base such as alcohol or water.
  • The mixture is shaken vigorously (they call this "succussion").
  • One part is taken from that mixture, and that part is again diluted with 99 parts water/alcohol.
  • Shake vigorously.
  • Again take out one part and dilute with 99 parts water/alcohol.
  • Repeat this process a few more times until the desired dilution has been reached.

To the average onlooker, it would seem that the resulting homeopathic remedy has been diluted to the point of being indistinguishable from its water or alcohol base. How can that work? Most would assume that the remedy is weak and ineffective; in fact, that's the main argument against homeopathy by the mainstream medical community. Never one to blindly agree with the mainstream medical community, I turned back to my naturopathic friend and asked for the other side of the argument.

He explained that according to the principles of homeopathy, the more diluted a remedy is, the stronger or more potent it actually becomes. How can this be? Well, that's still being debated in the United States. Homeopathy has been practiced for around 200 years in Germany -- with roots arguably all the way back to ancient Greece -- and declares itself a stand-alone medical system. Yet, it is undeniably controversial and not considered "proven" by modern medical science.

2014-09-17_moleculesMaybe that's about to change. My colleague explained that the argument for homeopathic remedies being effective at these diluted ratios has to do with their molecular size. The continual process of dilution and vigorous shaking supposedly breaks down the molecules of the original substance into pieces small enough to cross through the cell membrane. Stop. Read again. That's a big deal. Some pharmaceutical drugs are deemed ineffective because their large molecular size does not allow them easy entry into our cells. Once again, friends, size does matter. If the remedy can get in, then that explains how it could work effectively.

For now, homeopathy remains a controversial topic of debate. For more information, search PubMed at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=homeopathy for clinical trials and peer-reviewed, scholarly journal articles on the efficacy of the remedies. Or, talk to your favorite naturopathic doctor.

Why There is No Such Thing as Sham Acupuncture

I get really annoyed when I'm reading the results of a scientific study about the effectiveness of acupuncture, and the author concludes that actual acupuncture was "not significantly more effective than sham acupuncture." What they seem to be saying is that acupuncture is not effective at treating X condition. What they are actual discovering is that needle insertion almost anywhere in the body will have an effect on the body's condition, often providing relief from X condition.

I like this part. As Dr. Kwon always told us in Point Location class, you can still help the patient even if you don't stick the needle in the exact acupoint. This realization saved my sanity on more than one occasion when trying to palpate and count thoracic vertebrae to locate the oh-so-important points of the Governing Vessel running up the spinal column. It's supposed to be located at T6, but T7 will be good enough? Awesome. Thank you for your flexibility, ancient wisdom.

So, back to the studies that drive me nuts. Here's how they commonly shake out:

Exactly 100 patients were studied for chronic knee pain, with 25 receiving no treatment, 50 receiving actual acupuncture (inserting needles at specifically proscribed points), and 25 receiving sham acupuncture (inserting needles randomly in the body). Guess what? The patients receiving no treatment did not experience improvement. The patients receiving actual acupuncture reported a 50% improvement, and those receiving sham acupuncture reported a 45% improvement.

I call that good news. The study concludes, instead, that actual acupuncture is not significantly more effective than sham acupuncture at treating knee pain. Wrong. What they actually did is prove Dr. Kwon right -- not that he needs any additional validation, seriously -- that even when needles are inserted at the "incorrect" location, acupuncture still has therapeutic benefits for the patient. Is the goal of an acupuncture treatment for knee pain simply to eliminate the knee pain? Not exactly.

Any time acupuncture happens, that patient's body experiences a shift in energy. We can usually feel a difference in the person's pulse after treatment, compared to before. The qi (energy) has moved, and in western terms, circulation usually improves. Sure, the knee pain is improved, but the patient might also sleep better than usual that night, awake with more energy than usual the next day, or even notice that a new head cold has resolved overnight.

Were these other effects coincidental? Maybe, but probably not. Any acupuncture is better than no acupuncture, and the results of studies comparing no treatment, sham acupuncture, and actual acupuncture will often reveal this truth. In fact, this little "secret" is why I'm not against other practitioners doing acupuncture on patients. We've all heard the buzzword "dry needling," which is when say, your physical therapist needles your arm when your elbow isn't healing as nicely as you'd like. I know several chiropractors who have completed the 100-hour certification in acupuncture, and they can often be seen sticking some needles into a sore back muscle.

Some acupuncturists are completely against this concept of non-acupuncturists needling patients, but I'm pretty much OK with it. I know the patient is probably receiving some benefit regardless of whether or not the needle goes in at an exact acupoints. What's important to me is that the patient is aware that dry needling or someone sticking some needles in where it hurts is not all that acupuncture has to offer. Those techniques have benefits, but not the full array of benefits that needling specific acupoints on specific meridians can produce.

So, if you know someone who's been needled before and didn't experience a great symptom reduction, it's still worth their time to try acupuncture from an acupuncturist. Crazy, I know. It's not that other providers are doing anything wrong; it's just that they aren't receiving the more complete system of treatment via acupuncture that we acupuncture students use.