Studies Show Acupuncture May Treat Insomnia, Stress

accupuncturestresA study has found that the combination of acupuncture and traditional Chinese herbs can be highly effective in treating insomnia.

The study, published in the Clinical Journal of Chinese Medicine, was based on a randomized and controlled trial involving 200 patients. The researchers found that the combined therapeutic method was effective in 93% of cases; acupuncture alone was effective 85% of the time.

There has been quite a bit of recent scientific interest in acupuncture, a practice once relegated to the realm of “alternative” medicine.

Just last month, researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center published a different study suggesting that acupuncture may also be effective in the treatment of chronic stress.

In that study, researchers compared results from four groups of rats. The first group was stressed and then treated with acupuncture; the second was stressed and given pseudo-acupuncture at a non-acupuncture site; the third was stressed but received no acupuncture; and the fourth was used as a control.

The rats who received real acupuncture had the same level of cortisol — a hormone that correlates with stress — as the rats who were not stressed at all. Their cortisol levels were also lower than those in the rats who were stressed and given either sham acupuncture or no intervention.

Ladan Eshkevari, Ph.D., a nurse anesthetist, licensed acupuncturist, and associate professor at Georgetown, led the team. She told TIME that just by treating patients over the years, she’d had a “sense” that acupuncture lowered stress. “Now I feel like we have some evidence that this does work,” she continued, “[and] the placebo is controlled for.”

She said the next step will be trying to discover if acupuncture works the same way on humans, since studies on rats are not always applicable to humans.

Both recent studies are part of a larger trend seeking to break down boundaries between so-called Eastern and Western medicine.

In discussing the role of acupuncture in treating chronic pain (among many other interventions) in an Aug. 10 op-ed for the New York Times, Aaron E. Carroll of the Indiana University School of Medicine observed, “The dichotomy … between alternative and traditional medicine, or between Eastern and Western medicine, is a false one.” We’d be better off, he suggested, simply practicing evidence-based medicine regardless of its origins.

That’s a message that seems to resonate with Americans: according to the most recent data from the National Health Interview Survey, more than 14 million Americans have tried acupuncture.

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