Please Explain: Acupuncture

Friday, October 12, 2007

Most experts agree that acupuncture is safe, but does it work? And what is the circulation of Qi, the meridian system, and the five phases theory? Find out all about acupuncture on today's Please Explain. Leonard is joined by Dr. Richard Hammerschlag, Neurobiologist and Dean of Research at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, and Martin Feldman, Acupuncturist and Instructor at the New England School of Acupuncture.

Tell us about your experiences with acupuncture. Has it worked for you? What would you like to know about it?


Martin Feldman and Dr. Richard Hammerschlag

Comments [29]

Michael Leggett from Woodhaven, NY

Acupuncture works with the body, nicely. I used it this week to clear up a case of Bronchitis, all without the Prescription of some Antibiotic. My lungs are clear.

Jun. 06 2009 02:03 PM
Frank from Brooklyn

James Randi offers $1 million to anyone who can prove the efficacy of acupuncture under controlled conditions. No one has claimed it.

Remember, "The plural of anecdote is anecdotes, not data."

Nov. 05 2007 11:39 AM
Sekayi from Massachusetts

Last year, I went for acupuncture treatment, referred by a family member, and really had no expectation . It had been very effective in relieving a variety of conditions from hot flashes, to sinus problems to severe arthritis. I am sold on this process and have referred several people for this treatment.

I have come to understand that there are some people who put a negative religious or mystical connotation on the practice and will have no part of it even in discussion. It is their loss.

Oct. 22 2007 05:39 PM
Steve from Hollis Hills, Queens

You may be interested in the results of a large back pain trial conducted in the UK. A quarter of the control group receiving medical treatment that already failed reported in improvement. 40+% of both acutpuncture groups, one legitimate acupuncture, the other randomly placed needles, reported improvement. Not very convincing. See the link below.

Oct. 19 2007 02:34 PM
Frank from Brooklyn

Anca isn't even sure about gravity, apparently: "With the possible exception of gravity"?! You'll excuse me if I don't take your advice and engage in magical thinking, eastern or western, modern or 2100 years old.

Whenever people begin speaking of "energy fields" to describe some treatment, it is a very red flag, usually indicating new age hokum.

All doctors worth their salt do use a "holistic" approach.

Maybe we should put our trust in the modern scientific method instead of that which is unfalsifiable.

Oct. 18 2007 07:52 PM
Herbert Fair from Queens

If you believe it, it will work.

Oct. 15 2007 11:44 PM
Jeanette from New York City

In addition to licensed acupuncturists having over three thousand hours of training (depending on the state), they have learned over 360 acupuncture meridian points, over 100 extra points, and over 100 auricular (ear points). On the other hand, MD-trained acupuncturists receive the very basic training, learning only about 60 acupuncture points. MD acupuncturists also lack training in theory. And most malpractice cases dealing with acupuncture are from MD-acupuncturists, not licensed acupuncturists. There is a huge difference between receiving acupuncture from a licensed acupuncturist and a MD-acupuncturist.

Oct. 13 2007 09:28 PM
linda from greenwich library

Acupuncture helped me. However, if I had the choice between the husband's technique or his wife, her needle sticks were like ohvey!

Oct. 13 2007 03:30 PM
Rich from UWS

#18 is absolutely right. People are being sold a bill of goods when they turn to pseudo-science like acupuncture. The sad thing is there are probably huge numbers of people not getting the serious treatment they need for real problems when turning to this.

At a time when our government treats science with such little respect one expects more from public radio.

Oct. 13 2007 07:20 AM

Well I didn't know that "we" scientists had abolished the other two "types of energy" - the ones holding our atomic nuclei together and making the sun shine etc.

Oct. 12 2007 02:59 PM
anca from Manhattan

As for training, Licensed Acupuncturists have a 3- to 4-year Masters Degree... that's 2000-3000 hours of training in acupuncture and oriental medical theory. MDs who are Certified in Acupuncture need only 200-300 hours of acupuncture training.

Qi is really not a magico-religious notion as Mark has commented above. What we know from science is that, with the possible exception of gravity, there is only one type of energy in the universe; electromagnetic energy. The Chinese call this Qi. That's all.

And, yes, acupuncture can help TMJ problems as well as migraines... and no, you don not have to have a migraine at the time of treatment.

Oct. 12 2007 02:40 PM

I was very disappointed to hear this pseudo-scientific garbage aired on this show. As Petr Skrabanek pointed out in his excellent Follies and Fallacies in Medicine*: "Numerous controlled trials have shown that acupuncture is no more than a placebo." That doesn't mean it isn't an effective therapy in some circumstances of course - placebo is one of the most effective medicines ever invented. But the lack of any genuine science in this piece and the nonsense talk of "energy flows" and "imbalances in bioelectromagnetic fields" etc. were simply inexcusable.

* (PDF)

Oct. 12 2007 02:29 PM
Melanie from nyc

I am not contesting a physician's overall training or education. But in terms of specific theories of Chinese medicine, different treatment modalities, etc, a 100-300 hour training certification is not as specific as a 4-year training for practitioners of CM.

Oct. 12 2007 02:02 PM
chestine from NY

melanie, MDs go to school for many years and have many basics non-MDs don't have before they get to their 300 hours. A good MD acupuncturist speaks two medical languages

Oct. 12 2007 01:54 PM
Che Ramone from Upper Saddle River, NJ


Oct. 12 2007 01:52 PM
Aubrey from Manhattan

I suffer from frequent migraines and have heard that accupuncture can help. Is this a common ailment? Do I have to have a migraine at the time of the treatment?

Oct. 12 2007 01:52 PM
Che Ramone from Upper Saddle River, NJ


Oct. 12 2007 01:51 PM
chestine from NY

american academy of medical acupuncture has a list

Oct. 12 2007 01:50 PM
Mark from Nyack

I simply cannot believe the metaphysical bunkum that's being straightfacedly dished out on this episode. Chi is a magico-religious notion that has nothing to do with science; it's an intellectual artifact of Asian spiritual or religious belief. Fine, as spiritual belief; as medical theory, laughable. I'm shocked and awed that the neurobiologist on this program isn't debunking the notion that acupuncture is effective because of the "energy" fields within us, a Bronze Age belief that has no place in a serious discussion about the neurological basis for acupuncture's efficacy.

Oct. 12 2007 01:50 PM
chestine from NY

so frustrating how stuck so many of us are in linear thought which can't understand holistic thinking, esp. as it informs medicine - yet how willing we are to believe in nasty, poisonous chemicals and other crude interventions as medicine.

Oct. 12 2007 01:50 PM

My husband suffers from a tmj (temporomandibular joints ), a condition of kinda, misplacement of the disc that lies in the conection of the jaw , causing pain in many loc in the body. can acupuncture help ?

Oct. 12 2007 01:48 PM
Melanie from nyc

You do *not tip an acupuncturist. This is a medical procedure, and your acupuncturist is a licensed professional, who should not accept a tip.

In response to Mark, what is it about energy discussion that is so uncomfortable for you? If you examine the cardiovascular system, you will see that the conduction of the heartbeat is all based on an electrical impulse, in otherwords: energy. Every cell in your body creates energy--ATP.
Neither of the guests on the show are speaking in a new-age way at all.
I think it is the unfortunate association that if you are going to have a treatment for a medical condition, where someone is utilizing a system that *seems mystical because the words used to describe it are unfamiliar to you is the real issue. In the biomedical west, we don't know about qi, etc.

To find a qualified acupuncturist near you, go to to find all who are board certifed. Just a note: MD acupuncturists do 300 hours worth of training, a licensed acupuncturist who is board certified has gone to a 3-4 year school.

Melanie, acupuncturist

Oct. 12 2007 01:40 PM
Carey from Mt. Kisco

Much to learn from Eastern medicine and holistic health but try telling that to the big corporate pharmaceutical companies....

Witch doctors! Quacks!

Oct. 12 2007 01:38 PM
Emily H. from Manhattan

If acupuncture can be harmful in the wrong hands, how should I go about choosing a good acupuncturist? What qualifications/skills should I look for or ask about?

Oct. 12 2007 01:36 PM
alexander from Hoboken

The amazing thing about acupuncture, is that it takes a completely different - and holistic - approach to the human body, that Western medicine doesn't.

I have always had poor eyesight, and my eyes would tire quickly using the computer etc.

While living in LA, I visited my eye doctor, who essentially said tough luck about poor eyesight and tired eyes, here's a stronger prescription.

I visited a Koren acupuncturist, who immediately asked about my overall diet, sleep habits, stress levels and variety of other things. She then layed out a diet change, a course of medicinal teas and regular acupuncture visits (she described the teas as being the catalysts for change, and the acupuncture as being more like a tune-up) and yes, my eyesight improved tremendously, and seven years later, my eyes are virtually normal in terms of tiredness level, and yes I haven't needed as many prescription upgrades.

She also didn't stick the needles in my eyes, or anywhere near them - the concept of which parts of the body govern the energy of other ones is very different that Western one.

In my opinion there is much to learn from Eastern medicine.

Oct. 12 2007 01:34 PM
Mark from Nyack

While I'm a true believer in the efficacy of acupuncuture---it cured my tendonitis, sparing me the horrors of surgery---this talk of meridians gives me the fantods, since I'm also a thoroughgoing empiricist, not to mention an atheist. Is there any way to explain the analgesic mechanism of acupuncture without recourse to magical thinking about "energy," a New Age notion that those of us who live in a faith-based universe roundly detest? Thanks, Mark in Nyack

Oct. 12 2007 01:22 PM
Scott from Brooklyn

I had acupuncture for about 7 treatments, and it did nothing to help the chronic pain and stiffness in my neck. I found it deeply relaxing, and if I had the money, I'd get it every week. Sometimes I felt hypnotized and back in the cozy, comfort of the womb.

Oct. 12 2007 12:14 PM
chestine from NY

i have loads of experience with acupuncture and I can't believe "does acupuncture work?" is still a discussion! Anyway one really obvious example of acupuncture trumping conventional treatment (there are sooooooo many) - using a specific point or just holding any point along the lung meridian, I don't need my inhaler. Also, St. 36 does everything but make breakfast... A few really good DIYs to have at home are "Four Paws, Five Directions" by Cheryl Schwartz for your pets, "Acupuncture's Power Points" by Michael Reed Gach and "Energy Medicine" by Donna Eden (very creative...)

Oct. 12 2007 12:09 PM
Emily from Brooklyn

Is it appropriate to tip your accupuncturist?

While one wouldn't tip their doctor, it's a medical service. At the same time, I don't want to be disrespectful of her skill and expertise.

Please advise!

Oct. 12 2007 12:03 PM

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