Emily’s Quest

June 9, 2009

Placebo? – The Proof is in the Puppies

acupunctureAcupuncture is a well known and increasingly widespread form of alternative healing therapy, most commonly used for pain but with a wide range of applications.  To be honest, I don’t know that much about it and need to do some more reading on it myself.  But I found a fascinating and hard to refute piece of evidence as to its effectiveness.

There has long been a question mark in Western minds over the objective effectiveness of acupuncture.  Sure there is plenty of hearsay and anecdotes, but does it really have any effect beyond placebo?  In other words, many people may think that it works purely because people think it will work – the actual effect is actually ‘all in their mind’ or brought about by their own body.

The first thing I have to say about that is – ultimately, if it solves or ameliorates a problem for someone, who actually cares if it is technically due to the placebo effect?!  All medicine is really just helping the body to help it self – as a famous historical doctor once said (I forget who) of a wound “I dressed it, God healed it”.  Doctors and healers cannot really ‘save’ or ‘fix’ anybody – all they can do is aid the body in helping itself.  And so if someone’s chronic pain is lessened or cured via a ‘placebo’ – well, who’s to say that placebo is any less valid than a biochemically active drug or techinically accurate procedure?

Anyway, that’s a bit of a tangent.  Western medicine has for years been trying to make alternative health therapies and procedures prove themselves via Western methods – especially that Western gold standard, the Randomised Control Trial (Haaaalelujah!).  This runs into trouble with alternative, traditional and complementary therapies however, because a) they are based on very different systems of belief and different fundamental bases than Western methods and b) due to the role of the healer.

Many of these therapies attribute part of their effectiveness to the role of the healer and the energies they contribute to the patient-practitioner interaction.  So how can you design a double-blind trial of acupunture?  The healer who is not giving the real therapy will know this and their energy belief in the therapy they are giving will be altered accordingl, even if the patient has full belief/ignorance.

Such controlled trials of acupuncture have been attempted, and I will at some stage read up on them and report back with my findings.  But I stumbled across an article the other day which to me provides some pretty irrefutable evidence that acupuncture is not just due to the ‘placebo effect’ of the patient’s belief in it, but has actual objective effectiveness.

The article, on MedicineNet.com, is called Animals Respond to Acupuncture’s Healing Touch.  It describes the field of ‘veterinary acupuncture’ and the observable effect acupuncture has been seen to have on animals.

Now, animals don’t know why you’re sticking needles into them.  They don’t ‘believe’ in the effect of acupuncture.  So the fact that it also works for animals seems to pretty much rule out the placebo effect.  Any effect it has on an animal has to be a true, objective effect.

Of course, you could now start asking questions about whether it is the acupuncture itself or the effect of the actual healer that is doing the healing.  This could get hairy, and may be one to explore another day.  But for now, one thing seems clear – the effect of acupuncture is not ‘all in the mind’.  Something about the actual process of acupuncture itself has real, therapeutic effect.  Just because we cannot break it down into molecules and explain it according to the Western belief system (and yes, I do regard Western scientific method as a ‘belief system’ – but lets save that one for another day too), doesn’t mean it is not real, it does not exist, or that it cannot have significant benefit on the quality of people’s health and lives.


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