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Scientists Seek Clues for Acupuncture's Success

Learn how acupuncture might help when Western medicine doesn't have an answer.

What Acupuncture Can Do for You continued...

Cancer Side Effects: Nausea and vomiting -- the distressing side effects of chemotherapy -- respond well to acupuncture. A study published a few years ago showed that acupuncture plus antinausea medication worked better than just medication alone. The NIH "has given us two thumbs up," Wayne says.

Depression: A study in the late 1990s from the University of Arizona showed that clinically depressed women responded well to a course of acupuncture. Other preliminary studies of anxiety and depression show that anxiety related to medical procedures can be resolved with some acupuncture at treatment time, Wayne adds.


Stroke: Results from a study of acupuncture in treating stroke patients are just coming in. "We've seen responses, even among people who suffered their strokes many years ago," Wayne reports. "Their chronic paralysis and spasticity are responding well." However, results from other stroke studies have not always shown an effect. More research is needed, he notes.

Pelvic Pain: A study currently underway involves endometriosis-related pelvic pain in young women. "It's a very serious condition in which the standard course of [drug treatment] doesn't always work," says Wayne. "They can't go to school or do sports. The last resort is to induce menopause in 15-year-old girls. But there's some evidence acupuncture may help."


Infertility: Acupuncture also boosts the effectiveness of high-tech reproductive medicine procedures. Small studies have found that adding acupuncture to traditional in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments increased pregnancy success. There is also evidence that acupuncture stimulates blood flow and egg production in women who can't -- or don't want to -- use fertility medications to help them get pregnant.

The treatment "has a calming, restorative effect that increases a sense of well-being and ultimately helps the body to accept the creation of life," said acupuncturist Ifeoma Okoronkwo, MD, a professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine, in an earlier interview. Studies have shown a clear link between acupuncture and the body's natural "feel good" brain chemicals.

Acupuncture also appears to affect three areas critical to egg production and ovulation: two areas of the brain that control hormone production (the hypothalamus and pituitary glands) as well as the ovaries. "My guess is that acupuncture is changing the blood supply to the ovaries, possibly dilating the arteries and increasing blood flow, so that ultimately, the ovaries are receiving greater amounts of hormonal stimulation," Sandra Emmons, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Oregon Health Sciences University, told WebMD in a previous interview.

Acupuncture may also "boost" the uterine lining when it is too weak to sustain a pregnancy, a problem known to increase the risk of miscarriage.

The Science Behind Acupuncture

According to Chinese traditional medicine, acupuncture affects the life force called "chi." More than 2000 acupuncture points in the body are connected by meridians, or pathways, through which energy must pass freely for optimal wellness. Disturbances in this flow result in illness or dysfunction.

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