Acupuncture Lessens Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Acupuncture Lessens Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Cancer patients who receive chemotherapy treatment for their condition must withstand numerous side effects of the drugs, which interfere with work, daily and family life, and quality of life.  Some side effects, including nausea and vomiting, and chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), or nerve pain, can be severe enough that life-saving treatment must be suspended.

3 to 4 of every 10 patients who undergo chemotherapy will develop nerve pain.  CIPN typically begins in the hands and feet, and causes tingling, burning, or shooting pain that travels up the arms and legs.  The pain can interfere with simple daily tasks such as buttoning a shirt and walking.  CIPN is one of the most common reasons patients delay or cut short their cancer treatments.

Small nerve fibers (fluorescent green) in the skin. The bottom picture shows nerve damage from chemotherapy.

Acupuncture is a promising treatment for CIPN.  It decreases pain symptoms, improves quality of life, and may allow patients to continue chemotherapy.  A small study published in Acupuncture in Medicine shows that acupuncture benefits chemotherapy patients who develop nerve pain.

The study was conducted by Sven Schroeder, MD, from the HanseMerkur Center for Traditional Chinese Medicine at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany.  Patients received 10 weekly acupuncture sessions.  Following acupuncture treatment, the patients reported an improvement in their pain symptoms.  Nerve conductions studies, looking at the health of the nerves, also showed improvements in both speed and intensity of nerve signaling.

“These findings are of special significance since peripheral neuropathy is otherwise almost untreatable, but seems to respond to treatment by acupuncture,” Dr. Schroeder said.

This study is one of many showing acupuncture to be a valuable complement to chemotherapy in cancer patients.  Previous studies have shown acupuncture to be effective for chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting, and multiple cases studies have also indicated acupuncture’s effectiveness for nerve pain.

Read more about this study at Medscape, or more about CIPN at the National Cancer Institute.

Complementary Alternative Medicine Use Highest Amongst Health-Care Workers

Complementary Alternative Medicine Use Highest Amongst Health-Care Workers

Recent research shows that health-care workers are more likely to use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) than the general public.  According to the article published in Health Services Research, three out of four doctors, nurses, healthcare technicians and administrators, reported using some form of CAM in the previous year.

For the study, the authors looked at data from 14,300 people on their use of acupuncture, massage, yoga, herbal medicines, and other alternative health practices.  What they found was that not only were healthcare workers in general more likely to use CAM than the general public, but that those who work in a clinical setting were twice as likely to seek out CAM practitioners for care.

Many patients are reluctant to talk to their doctors about the herbs or supplements that they take, or that they’re interested in using acupuncture to treat their complaints.  This is understandable, given the reactions many doctors have had in the past, and some even today.  However, this is information that doctors need, and as this study shows, are more receptive to than ever.

Lori Knutson, one of the study’s co-authors says “In general, Western culture has believed that complementary services and techniques aren’t as well-researched and evidence-based as conventional medicine, but that is certainly no longer the case. And so what I hope comes from this insight into practitioner use of complementary options is an opening up of the conversation between providers and patients about the use and potential of alternative medicine.”

More from US News.

Acupuncture for Endometriosis

Acupuncture for Endometriosis

Endometriosis AnatomyAcupuncture has received attention from major medical journals, such as  the New England Journal of Medicine, for research demonstrating that acupuncture treatment is linked with an improvement in symptoms due to endometriosis. This condition can be frustrating to  both patients and practitioners, because available treatments tend to be invasive, only partially effective, or have unwanted side effects.

What Endometriosis Means
Endometriosis is a condition where the normal uterine lining (endometrium) begins to grow outside of the uterus. The uterine lining is the tissue that grows and sheds during each menstrual cycle, but this normal process becomes problematic when the tissue is growing outside of the uterus. The endometrium continues to respond to hormonal fluctuations during the cycle, and when a woman has her period, the blood that would normally leave the body becomes trapped. This commonly causes severe menstrual pain, heavy bleeding, and may cause difficulties with fertility. It is a very common condition, effecting 6-10% of women of reproductive age, and up to 50% of women with infertility.

Western Medical Treatment
Women diagnosed with endometriosis are most commonly treated with painkillers to reduce pain symptoms and oral contraceptives (birth control pills) to reduce the severity of pain and heaviness of bleeding. When these treatments fail to provide relief, or have unacceptable side effects, more invasive procedures may be used, such as ablation, or removal of excess tissue. According to Western medical treatment, the only cure for endometriosis is hysterectomy, or surgical removal of the uterus.

Acupuncture for Endometriosis
According to Eastern medical theories, endometriosis is considered an issue of improper blood circulation, or blood stasis. Treatment is focused on increasing blood circulation, and guiding these effects to the uterus, lower abdomen, and any other affected area.

Spleen 6 is an acupuncture point on the lower leg that is commonly used to increase blood circulation to the uterus and to treat menstrual pain. This point is also useful as an acupressure point to treat yourself, and a point that I often use during a shiatsu session. Spleen 6 is located a hand’s width (without the thumb) above the medial malleolus, or the inside ankle bone.

 

Another common point for any issue affecting the uterus is called Zigong, or “palace of the child”. It is located on the lower abdomen, one thumb’s width above the pubic bone, and one hand’s width to either side of the midline. Zigong is used to promote circulation to the uterus, regulate uterine bleeding, and to prepare for conception. Just like Spleen 6, this point can be used in self-massage, and responds well to warming treatment, such as moxibustion or the application of oils that promote circulation, such as Dang Gui, or Angelica, essential oil.

What to Expect
Acupuncture treatment can significantly decrease the severity of endometriosis and its symptoms for most patients. Effects are cumulative, so longer term treatment is associated with greater improvement. Most patients report less pain after four weekly treatments, but changes in menstrual cycle regularity or fertility may require several months of regular acupuncture.

Diagnosis in East Asian Medicine

Diagnosis in East Asian Medicine

East Asian medicine operates in a very different paradigm from conventional medicine. A Western medical diagnosis is typically a determination of the factor causing the patient’s symptoms, but what an individual patient is experiencing is irrelevant to the diagnosis. An East Asian medical assessment looks at the patient’s symptoms and constitution, placing the emphasis on an individual’s experience of disease, and this is the guiding factor in choosing acupuncture points or composing an herbal formula.

The Flu
According to the Western model of diagnosis, the flu is a disease caused by the influenza virus. Whether the patient has breathing problems, stomach upset, or aching muscles, it is still the flu. Treatment may include drugs to destroy the virus and treatment for the symptoms until the patient recovers.

To an East Asian medicine practitioner, the patient’s symptoms guide diagnosis. If the main symptoms appear in the lung, it will be treated as a lung disorder, or if the symptoms primarily affect the stomach, it will be treated as a stomach disorder. While Eastern medicine recognizes the presence of germs, the questions asked tend to revolve around the patient: ‘Why did this person get sick while other people did not?’; ‘Why is this patient feeling nauseated while another has a sore throat?’; ‘Why is this person not recovering quickly?’. All of that person’s symptoms are taken into account, painting a full health picture for that individual. Often, symptoms that are considered irrelevant to Western doctors fit easily into an Eastern medical model. Feeling the pulse at the wrist and examining the tongue fill in the rest of the picture, giving the practitioner clues as to the underlying constitutional factors in that person’s illness.

How Diagnosis Guides Treatment
Treatment in Eastern medicine is similarly focused on the patient. Acupuncture points, herbs, and accessory techniques are chosen to treat the overall picture and relieve specific symptoms. Just as multiple symptoms can fit into one coherent picture, individual acupuncture points and herbs work together in harmony. No two patients are ever the same, and no two treatments are the same. The practitioner’s goal is to compose a treatment that forms a perfect complement to the patient’s health picture, guiding that person toward recovery.