Recently, I stumbled across an article on Facebook posted by Richard Dawkins who is a renowned and outspoken atheist and scientist. This article, titled “Acupuncture no better for menopause than ‘fake’ method, says researchers” is obviously an eye catcher. Richard Dawkins comment on the article post was simply “duh”. Not to mention the over abundance of comments that read things such as; Of course acupuncture doesn’t work! It's all a scam! No one still believes in these old ancient myths, do they??
I took little offense, and made my way to the original research (published by the Annals of Internal Medicine, Jan 2016) to see what the deal was. There are many articles written out there and posted on social platforms such as Facebook with little to no validity, so it’s not uncommon to find such falsified results. This one however, was so backwards I couldn’t help but share this fine example with the world.
The original study was conducted in Australia with 327 women involved. Each woman was carefully selected (all over the age 40, no history of breast cancer, all with the same Chinese medicine diagnosis). Dr. Carolyn Ee who was the one conducting the study is both an acupuncturist and a medical doctor. She split the women into two groups. One group received traditional Chinese acupuncture with varied points based on their individual needs. The other half received what this article, not the research group declares “fake acupuncture”. Which is described as placing blunt tipped needles on the skin, without penetrating the derma but stimulating the skin and acupuncture point. The women who received the “fake” acupuncture also received a customized treatment and individualized acupuncture points. The only difference was the non-penetrating needling style.
First problem: Non-penetrating needling with skin stimulation is called Japanese style acupuncture, or sometimes Sho-ni-shin, which is pediatric acupuncture and used with toothpick like tools that do not penetrate the skin. Its not “fake”. It's been around for just as long as Chinese acupuncture. It works for the same indications as Chinese acupuncture. However, it is not as effective for muscular and joint pain. That is simply because in order to turn on or off nerves in the muscles and joints you must actually insert the needle to that depth. Japanese acupuncture stimulates C fibers on the dermatome. C fibers are little nerve endings that send a signal to the hypothalamus and the brain responds back with a change in hormones. This is why Japanese acupuncture works so well for things like menopause. Chinese acupuncture also stimulates C fibers. C fibers can be accessed both from the dermatome and the myotome (muscle level). Specific “acupuncture points” have a plethora of these fibers, which is why we needle these specific points and not just use people as dart boards! There is a difference!
Second problem: The outcome of the study was that BOTH groups of “real” and “fake” acupuncture had a 40% DECREASE in hot flashes over 6 months! The statistical significance (the “P value”) was 0.77 meaning there was a 77% chance that the “real” acupuncture worked. This study showed there is a 77% probability that you can see a 40% decrease in hot flashes long term! That is incredible! Not only did they find good results for acupuncture, they found unprecedented results in a large study, over a long period of time for both types of acupuncture! The reason why this study was “thrown out” was because statistics tell us that when something has this high of a number, it's too good to be true. And that is because they really tested acupuncture versus acupuncture.
To give an example, the medication Paroxetine was studied against a placebo (sugar pill), and at 25mg/day the P-value was 0.03, meaning it worked less than 3% of the time, but that was enough for the FDA to pass it and prescribe it for hot flashes! This study is leading its readers to believe the study was a complete failure when in fact, it was a huge success! I would be surprised if hardly anyone, including Richard Dawkins even read the first two sentences of this study! If they did, they would have been blown away. The difficult part, is the general public doesn’t know what Japanese acupuncture is. How could the average person see that their “fake” method, wasn’t so fake? Acupuncture is not a religion, it's not a myth, it's not balancing your energy or chakras. Acupuncture is a scientifically sound medical therapy. You can believe all you want to believe, but just believing that acupuncture doesn't work does not nullify the massive amount of evidence supporting acupuncture scientifically. It's just a matter of time before these people put down their pretensions and biases and their religious boundaries and just except that acupuncture is a super safe and effective medical therapy with tons of validity! Sorry Richard Dawkins, you are wrong about this one!
Here is a link to the article!
Dr. Christina Fick