Advice Goddess Blog
« Previous | Home | Next »

The Butt-Pinch: A Low-Cost Alternative To Accupuncture!
Bad news for disparagers of modern medicine. Accupuncture is useless, says Wallace Sampson, clinical professor emeritus of medicine at Stanford University and editor in chief of the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine. Reyhan Harmanci interviewed him for the SF Chron:

There are two major misconceptions about acupuncture, Sampson says, and both contribute to the misunderstanding of its worth as medical treatment. First, most people assume that it's an ancient Chinese cure that has existed, unchanging, for centuries. Not so, says Sampson, noting that "acupuncture was formalized in a complex way over the past 100 years, mostly in Europe and France and after the Communist takeover in China. Before that time there was no consistent formalization of acupuncture points or what each place was supposed to do. It was largely regional, and the thinking varied from city to city."

The other mistake people make about acupuncture, Sampson says, is that it offers specific cures. "It is nonspecific," Sampson says. "If it has the effect of, say, releasing endorphins through the application of needles, well, many things release endorphins -- a walk in the woods, a 5-mile run, a pinch on the butt."

Clinically, it has been shown that acupuncture can have counter-irritative effects. The basis for this is simple: If you have a headache and someone applies pressure through needles to your arms and neck, you get distracted from your headache. "It has no effect on disease process," Sampson says, "but it can affect perception of symptoms through these nonspecific devices, such as attention diversion or the desire of the patient to please the treater and feel benefits."

...But there are more dangerous aspects to the world of alternative medicine, Sampson says, starting with the wildly popular practice of chiropractics. In general, he says, one of the biggest problems with the whole notion of "ancient Chinese medicine" is that it falsely pits itself against "Western medicine." Sampson says these distinctions are useless; a more apt comparison, he says, would be ancient Chinese medicine to ancient European medicine, which share many similarities in their fundamental notions about how the body works. Western medicine, on the other hand, has grown up as the world rejected those ancient notions.

Sampson points to the Western ideal of "first do no harm" as a major difference in the approaches. "Some find Western medicine to be cold because there's no laying of hands on the body unless it's absolutely necessary," says Sampson. "But we took an oath. Physicians should not lay on hands or do something that doesn't accomplish its goal. Cracking a neck or a back, for instance, can do much more harm than good. You have to draw the line somewhere."

Exactly how nuts do you have to be to let some guy in Birkenstocks who decorates in Buddhas, dreamcatchers, and Pier One eastern crap crack your neck?

Posted by aalkon at September 8, 2006 12:14 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


The first time I saw "vertebral subluxation," listed as a chiropractic speciality, I suspected the whole area was probably one to avoid.

The phrase just looks deeply dodgy - even before you discover it is.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at September 8, 2006 8:39 AM

My ex-wife was formerly a believer in alternative medicine, until she got cancer. For a while she tried to treat it with a naturopath, but the main treatment amounted to "suffer, it's good for you; pain is a sign of healing - it's natural; trust me, you're getting better". Eventually the pain got so bad she went to the emergency room where they found new tumors in her head - that was the cause of the pain. Now she's seeing an oncologist and the difference in the care couln't be more dramatic, and not just in terms of effectiveness - they really care if she's in pain or unconfortable, and do something about it.

She's responding very well to chemotherapy, btw.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher at September 8, 2006 9:07 AM

There is the placebo effect, which is being studied now. I think that some alternative medicines may be perceived as being effective due to the power of the mind. (I just watched a show on this on TVO or PBS a few days ago!) It only works with some people too, as not everyone has the gift of an easily suggestible mind (or powerful mind, depends on how you want to look at it).

Posted by: Canada at September 8, 2006 9:16 AM

Here's a great piece on the wisdom of the Orient:

> "suffer, it's good for you; pain is a
> sign of healing - it's natural

That was Mother Theresa's approach, too. She "helped the dying of Calcutta."

Posted by: Crid at September 8, 2006 9:50 AM

I’m not sure where Wallace got his information on acupuncture (a crabby old prof from his med school? Discovery Channel? 5 minutes on the Net?) but he frankly doesn’t know jack shit. His interview consists of a series of straw men –
1. Acupuncture has changed over time. People think it hasn’t, and so it’s no good.
2. Acupuncture relies on endorphin release. You can do this with a jog or a butt-pinch, so acupuncture’s useless.
3. Those crazy Chinese are ‘pitting themselves against Western medicine,’ my god, have you ever, and you gotta pick one, so obviously you pick Western/allopathic medicine.
There ARE acupuncture formulas and point usages that have been around for centuries. I know, ‘cause I’ve got the books they’re quoted in, everyone who went to acupuncture school got both old and new point formulas. Doctors might differ on nuances of point function, but no, the functions did not differ wildly from province to province. Of course ‘the thinking varied from city to city’ as far as specifics in treatment went/go, it varies in the US, for chrissake. Any MD who’s interned at different programs around the country will tell you how each hospital has a ‘culture’ that leans towards certain treatment protocols and procedures. Medicine in general has gotten more formalized over the last 100 years, duh, as the ability to send and receive information nationally and internationally has grown exponentially.
Yes, acupuncture has changed, and continues to change, just like any medicinal science, electroacupuncture in place of rapid needle stimulation being the first example that comes to mind. None of my teachers thought electro was freaky because people didn’t do it 500 years ago, they liked it because it works.
No, acupuncture does NOT work via endorphin release. When they’re told anything at all about it, this is what med students are usually given, and apparently it is just parroted ad infinitum. Endorphin release is totallyinadequate to explain the wide range of effects possible with acupuncture, especially in the realm of pain relief, where it’s common for the patient to not feel the full effect of the treatment until the next day.
Todd, I’m sorry for what happened to your ex-wife, but that was not ‘alternative medicine,’ end of story, that was the ‘treatment’ of one naturopath, and not a competent one, sounds like. That has nothing to do with acupuncture, or Chinese medicine, of which acupuncture is just one facet. The whole notion that all complementary/alternative medicine is the same and does the same is grossly inaccurate, but still widely disseminated. Chinese medicine is not naturopathy, or chiropractic, or homeopathy.
Had your ex-wife gone to a COMPETANT doctor of Chinese medicine in regards to her cancer, that practitioner would have worked with your oncologist, designing both acupuncture, dietary, and herbal protocols for her, pre/during/ and post-chemo, as well as during her (hopefully) remission. I can’t speak for naturopaths, but anyone I went to school with who had proposed “let ‘em suffer, it’s a sign of healing” as a cancer treatment would have been laughed/thrown out of school. The Chinese medical treatment for cancer uses chemo and radiation treatments, but also uses other modalities from traditional Chinese medicine that are continually modified for effectiveness. It is not an either/or proposition.
And this is the biggest straw man of all – Eastern or Western, gotta pick one. I will pay Mr. Emeritus Wallace $5 if he’s ever spent a month on, say, an actual hospital ward in China, or spoken at length with an actual doctor from China, or in other words, if he knows what the fuck he’s talking about rather than what his intern found out on her lunch break spliced with what he recalls from old Kung Fu reruns. Actual Chinese doctors don’t wear bathrobes, or bang gongs, or have yin-yangs cut into their haircuts. They are the most down-to-earth, concrete people you’re likely to meet. I had four Chinese teachers in Seattle. They were all trained in ‘Western’ medicine, and had all performed minor surgery while working in China. One had run a trauma center. They didn’t see any contradiction in combining the two medicines, they just saw it as giving them a bigger toolbox to work with.
Yes, there are ultra-flaky practitioners of ‘alternative medicine’ (Tor from that Seinfeld episode being the ne ultra plus of this), and believe me, I hate ‘em worse than you do. For that matter, there are also stereotypical Western physicians, who make you wait for 45 minutes while they talk titanium golf clubs, see you for 5 minutes, tell you to take aspirin and maybe antidepressants for your back pain, then charge you $150 and head out to the golf range with their 25-year-old wives. Buddhas, Birkenstocks, and dreamcatchers? Hell yes, I’d turn and walk out too.
And if Wallace ever wants to take, oh, two patients with severe arthritis in the knee, I’ll do acupuncture on one, and he can ass-pinch the other with pliers. We’ll see whose patient responds better over the next couple of days.

Posted by: cat brother at September 8, 2006 10:10 AM

Alls I know about acupuncture is when I was out dolphin watching in Bimini a few years back I was sick as a dog (typical) on the catamaran, which rode the waves for hours. I was in bad shape despite ginger pills, despite bracelets for "pressure points," all of the "advice."

But when one other guest who knew acupuncture (a Romanian woman living in Canada, how's that for international) took pity and gave me free treatments for the rest of the trip, I had not even a stomach lurch. I'd never had acupuncture before that moment, and really had no opinion of it one way or the other until then.

I wouldn't rely on it for something like cancer (though I could see it being good for alleviating some of the stress of chemo or radiation), but I'd absolutely promote it for what it did for me.

Posted by: Kitt at September 8, 2006 11:18 AM

Internal diseases like cancer are treated almost exclusively with herbal medicine in Chinese medicine. Again, it's not either/or, Chinese doctors use the same stuff we use over here. Herbs and acupuncture are used in what is known as Fu Zheng (Support the Normal) therapy.
Fu Zheng’s goals are
1. Tumor load reduction
2. Prevent formation and development of cancer
3. Increase immune function
4. Enhance endocrine function
5. Enhance and protect organ structure and function
6. Strengthen digestion and metabolism of nutrients
7. Protect bone marrow and hemopoesis
8. Increase effectiveness of surgery, radiation, chemo, and hormonal therapy.
9. Prevent or reverse negative side effects of Western treatment.

Anyone who says you have to pick Western OR Eastern, what they do may be Mongolian Root Humping or something, but it ain't Chinese medicine.

Posted by: cat brother at September 8, 2006 11:35 AM

Where can I find a practioner of Mongolian Root Humping?

Posted by: Lena at September 8, 2006 11:48 AM

Leave a comment