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Conditions vs. Modalities of Treatment

Little Hover Commission 2004

Regulation of Acupuncture: A Complementary Therapy Framework

Acupuncture is defined in law in terms of authorized modalities of treatment (e.g., needle therapy, herbal and nutrition therapy, etc.). However, the scientific evidence is evolving around which diseases or conditions can be successfully treated with particular modalities. In particular, NIH has found that acupuncture needle therapy is effective for "postoperative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting and postoperative dental pain." Multiple promising studies are underway. For instance, Stanford University's psychiatry department has conducted a pilot study indicating that for women suffering from depression during pregnancy, acupuncture may hold promise as a safe treatment option.39

Prior to clinical research, thousands of years of positive patient experiences with acupuncture kept this traditional medicine alive. Research is beginning to reveal a scientific explanation of how acupuncture may work. High technology, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, is helping scientists to understand the physiological mechanisms that may help to refine the use of acupuncture.40 But even if it is not ever fully understood in modern medical terms, consumers want direct access. Many skeptics have become convinced of the merits of acupuncture after experiencing improvement when nothing else would help. And through the course of history, acupuncture performed by individuals with even informal training has proven to help patients.

NIH standards of evidence are strict. For acupuncture, this level of evidence only indicates its use for limited types of pain, nausea and vomiting. The World Health Organization (WHO) lists more conditions that acupuncture may be useful for than does NIH. WHO states that acupuncture is used on more than 40 conditions, but it does not state acupuncture is efficacious or advisable relative to other healing options for all of those conditions. According to the Harvard Center for Complementary Medicine, the NIH list of conditions reflects the current state of reliable research, indicating that the World Health Organization's list is not based on research methodology that is acceptable in the United States.41


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