The acupuncture paradox, as we discussed earlier, is:
The scientific consensus appears to be that, to the extent that acupuncture makes people feel better, it is through relaxing the patient, also the acupuncturist might help in other ways, encouraging the patient to focus on his or her lifestyle.
But whenever I discuss the topic with any Chinese friend, they assure me that acupuncture is real. Real real. Not “yeah, it works by calming people” real or “patients respond to a doctor who actually cares about them” real. Real real. The needles, the special places to put the needles, the whole thing. I haven’t had a long discussion on this, but my impression is that Chinese people think of acupuncture as working in the same way that we understand that TV’s or cars or refrigerators work: even if we don’t know the details, we trust the basic idea.
Anyway, I don’t know what to make of this. The reports of scientific studies finding no effect of acupuncture needles are plausible to me (not that I’ve read any of these studies in detail)—but if they’re so plausible, how come none of my Chinese friends seem to be convinced?
This does seem to be a paradox, as evidenced by some of the discussion in the 56 comments on the above post.
Anyway, I was reminded of this when Paul Alper pointed me to this news article from Susan Perry, entitled “Real and fake acupuncture have similar effects on hot flashes, study finds”:
Women reported improvements in the number and intensity of their hot flashes whether they received the real or the fake treatment — a strong indication that the placebo effect was at work with both. . . . And before anybody jumps on this study for being conducted by conventional physicians who are antagonistic to nonconventional medical treatments, I [Perry] will point out that the lead author is Dr. Carolyn Ee, a family physician at the University of Melbourne who is trained in — and uses — Chinese medicine, including acupuncture, with her patients.
Here’s the study, which reports:
Results: 327 women were randomly assigned to acupuncture (n = 163) or sham acupuncture (n = 164). At the end of treatment, 16% of participants in the acupuncture group and 13% in the sham group were lost to follow-up. Mean HF scores at the end of treatment were 15.36 in the acupuncture group and 15.04 in the sham group (mean difference, 0.33 [95% CI, −1.87 to 2.52]; P = 0.77). No serious adverse events were reported.