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Alternative medicine

In a new occasional series for LaterLife, we will start looking at alternative medicines, an area that is attracting increasing interest from health professionals as well as from the general public.

This month we are looking at:

Getting the Point about Acupuncture

However fit and healthy we try and keep ourselves, as we get older, things go wrong. Most of us accept that, but what can come as a shock is when we develop a condition that can’t be alleviated by medication or medical intervention.

Pain in various forms from back ache to crippling headaches to sharp twinges across the body are just some of the things that can suddenly turn normal life into a real challenge.

When you have tried other treatments and are still suffering, many then start looking at alternative medicines and acupuncture is near the top of the list.

Acupuncture has been around for thousands of years. Its origins lie in the mists of Chinese history; and certainly during the last two thousand years it has played an important role in traditional Chinese medicine.

Simply, treatment takes the form of inserting very fine needles into specific points on the body. Acupuncture practitioners explain that while there are different forms, most treatments rely on the principles that qi, a life force, flows along 12 channels or meridians. Illness and pain occur when qi cannot flow freely because of stress, poor nutrition, infection or injury. Inserting fine needles into special acupuncture points restores the flow of this vital energy in your body in order to trigger your body’s healing response and to restore physical and mental equilibrium.

But acupuncture is not just about needles. Traditional practitioners also spend time looking at your face and body, inspecting your tongue, listening for wheezing or odd sounds, sniffing for unusual odours. They try and get a full picture of the body before starting treatment.

The treatment is fairly painless and afterwards, patients often report that other health problems have been helped as well and they have an increased feeling of overall wellbeing.

Over the years there has been constant skepticism from Western doctors with their strong scientific backgrounds and training, but more recently there has been increasing evidence that acupuncture can help in certain conditions. Numerous studies have been carried out and one of the largest and most respected investigations was reported in the Cochrane Collaboration. Cochrane ( ) is a very well recognised independent group of researchers and professionals and incorporate world leaders in specific fields from over 120 countries to research and report on healthcare developments.

Cochrane reported that they may have found some evidence of benefit from acupuncture on certain conditions including some specific pains, nausea and vomiting, osteoarthritis and irritable bowel syndrome. However, some of the evidence appears contradictory and there is also concern over the placebo effect – people feeling better because they knew they had been treated.

However, the reports from Cochrane have been supported by other research which has found evidence that acupuncture can work. But there is still much skepticism. Only 18 months ago, in summer 2013, two leading medical professionals, pharmacologist David Colquhoun of London’s UCL and neurologist Steven Novella of American’s Yale university reported that their studies showed that the benefits of acupuncture are likely to be nonexistent, or at best to be too small or too transient to be of any clinical significance.

Nevertheless positive research continues to appear. Recently, the august National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) which is responsible for allowing so many of the normal drugs available today, has come round a little to acupuncture. NICE now recommends that acupuncture could be considered for a number of very specific conditions such as chronic lower back pain, chronic tension type headaches and migraine.

All in all, the jury is still out; there are some people who say that acupuncture has “saved” them and made a massive difference to their lives and wellbeing; others who say it is all no more than a sham.

If you are thinking of trying acupuncture, it is important to do a little research first. Good UK websites include:

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