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Essay/Term paper: Acupuncture as an alternative medicine in the western culture

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Medicine

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Debora Cytrynowicz

Acupuncture as an Alternative Medicine
( in the Western Culture)

Alternative medicine is a very general term whose definition can be very controversial. Basically, it is many holistic techniques for preventing and treating illnesses. Acupuncture, and many other therapies, have long been a part of Asian cultures and have recently been integrated into the Western culture. Since Acupuncture is such an important tradition in China, it has gained much respect from other cultures.
Acupuncture is a strong component in China, and can be traced to their health care system for at least 2,500 years.
The procedure involves inserting hair-thin steel surgical needles into specific points in the body which are supposed to make you feel better, and be healthier. This is only the technical aspect though. To understand the "art" of this procedure, you must have a background on Chinese medicine. How it works is this: health is achieved though the balance of the opposing forces between "yin" (spirit), and "yang" (blood). The attraction between them creates an energy called "Qi" ( pronounced chee). This energy flows to all parts of the body through channels which are known as "meridians" (pathways that run along the surface of the body and branch into the body"s interior). An imbalance in these forces is what is believed to cause illness and disease. When needles are placed on the acupuncture points along the meridians, balance, and hence, health is restored. There are several styles of acupuncture, the differences being how the acupuncture points are stimulated (be it by hand pressure, electrical impulse, ultrasound, or wavelengths of light).
Acupuncture was introduced to American doctors by Sir William Osler, who is often called the father of modern medicine. In a classic medical textbook written more than a century ago, he said, "For lumbago, acupuncture is, in acute cases, the most efficient treatment." The first time acupuncture really got notice wasn"t until 1972. James Reston, a New York Times correspondent, was assigned to cover President Nixon"s now historic trip to China. During his stay, Reston had to have an emergency appendectomy, and was treated with acupuncture for the postoperative pain he had to endure. The report of his experience with acupuncture caught the interest of many American doctors who wanted to see how the Chinese used acupuncture as an anesthetic. Many non-physicians went to train overseas or with acupuncturists who had been silently practicing in the States, in many Asian communities. These people then fought to gain laws that would allow acupuncture to be practiced legally.
Still, the Western medical establishment is not totally convinced that any alternative medicines really work, therefore techniques such as acupuncture are not popular nor widely taught in medical school. They are also not generally available in hospitals. Alternative practicioners, in order to compromise and be more flexible on the issue of alternative medicine, use the term "complementary medicine." This shows a partnership between Western and Eastern-based options.
The World Health Organization (WHO), lists a variety of different medical conditions that can benefit from the use of acupuncture. This list includes prevention and treatment of nausea and vomiting ( also due to chemotherapy and pregnancy) ; treatment of pain; addictions to alcohol, tabacco, and other substances; treatment of pulmonary problems such as asthma and bronchitis; and rehabilitation from neurological damage, such as by a stroke. Other conditions commonly treated by acupuncture are: allergies; anxiety; depression; myofascial and low back/neck/shoulder/knee pain; musculoskeletal conditions (such as fibromyalgia); arthritis; osteoarthritis; bladder/kidney problems; postoperative pain and nausea; cough; gynecological disorders; headache; migraine; fatigue; high blood pressure; sexual dysfunction; stress; tension; and vision problems.

Just like in other treatments, there will always be some people that are poor responders to specific acupuncture protocols. The amount of people that are poor responders is very low, as suggested by animal and human laboratory and clinical experiences which show that the majority of the subjects tested respond to acupuncture.
There are many advantages to acupuncture. One is that it can supposedly treat so many illnesses. Another was the point mentioned above, that most people respond well to this treatment. The main advantage, though, is that it has substantially less side effects than that of many drugs or other accepted medical procedures used for the same conditions. Adverse side effects are much lower in acupuncture than those caused by drugs or other legal, accepted medical procedures used for the same conditions. An example would be that of the tennis elbow. The treatment of acupuncture for this condition could be very beneficial. But this condition is often treated with, among other things, anti-inflammatory medications (such as aspirin or ibuprofen) or with steroid injections. Both of those treatments have a potential for deleterious side effects, but still their use is widespread and are considered to be acceptable methods of treatment.
As with any medical procedure, though, we must take into account the fact that acupuncture is not risk-free, but complications caused by acupuncture are very uncommon. A major concern (though quite rare) is infection. One must check to make sure that they are being treated with disposable surgical steel needles because, according to a study that was done, about 35% of practitioners use improperly sterilized needles. Some other reported problems are isolated lung and bladder punctures, broken needles, and allergic reactions to needles that are not made of surgical steel. Acupuncture may also stimulate the production of hormones in pregnant women which help induce labor early, and can be harmful to the fetus in early pregnancy. However, these cases are very few, almost rare. In the hands of a good, professional acupuncturist, the risk of such complications is extremely low.
Because these complications are almost non-existant, acupuncture has begun to be accepted as a real medical treatment. In 1996, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) removed acupuncture needles from the category of "experimental" medical devices. Now the surgical steel needles used for acupuncture are regulated just as other devices are, such as surgical scalpels and hypodermic syringes. They are under good manufacturing practices and single-use standards of sterility.
In November of 1997, the NIH (National Institutes of Health) Office of Alternative Medicine and the NIH Office of Medical Applications of Research was convened to address important issues regarding the ancient Chinese therapy of acupuncture. They organized a conference to evaluate the scientific and medical data and research on the uses, risks, and benefits of acupuncture procedures for a variety of conditions. Cosponsors of this conference were t he National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the National Cancer Institute, the National of Arthritis and Mosculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, the National Institute of Dental Research, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Office of Research on Women"s Health of the NIH. The fact that the panel was convened by the central pillar of the U.S. research establishment shows how much respectability acupuncture has really gained among Western scientists and doctors. What the panel concluded definitely takes acupuncture off the "quackery" list. The NIH panel"s consensus statement concluded that acupuncture:
" Clearly works to treat a number of conditions, including nausea from chemotherapy, surgery and pregnancy, and pain after surgery (including dental surgery).
May also be an effective adjunct therapy for a number of other conditions, including stroke rehabilitation, relieving addictions, headaches, menstrual cramps, a variety of muscle pains, carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, low back pain, osteoarthritis, and asthma.

Has substantially lower incidence of adverse side effects than that of many drugs or other accepted medical procedures used for the same conditions.
Should be integrated into standard medical practice and be covered by Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance companies."
Now, the practice of acupuncture has grown in the United States. There are now more than 50 schools of acupuncture across the U.S., 21 of which are accredited by the U.S. Department of Education. Also, over 40 states have laws and regulations governing the practice of acupuncture. The medical branch of the United Nations, the WHO ( World Health Organization), issued a provisional list of 41 diseases responsive to acupuncture treatment.
In the United States, acupuncture is performed by thousands of physicians, dentists and acupuncturists. This number is still growing. It has been reported that more than a million Americans currently receive acupunture each year, and according to the 1993 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) report, between nine and 12 million visits to acupuncturists are made every year- a number that has no doubt risen since then.
In the last decade, research has emanated from the very bastions of conventional medicine, including the National Institutes of Health, Oxford University and Boston University School of Medicine, giving some Western insight into how acupuncture works. The studies made suggest that acupuncture dramatically controls pain because the stimulation of the specific acupuncture points affects the nervous system, activating the release of endorphins and enkephalins (natural pain-killing chemical substances similar to morphine). Other research suggests that acupuncture may also encourage the release of certain brain hormones, including serotonin, which transmits nerve impulses. Acupuncture may also be found to cause the pituitary gland to discharge pain-blockers and to initiate a process that releases anti-inflammatory agents into the bloodstream.
For many acupuncturists though, this explanation isn"t sufficient since activating the release of endorphins would require a certain amount of needle stimulation. This though, does not happen in all styles of acupuncture, and all of the styles of acupuncture have been proven to be effective. The problem, they declare, is that you cannot understand acupuncture from a Western perspective. The Western point of view tries to segregate parts of the whole "art" of acupuncture without considering abounding factors that may affect the individual. These factors are the individual"s environment, nutrition, emotional and psychological status, and medical history.
Therefore, although acupuncture will probably be forever integrated into the Western medical practices, we can never know how this treatment works and why. What we do know, though, is that it does work. 


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