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Alternative Medicine: Acupuncture Can Help Relieve Nausea, Pain

separator Some people manage to get through cancer treatment without much pain or nausea, but it’s safe to say that most cancer patients will experience some pain or nausea at some point in their treatment. Recovering from surgery can be painful, no matter what kind of surgery it is. And while there have been many advances in reducing the nausea and vomiting that comes with chemotherapy, there are still people who do experience this problem.

If you are one of these people, you may want to give acupuncture a try. Acupuncture has grown in popularity in the U.S. According to one study, an estimated 5 million people in this country make visits to an acupuncturist each year.

How does acupuncture work?
Acupuncture is an ancient Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Practitioners of TCM believe that there are places in the body called “meridians” that circulate energy. In Chinese, the word for energy is “chi” or “qi” (pronounced “chee.”) When the body’s chi is circulating in a natural balance, the theory is that physical, spiritual and emotional health can be restored.

According to TCM, there are 2,000 acupuncture points on the body that connect to the meridians. Stimulating these points with small hollow needles can cause the energy to flow in a healthier balance.

Acupuncture for nausea, pain
There have been studies showing that acupuncture can help relieve surgical pain and the nausea that’s associated with chemotherapy. For many Western practitioners to believe this, they need to see proof shown through very large, double blind studies in which there’s a large group of people getting the actual studied treatment and a large group of people who are not, and nobody knows who is getting which. There have not been a lot of these types of studies done for acupuncture, which is why it’s still considered “alternative.” The National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is currently conducting such studies, but results are not yet available.

However, here’s what the NIH does say in its Consensus Statement on Acupuncture:

“Acupuncture as a therapeutic intervention is widely practiced in the United States. While there have been many studies of its potential usefulness, many of these studies provide equivocal results of design, sample size, and other factors. …However, promising results have emerged, for example, showing efficacy of acupuncture in adult postoperative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting …”

It’s true that many Western doctors don’t believe in the effectiveness of acupuncture. Many don’t believe that meridians exist and some dismiss the notion of the need for “balanced chi.”

On the other hand, plenty of Western doctors are learning to incorporate techniques like acupuncture into their conventional Western practices. They’re using it to treat pain, nausea, arthritis, headaches, menstrual cramps, asthma and many other health issues.

If your cancer treatments are causing you a lot of pain or nausea, and if you’re open to the idea of acupuncture, you may want to give it a try. It has few if any side effects when administered by a respected practitioner, so you have very little to lose and maybe some well-being to gain.

For more information about acupuncture, and how to find a licensed practitioner near you, visit the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine’s acupuncture information page.

Annals of Internal Medicine, 2002; Mar 5; 136(5):374-83; Pediatric Drugs 2003; 5(9):597-613; Rheumatology 2003; Oct: 42(10):1149-54 Epub 2003; National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
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