Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Partnering Western Medicine and Chinese Medicine

By Joshua Herr, L.Ac.

In July 2008, the CAC had the privilege to participate in a medical continuing education seminar at MAHEC (Mountain Area Health Education Center). The seminar, “Partnering Western Medicine and CAM: An Evidence-Based Approach to Healing,” was eagerly attended by local physicians, nurses, and psychologists. David Trevino and I participated in a panel of presenters. The panel represented the CAM (Complimentary Alternative Medicine) modalities of acupuncture, meditation, Tai Chi, and Healing Touch. After the morning's lecture, break-out sessions provided participants with more in-depth information about the panelists' respective modalities.

I discussed how we should look at current acupuncture research and what type of research we should be looking for in the future. I emphasized the importance of looking at how an acupuncture study has been conducted, what points were chosen, and what the treatment environment was like. I expressed that when we come across a study that has negative findings for the effectiveness of acupuncture that we should not ask ourselves, “Does acupuncture work?” but instead, “What different points could have been chosen for the study?” or “What different clinical environment would have been more appropriate?” The research on acupuncture’s effect in treating pain in animals is enough to demonstrate that it is more than just a placebo.

David shared some compelling research studies that have been done on acupuncture and the treatment of fibromyalgia, infertility, and osteo-arthritic knee pain. The study with the largest sample size was one on the treatment of arthritic knee pain lead by Dr. Berman at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The study contained some of the models we should be looking for in current acupuncture research, comparing a control group, a true acupuncture group, and a placebo acupuncture group. Each group received standard care in addition to being put in one of the acupuncture or control groups. The outcome demonstrated that integrating acupuncture therapy is more effective then standard care alone. We hope to see more studies that compare acupuncture in addition to standard care, as well as acupuncture compared to standard care alone. This type of comparative analysis gives both healthcare consumers and providers better resources for making decisions.

A study that we hope to see in the near future is a comparative analysis of infertility treatments, including in vitro fertilization, versus one year of acupuncture and herbal medicine therapy. Of course, we would like to see the pregnancy rate compared in this study, but there is much more to look at. The cost of the two therapies should be compared, as well as the side effects and the end of treatment quality of life. We believe that it is studies conducting this type of analysis that will help move acupuncture out of the realm of “alternative” treatments and into the realm of standard care.

There is a steady movement of acupuncture into the mainstream of our health care system. We are honored to be a part of that movement by participating in educational seminars. We are also excited about the development of a CAM research study that is currently being designed at MAHEC looking at the effect of CAM treatment on post-chemotherapy fatigue. We have been invited to participate in the design of this project and to give our experienced perspective on the use of Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture for the treatment of post-chemotherapy fatigue.

We have been invited back again this year, and we are looking forward to participating in this meaningful collaboration.