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Nothing Like The Real Thing

People sometimes ask me about my opinion regarding the use of cold lasers versus needles for acupuncture.  The first thing I say is that if it isn’t going to involve puncturing the skin, then it shouldn’t be called acu-PUNCTURE.  But we know what is meant by laser acupuncture.  It means using lasers to stimulate acupoints.

I’ve heard a lot of good things about it from my colleagues and patients who’ve tried it.  However, personally, I don’t think it works as well as the real thing.  Why is that?  Well just like in martial arts, you can have many different styles.  Some styles emphasize speed, some emphasize power.  In my acupuncture, my style is meridian style and it also relies a lot on the “needling sensation” or de qi.

This is something that’s hard to explain unless you’ve felt it.  Also, the sensation (if any) is not as pronounced in laser acupuncture.  I prefer the real thing.

This came to mind as I was reading this article:

Laser Acupuncture fails to Ease menopausal woes (http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE61056H20100201)

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Women seeking relief of hot flashes and other bothersome symptoms of menopause might want to take a pass on laser acupuncture, based on a new study showing that it is largely ineffective in relieving menopausal symptoms.

Laser acupuncture uses a laser beam instead of the traditional acupuncture needles. The low-power laser beam is directed at the same points used in traditional acupuncture.

Here’s the first “red flag”.  The note that the points are the same as in traditional acupuncture.  Does this mean each patient is diagnosed individually and given a set of points that is tailored to their specific need at the time?  (That’s “traditional”) Or, do we mean a cookbook set of points to be used in any and all patients?

Studies on the ability of traditional acupuncture to cool hot flashes have been mixed and data regarding the effect of laser acupuncture on symptoms of menopause are lacking.

Given my first comment, I’m not surprised if the data is mixed.

To investigate, Dr. Paul A. Komesaroff, at Monash University Department of Medicine in Victoria, Australia and colleagues studied 40 otherwise healthy women 54 years old on average. The women were having about 40 to 50 daily and 20 or so nightly hot flashes a week and other symptoms of menopause, but were not using hormone replacement therapies.

Over 3 months, the women documented their menopause symptoms. During this time, 23 had laser-on and 17 had laser-off (sham) acupuncture to 10 specific body points every 14 days. Neither the women nor the laser operator knew the state of the laser during treatments.

Nice double blind, but I’m still not a fan of lasers except in Star Wars.

By the end of treatment, the women reported no adverse events and very similar symptom improvements, regardless of treatment group, the researchers report in the journal Menopause.

On average, the laser-on and laser-off groups, respectively, reported about 37 and 33 percent fewer daytime and about 30 and 39 percent fewer nighttime hot flashes.

Other menopause symptoms also declined, but detailed analyses of the women’s diaries showed no significant between-group differences in specific symptoms such as mood, energy level, bloating, or sex drive.

The investigators surmise that touching the laser probe to the skin, as occurred in both treatment arms, may explain the similar between-group responses.

Touching the probe to the skin… wouldn’t tui na or acupressure be better?

Based on the current study, Komesaroff and colleagues do not recommend laser acupuncture for relief of menopause symptoms. In this direct comparison of laser-on versus laser-off acupuncture, laser-on treatments were “ineffective in altering menopausal symptoms,” Komesaroff noted in an email to Reuters Health.

Neither would I.  Menopausal symptoms for me are a sign of yin deficiencies, and deficiencies are better treated with herbal formulas.  The logic is thus: if something is deficient, then something has to be added to make up for it.  Acupuncture can work, but not as efficiently as herbs for this.

The researchers suggest further studies of laser acupuncture in menopausal women focus on alternative acupuncture points.

SOURCE: Menopause, published online January 8, 2010

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