Posts Tagged ‘single blind’

Research Headache

February 22nd, 2012 4 comments

Greetings all! I know it’s been a while since I’ve blogged, so here we go – merry christmas, happy hanukah, happy new year, happy chinese new year happy valentine’s day yada yada been there done that.

What I wish to write about to day is a sharing of a personal experience with some research I’m involved with in the Philippine General Hospital, teaching hospital of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine.

Yes, skeptics, there IS research being done in reputable state universities.  Then again the skeptics have already ignored the research done at the University of Vermont and the University of  Munich (click the links!) so why won’t they ignore this one?

Anyway, the research is supposed to be a cross-sectional study comparing the preventive effects of acupuncture versus propranolol in the treatment of migraine.  What I would like to comment on is the initial procedure that the residents wanted to do.

Initially, the idea of the other researchers was to pick a set of points and use that same set of points on EVERY PATIENT.  Following the principles of traditional chinese medicine, I said that that shouldn’t be the case.  I understand that their objective was to standardize the treatment.  I pointed out that chinese medicine emphasizes the root cause of the headache/migraine and address those causes.  The points to be used depend on those factors, as well as the location and nature of the pain.

wei shengchu 60 displays acupuncture needles in hi 2172839354 300x200 Research Headache

This is NOT how to treat headache using acupuncture.

In the end, what the protocol we submitted (which was subsequently approved by the appropriate committees) was that we would come up with a POOL of points to choose from.  Other factors would be there would only be ONE acupuncturist to diagnose, select from the pool and insert/manipulate the needles.  That will try to eliminate skill variation in practitioners.

When that study gets published, you guys will be the first to know about it!


P.S. – Gotta love this study

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The Smear Campaign Continues: Acupuncture “does not relieve” Childbirth Pain

April 28th, 2010 2 comments

Firstly, I’d like to apologize for not posting for two weeks. I’ve been travelling a lot through Hong Kong and China. I will blog more on some observations I’ve made while in Hong Kong as soon as I get some of my photographs uploaded to my laptop.

Speaking of Hong Kong, I am beginning to wonder if there is some grand plot to discredit acupuncture in Hong Kong. First comes the “letter to the editor” concerning acupuncture spreading disease ( and now this.

“Acupuncture does not relieve childbirth pain” (

I am the first person in the world to admit where acupuncture is one big FAIL (such as in colour blindness). But I would like to call the attention of the reader to the weasel wording evident in this smear campaign of a headline.

Look at the title. “Acupuncture does not relieve childbirth pain.” What does this imply to the reader? It implies that acupuncture has no effect at all on the pain felt by mummy.

Yet the sub-title below the headline betrays a hint of the truth:

“Research suggests results from complementary therapy during labour may be placebo effect”

Now, we have no idea, based on this sub-headline if this is a single study or a meta-analysis.  As we have said before, a meta-analysis is a fancy way of saying, “let’s put different studies together just to get the numbers up.  We can always find a way to put the studies together that the sum total numbers can be made to say whatever we want.”

Secondly, it “suggests” (whatever that means) that the results may be placebo effect.  Wait.  Results?  RESULTS?  I thought that acupuncture “does not relieve” childbirth pain?  So if it is useless, why are there “results”?  That means there WAS relief of pain.

So why come up with a headline saying otherwise?  Because the results “may” be placebo effect.

pregnacy The Smear Campaign Continues: Acupuncture does not relieve Childbirth Pain

Actually, I wouldn't use those points in pregnancy... but what the heck. Then again, he just might be some really fat guy...

The finding, which has already prompted a vigorous debate about the value of acupuncture, came from British and Korean researchers who examined previous studies of its use in labour.

“The results show that there is little convincing evidence that women who had acupuncture experienced less labour pain than those who received no pain relief, a conventional analgesia, a placebo or sham acupuncture,” researchers told BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. The journal is owned by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which represents most of the UK’s doctors specialising in childbirth and maternity care.

The finding, which has already prompted a vigorous debate about the value of acupuncture, came from British and Korean researchers who examined previous studies of its use in labour.
“The results show that there is little convincing evidence that women who had acupuncture experienced less labour pain than those who received no pain relief, a conventional analgesia, a placebo or sham acupuncture,” researchers told BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. The journal is owned by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which represents most of the UK’s doctors specialising in childbirth and maternity care.

So it IS a meta-analysis.  Strike one.  I wonder what points were used? Hmmm…

Prof Edzard Ernst, of the Peninsula medical school at Exeter and Plymouth Universities and co-author of the report, said: “The effects of acupuncture perceived by women are largely due to placebo. Acupuncture has many qualities that maximise placebo effects: it involves touch and is invasive and, psychologically, is attached to the mysticism of the east.”

Ernst is a known skeptic of acupuncture and makes a living (i.e. buy his book!) by bashing it.  Then again, I make my living healing patients with it, so I guess we cancel each other out.  Still, he admits that acupuncture DOES have an effect, it’s just that he either cannot or will not recognize the evidence that acupuncture DONE PROPERLY is more than placebo. (

I would like to point out that even in western medicine, there exist drugs for which the mechanism of action is unknown.  Lithium is used for bipolar disorder and it is not known how it works.  Yet it is given, despite toxicity, because it has been observed to work.  I leave it to the reader to witness where the double standard lies.

Also, I find it disturbing that people will look down (albeit unintentionally) on patients’ experience just to pooh-pooh acupuncture.

Prof Philip Steer, BJOG’s editor-in-chief, said labour pain can be so intense that a women would do anything to minimise it.

Please, by that logic we can get a shaman in pyjamas to conduct ritual chants and that would work.  Yet it doesn’t, and acupuncture does.

“Acupuncture is a drug-free approach and that may explain why some women prefer its use during labour. This review shows that in a very small number of cases acupuncture may be of help, usually for short periods of time after treatment, and this may be down to psychological rather than a physiological effect. Generally the consensus is that the evidence does not support its use.”

The only benefits were 11% less pain in the first 30 minutes after receiving acupuncture and a need for less pharmacological pain relief, the authors say.

Wait wait wait.   The “only” benefits? So “they” begrudgingly admit that there are benefits!  Back to my first question: why the irresponsible headline, then?  The last part of the sentence betrays the answer:

“…a need for less pharmacological pain relief” – in english: LESS DRUGS.

Less drugs, less profit for big pharma.

I will skip to the last part:

Mike O’Farrell, chief executive of the British Acupuncture Council, said: “We’re surprised by these findings as previous trials, along with the evidence that our members see in their practices every day, suggest that acupuncture can be effective in providing pain relief in many different circumstances.”

Again, as I have said before, people not biased by big pharma can see where acupuncture works and it doesn’t.  I am happy to report, both first hand and through correspondence with other OB-Gynecologists even in the US, that acupuncture can work in reducing childbirth pain IF DONE PROPERLY.

My final thoughts: this article should have been entitled “Acupuncture apparently no better than placebo” instead of “Acupuncture doesn’t work”.  News bias, bah humbug.

Campbell, Denis.  ”Acupuncture does not relieve childbirth pain” The Guardian.  28 April 2010.  <> Accessed 28 April 2010
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How to Research Acupuncture?

March 30th, 2010 4 comments

A problem with acupuncture is not so much the lack of research – there are kaboodles of it – but the way these researches are conducted.  A recent online conversation I had with a fellow Xavier high school alumnus made this obvious to me.  Here is a quote from an email I wrote which I think summarizes my thoughts on this.

research 300x156 How to Research Acupuncture?

Is there a "proper" way to do acupuncture research?

Anyway here is the text:

(A) major misunderstanding (is) that the idea that acupuncture is like a pill – that can be single blinded (meaning that recipient doesn’t know that they’re getting the real thing or not) or double blinded (pill giver doesn’t know either.)  Obviously, using fake needles or sham treatments would necessitate that the “treatment” giver NOt be blinded.

However, the first difficulty comes in designing an adequate “sham”

First objection: sometimes inserting needles anywhere seem to stimulate an effect as well.

Second objection: even just pretending to insert needles seems to have an effect.  this is the “placebo” being indicated here.

The conclusion skeptics derive from these observations is thus: since inserting a needle into specific “points” doesn’t seem to be much different than inserting anywhere or simulating points without insertion, acupuncture is thus “useless”.

A closer examination of how acupuncture works biophysically (and yes, I do explain this to patients who ask) reveals that it works by simulation of the immune and nervous system.  Chris Kresser’s blog elaborates on this quite well.  Now is this the only way to stimulate the nervous and immune system? No.  Acupuncture evolved from touch/massage.  The question thus begged is, why not just touch?  My answer is that inserting needles saves time and effort.  Imagine if I had to stimulate ten points on a patient with my fingers?  By inserting needles to achieve the same stimulation, I can then leave the patient and attend to another one.

doctoroctopus 300x195 How to Research Acupuncture?

I'll bet Doctor Octopus would make a great masseuse...

So what is my proposal for an appropriate acupuncture “sham” procedure: it must involve NOT triggering the a-delta fibers.  A-delta fibers are the key to the “qi-sensation” or heavy feeling accompanying acupuncture (as opposed to sharp).  Research has shown that acupuncture analgesia is obliterated by blocking the transmission of a-delta fibers.  The best way to do that that i know of is through naloxone.  Hypothetically, a control group would have no treatment, another with conventional treatment, and two experimental groups – both with real acupuncture given by the SAME practitioner (more on this later) but with one blocked by naloxone.  The latter is the “sham”.  ”fake” needles that touch the skin also won’t work because the mere touching of the skin sets off similar reactions in the patient’s central nervous system, albeit to a lesser intensity as with acupuncture.

Now for the importance of the practitioner.  I once gave a lecture in a geriatrics convention and a participant commented to me that he used to practice acupuncture but his practice died out.  He then asked me “what are the points to use for migraine?”  I then said to myself, “kaya pala. (so that’s why…)” What does this incident tell us? Let me illustrate – it also explains to me why it is difficult to formulate studies for acupuncture.

acupucture chinese medicine cartoon 229x300 How to Research Acupuncture?

It's not the size that counts. It's how you use it!

Acupuncture is not just inserting a needle and plugging it into a machine.  Acupuncture involves selecting points (although Chris Kresser disagrees with me there) , choosing how thick the needles are, determining how deep the insertion will be, and trying to control the sensations the patient feels through manipulation of the handle.  About manipulations, there are many which I shan’t specify now.  Suffice it to say that I have personally discovered that errors in any of the above will lead to treatment failure.  It is like surgery, the procedure itself is standard, but a lot also depends on how well the surgeon handles things.  i would normally not be so heretical as to compare something like acupuncture skills to the taxing physical and mental requirements required of a surgeon, but I hope the reader grasps my point (pun intended.)

Another problem is something I have been trying to get to with my earlier comments on different culture and world view.  Chinese medicine diagnoses things in a method somewhat different from western medicine.  I’m not just talking about differences in terminology.  I did touch on this with the example of dyspepsia.  I will try to elaborate more using headache, which is the disease condition that got me into acupuncture in the first place.

Point selection and manipulation in acupuncture depend on too many variables.  Ten people can have headaches.  One will have it in the front, another at the temples, another at the nape.  One will have headache associated with chronic sinusitis, another will have it due to migraines, yet another because he is a computer encoder always looking at CRT screens, another will have it after a flaring temper, yet another associated with menses.  Acupuncture treatment then, will seldom be the same for any two of these patients.

Hence, what would be my suggestion for a proper study?  In addition to the conditions above, we can also add something to make the patients even more homogenous (can never be totally homogenous though) – same race, same diet, same emotional pattern, same job, same associated factors for the headache.  Difficult yes, but necessary because of the nature of proper acupuncture point selection.

Clinical experience has shown that “cookbook” acupuncture, which means taking a western symptom “headache”, or “dysmenorrhea” CAN be effective, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it wouldn’t be AS effective.

What do you guys think?

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News Bias A Pain in the Neck

November 15th, 2009 No comments

Once again, another study showing that “real” acupuncture is significantly better than “sham” acupuncture.  A single blind, randomized, sham-controlled trial was compared to use of standardized neck exercises aimed at chronic neck pain relief.  Shame on the Associated Press, really.

neckpain 200x300 News Bias A Pain in the Neck

Certain Media Outlets' Ignorance of the Evidence is a Pain in the Neck

It seems that the Associated Press has gotten down to publishing, not one, but a series of articles proudly proclaiming that “experts” say that the benefits of alternative medicine are due to placebo.  A previous blog entry, “Associated Press Needs New Glasses” 11, Nov 2009, notes that these Associated Press-Big Pharma press releases proclaim that experts say that any beneficial effects of alternative medicine are due to placebo and that most studies that “prove” acupuncture effectivity aren’t worth reading because of lack of comparison of “real” acupuncture to “sham” acupuncture.

Before we cite another article that demolishes the “sham” sham, let’s examine some points (no pun intended) yet again.

Firstly, since it is obvious that alternative treatments do provide relief to patients, the powers-that-be can no longer use the “they don’t work” card.  They grudgingly acknowledge that they do make patients feel better but attribute it to being no better than placebo – or that the patient feels better because they THINK they’ll feel better.  The sheer irony here is that by that logic, we can also claim that western medicine works through placebo also.  Yet, for some reason, people are turning to alternative medicine precisely because western medicine doesn’t seem to work for them and their particular condition.  As my friend Noah Mckenna once told me, “just tell the naysayers that (our) placebo works better than (their) placebo”.

Secondly, since studies are indeed popping up proving that Chinese medicine (my thing) does have biomedical reasons for working, and has been shown to work, the next argument that “they” bring up is to critique the studies.  Among the most common whines are “the studies aren’t blinded”, or my favorite “acupuncture wasn’t compared to sham”.  My replies can be summarized in various previous blog entries.  (This Time, Chinese Herbal Medicine May Have Cure for Diabetes, October 15, 2009).  Sure, everyone has seen that back pain study that said sham acupuncture is the same as real acupuncture, but they have forgotten to note that sticking needles anywhere hypothetically can work because according to meridian theory, every square inch of the body is traversed by meridians and collaterals.  The point of using acupoints is that they are more specific in effect than common locus dolendi points.

But the point of this particular blog article was my finding of yet another article comparing acupuncture treatment (albeit with electrostimulation) vs sham.  Here’s the abstract:

Objectives: Chronic neck pain is a common problem and is treated using a variety of conservative treatments. This single-blind, randomized, sham-controlled trial investigated the value of adding electrical stimulation of acupuncture points on the wrist to a standardized program of neck exercises for chronic neck pain.

Methods: At initial recruitment 60 patients were randomly assigned to receive either active or sham electrical stimulation of acupuncture points on the wrist in addition to standardized neck exercise. Active or sham wrist acustimulation was given for 30 minutes 2 times/wk over a period of 4 weeks. A 30 minutes program of standardized neck exercises was also performed simultaneously.

Results: Forty-nine patients completed the study (22 active, 27 sham). Statistically significant improvements were found for acustimulation when compared with sham at immediate posttreatment and 1-month posttreatment for Numerical Rating Scale, Northwick Park Neck Pain Questionnaire and Pain Self-Efficacy Questionnaire. In active and sham electrical stimulation group 38.9% and 8.3% of patients reported a reduction of Numerical Rating Scale >50% at 1-month posttreatment follow-up, respectively. All patients tolerated acustimulation and no adverse effects were reported.

So there is a statistically significant difference in pain reduction measured by a standardized rating scale.  I will save you the rant to follow by summarizing it again: real vs sham? real wins.

Source: Chan, et al.  “Electrical Stimulation of the Wrist for Chronic Neck Pain: A Randomized, Sham-controlled Trial Using a Wrist-Ankle Acustimulation Device” The Clinical Journal of Pain: May 2009 – Volume 25 – Issue 4 – pp 320-326.  Accessed 15 Nov 2009 <>

Discussion: Electrical acustimulation of the wrist administered as two, 30 minutes sessions /wk added value to standardized neck exercise for chronic neck pain. A 4-week course of treatment produced effects lasting 1-month posttreatment.

pixel News Bias A Pain in the Neck
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