a special program of the National Emergency Medicine Association (NEMA)

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Week: 601.6 Pt. A 

Guests: David Ramsay, President, University of Maryland, Dr. Marjorie Bowman, University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Victor Herbert, Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, Carolyn Pole, Acupuncturist

Topic: NIH review of Acupuncture efficacy 

Reporter: Aaron Cohen 

Host/Producer: Steve Girard 

NEMA: An expert panel convened by the National Institutes of Health concluded that acupuncture is an effective treatment for a variety of ailments and suggested that additional studies be conducted to determine other uses for the ancient Chinese therapy. Aaron Cohen has Health on the Hill... 

COHEN: Acupuncturists in China have been using ultra fine needles to balance the body's natural energy forces for over 2000 years. But the ancient form of medicine gained prominence in t he West only after a New York Times writer reported on his treatments following emergency surgery in Beijing in 1971. While skeptics abound, millions of patients with every conceivable ailment see 10 thousand licensed acupuncturists in the United States every year. That's okay with University of Maryland President David Ramsay, who chaired the NIH consensus development panel... 

RAMSAY: We actually decide that there were a number of situations where it really does work. Matters of nausea or sickness that follows being given an anesthetic, surgery, following chemotherapy...the vomiting nausea that one encounters in pregnancy...and there's a very clear cut one too... and that is post operative dental pain. And so, we've come to the very kind of clear cut decision that treatment under these circumstances really did work. 

COHEN: Acupuncture is still something of a mystery. Scientists can't verify energy fields, called the Ki (or chi) really exist in the human body...but they are willing to take a leap of faith to say that acupuncture may also work wonders for complaints like tennis elbow, menstrual cramps, lower back pain...even carpal tunnel syndrome and asthma. But acupuncture has its limits. According to University of Pennsylvania Dr. Marjorie Bowman, it won't help you quit smoking... 

BOWMAN: We did not find that acupuncture was a panacea. But we did find evidence that it worked for some areas, and there is enough background evidence from the laboratory that suggest there will be additional areas for which acupuncture will work. 

COHEN: Even among the converts on the NIH panel, there are skeptics. Several said acupuncture's powerful placebo effect is undeniable, and insisted that more research be done. Outside the meeting room, critics ridiculed acupuncture's perceived healing powers. 

HERBERT: So have doctors in Africa been working with their Witch doctoring for thousands of years, and so do their patients claim it works. It doesn't mean anything - suggestion is very powerful. 

COHEN: Mt. Sinai School of Medicine's Dr. Victor Herbert... 

HERBERT: I believe that acupuncture is a form of suggestion. When it's represented as being something else ...the representation that there are medians, that there are energy channels... that representation that you put a needle in a precise location to interrupt an energy channel, and thereby heal liver disease....that's "Quackupuncture". 

COHEN: Despite the criticism that acupuncture is no more effective than hypnosis, practitioners gave the NIH panel a standing ovation when they released their report. Acupuncturist Carolyn Pole of Escondido, California feels like her profession has been vindicated... 

POLE: I think it's a landmark moment. I think it will help legitimize it...I think it's very important that we don't jump to the conclusion that acupuncture can't work for anything that they didn't talk about. The truth is that we found out we need to do a lot more research and design the research in a way that can both hold up to their most rigorous scientific scrutiny and actually be studying oriental medicine - acupuncture - so that we don't lose the ground floor of a high rise. 

COHEN: The NIH report is sure to heighten interest in the practice of alternative medicine, and may prompt insurance coverage by Medicare and Medicaid. The Food and Drug Administration estimates that already, Americans spend 500 million dollars a year on acupuncture treatments...and because the little pin pricks have virtually no side effects and wide empirical evidence to suggest that it works, ancient Chinese medicine may have infiltrated American medicine for good. For Health on the Hill, I'm Aaron Cohen.