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Traditional Chinese Medicine: Science or Superstition?

Acupuncture Earns Respect

Acupuncture, a fundamental therapy within TCM, first sparked interest in the United States after James Reston, a reporter traveling with President Richard Nixon in China, wrote an article describing his positive experience using acupuncture needles for pain management following an appendectomy.

Enthusiasm and interest grew as more reports were circulated of the analgesic effects of acupuncture. Acupuncturists are now licensed in 29 states and there are several institutions across the country training professionals in the pharmacopeia and modalities of Chinese medicine.

In a groundbreaking 1997 study financed by the National Institutes of Health, acupuncture was credited as an effective treatment for many ailments, including chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting, nausea from pregnancy, and dental pain. The NIH also added that acupuncture is "an acceptable alternative" to conventional treatments for stroke rehabilitation, headache, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and asthma.

Research into acupuncture and other elements of TCM are continuing, particularly in the area of addictions. In the early 1970s, Dr. H.L Wen, a Hong Kong neurologist, discovered that opium addicts undergoing standard analgesic acupuncture were cured of their addiction.

Since then, acupuncturists have developed a standard protocol to treat addiction by inserting needles into five points on the ear. Addicts say acupuncture helps them to feel calmer and more focused. And, they say, it even eliminates "drug dreams" that often haunt a recovering addict.

Smokers say that after only one or two treatments, the taste of the smoke itself actually changes. A 1997 Canadian study reported similar successes, and researchers at Yale University are currently studying the effectiveness of acupuncture to treat more than 500 cocaine addicts, turning what was considered superstitious folk medicine, into a bona fide medical therapy.