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Real Science

Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine

Michael Rosenthal

(9/2017) In an earlier article of Real Science, we spoke of acupuncture and the fact that is was often found to be helpful to people, but that no generally accepted scientific explanation of its operation had been put forward. I havenít seen anything new about acupuncture since that article, so imagine my surprise when on a recent visit to a Johns Hopkins physician that I found a brochure in the office entitled Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, subtitled "Treating the whole person naturally," and stating "Blending Traditional Healing with Modern Biomedicine." It identified itself as a publication of "Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center." The following material in quotation marks is word-for-word from that brochure.

"Acupuncture is based on the concept that the body has specific channels or meridians through which Qi (pronounced "chee") flows. When Qi, or energy, flows smoothly, there is no pain or disease. If Qi is either deficient or excessive in quantity, or is not flowing smoothly, disease, pain, or illness results. The insertion of acupuncture needles in specific points on the skin redirects energy to bring about a healing response." The presentation then goes on to discuss the treatment procedure. "The practitioner may employ additional therapies such as Cupping, Guasha, Moxabustion, Qigong, and Asian Bodywork to enhance the overall healing benefits of the treatment. Our patientsí most common response to treatment is a deep feeling of relaxation and wellbeing."

Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology are identified in the brochure as two of the most commonly sought-after therapies of Chinese Medicine. Also referenced are "Asian Bodywork, Chinese Dietary Therapy, and QiGomg, a style of healing energy work."

So what is Chinese Medicine? It is identified in the brochure as follows: "Chinese Medicine comprises a host of ancient healing principles historically practiced in Asian cultures. Over 3000 years old, Chinese Medicine uses various therapeutic techniques to promote health and prevent disease, as well as to treat acute and chronic health issues and address pain syndromes. In the United States, Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology are its two most commonly sought-after therapies, but it also includes Asian Bodywork, Chinese Dietary Therapy, and QiGong, a style of healing energy work"

And what do they say about Chinese Herbology? The brochure states, "As with Acupuncture, Chinese Herbology works at the bodyís energetic level, promoting the free and healthy flow of Qi. Following the conclusion of a thorough patient history, the practitioner dispenses one of more formulas designed to address the patientís health issues. Unlike Western Herbalism, where a single herb may be dispensed, Chinese Herbalists typically dispense formulas that may include anywhere from two to 20 herbs or more." Following this is a specific discussion in the brochure of uses of the herbs.

Finally, there is a section entitled, "What Chinese Medicine Treats." Included in this section are tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, injuries, nerve pain, osteoarthritis, headaches, migraines, addictive behavior, autoimmune disorders, cognitive deficiency, dermatological conditions, digestive disorders, anorexia, bulimia, gynecological issues, infertility, menopausal symptoms, morning sickness in pregnancy, side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, symptoms of cancer, pediatric health issues, psychiatric issues, respiratory ailments, and sexual dysfunction.

If you had shown me this brochure without identifying its source, I would have said it seems like blatant pseudoscience; however, the brochure is published by the Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center, with treatment costs, physical locations, phone number, fax number, and e-mail address, at Baltimore and Lutherville locations. The high level of credibility and public respect for Johns Hopkins, which I share, leads me to believe that this alternative medical treatment may be of genuine value.

Now letís take a look at some updates on topics weíve discussed in previous articles.

Weíve examined the issue of moving toward energy production that is kinder to the environment, specifically reduction of the production of greenhouse gases. The problem is being addressed at various levels of concern elsewhere in the world, and a very interesting story has emerged in a recent New York Times story on Chile. Chile has established South Americaís first geothermal energy plant at 14,760 feet above sea level. This plant is drawing steam from the earth which powers about 165,000 homes. Chile has made a commitment to making a transition to clean energy. The transition includes fields of solar receptors and wind farms. Chile has established a constellation of solar fields in the Atacama Desert, one of the driest and sunniest places on earth. The sun is so strong there that workers in the solar fields must wear protective suits and thick layers of sunscreen. Chileís goal is move to producing 90% of its energy as clean energy by 2050. Latin America has always been a leader in producing clean energy, having an earlier reliance on water power (hydropower) at dams. Latin Americaís investment in renewable energy has increased 11-fold since 2004, nearly double the global rate, making Chile, Mexico, and Brazil among the top 10 renewable energy markets in the world. Lagging somewhat but with renewed commitment, Argentina has invited foreign companies to bid on renewable energy projects and has declared 2017 to be their "year of renewables." Mexico is striving to rely on clean energy for 35 percent of its electricity by 2024, an increase of 21% over today, and setting a goal of 50% clean energy by 2050.

The geothermal plants take advantage of volcanic areas and thus dredge steam to the surface from deep in the earth, and the cooled steam is then passed back into the earth using injection wells. This is to minimize environmental impact on the earth, a consideration that should always be taken into account.

This input of electricity has had a positive economic effect as well. Ollague is a tiny town at the Chile and Bolivian border which has undergone an economic renewal since residents now get electricity 24 hours a day. We take 24 hour electrical availability for granted, but this town, before the new project, used to lose power every night at 1 AM. Ice cream was not available there! Students left the town after eighth grade to finish school, but a high school is now in the works. Can you image such a situation in northern Frederick County? And now Ollague residents can be found to have laptops and smartphones!

Finally, letís get back to our earlier discussion of supplements. The following material is from Consumer Reports, one of my favorite reliable sources. The proliferation of supplements offering wonderful benefits continues to increase, some of them being very expensive. Though vitamin deficiency can be a genuine problem (my physician has me taking daily Vitamin D3), many of the widely advertised supplements are useless or even may be dangerous. Consider supplements that claim to support healthier hair and nails. As reported in The Washington Post, Pieter Cohen, a medical faculty member at Harvard Medical School and an expert on dietary supplements, states "Iím not aware of any robust data suggesting that any supplements can treat natural, aging-related hair loss or nail damage, or give you healthier skin." It is well to remember that dietary supplements are not well regulated and might contain substances not listed on the label. Dr. Cohen says that if you want to do the best you can to support healthy hair, skin, and nails, you should get 30% of your daily calories from protein, be cautious with hair dye and hair abuse from blow dryers and flatirons, and you should protect your nails by wearing cotton-lined gloves when washing dishes, moisturize your hands daily, and use moisturizing soap. Keep the humidity level in your home up at 30-50%, use sunscreen to protect yourself from ultraviolet radiation, and donít smoke.

Michael is former chemistry professor at Mount. St. Marys

Read other articles by Michael Rosenthal