Pain Control and Help for Nausea in Cancer Treatment Without Needles

March 28, 2011 by  
Filed under Health, Medical Research & Studies

I have often extolled the value of acupuncture having benefited hugely from it myself for back pain and seen its value with friends for pain control during childbirth. It has also been successfully tried for treating nausea in cancer patients, however, I know that needles are not the answer for everyone, however attracted they may be to try it out.

Just for them there is great news from the Karolinska Institutet and Linköping University in Sweden that shows that ‘simulated’ needles are apparently just as effective as ‘real’ acupuncture.

Cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy often suffer debilitating nausea and a trial of 277 patients found that when the group were randomly assigned traditional or placebo (without needles) acupuncture or just the standard medications for nausea the results surprised them.

Patients in both the acupuncture groups, real or simulated, suffered significantly less nausea than patients, who received only standard medications. Anna Enblom, researcher at the Osher Centre for Integrative Medicine at Karolinska Institutet commented: “The beneficial effects seem not to come from the traditional acupuncture method, but probably from the patients’ positive expectations and the extra care that the treatment entails.”

Which is indeed one of the standard arguments used against most ‘alternative’ therapies as it is perceived only as a placebo effect. However I would argue that the interaction, concern and care act physiologically as well as emotionally on the immune system and stimulates the patient’s own healing process.

This is borne out by the statistics of the research which show that of the patients who had had some form of acupuncture, only 37 felt nausea and seven per cent vomited, compared with 63 per cent and 15 per cent of the standard care group. The patients’ expectations seemed to be important for the effect: 81 per cent of those who expected to feel ill did so, in contrast to only 50 per cent of those who did not.

Dr Emblom makes an valuable observation here that I would love to see other doctors take on board: “It’s important to remember that the effects of the treatment are valuable to the patients, even if they can be said to have been caused by unspecific factors, such as the manner in which the patients were taken care of and their positive expectations.”

One of the constant refrains I have is that your attitude affects your health, and this study seems to confirm that it also affects your treatment and how you respond to it.

Acupuncture Proven Helpful for Pain Relief and Lazy Eye in Children

January 11, 2011 by  
Filed under Childrens Health, Health

I have always been a great fan of acupuncture as it started me on my career as a health writer by treating a trapped sciatic nerve that completely immobilized me and without the 200 painkiller prescription the doctor had offered. Acupuncture has previously been found to help improve fertility, increase heart function, and assist in helping people sleep, and I know not everyone is fond of needles, but evidence also continues to mount as to its effectiveness at reducing and eliminating pain.

New findings from the University Hospital in Essen, Germany were presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA). They included functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans that clearly show a positive change in the metabolic activity of patients’ brains receiving acupuncture treatment.

This is a small scale study of only 18 volunteers and lead researcher Nina Theysohn, MD, from the Department of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology and Neuroradiology explained why it is important. “Functional MRI gives us the opportunity to directly observe areas of the brain that are activated during pain perception and see the variances that occur with acupuncture. Activation of brain areas involved in pain perception was significantly reduced or modulated under acupuncture.”

Acupuncture for pain relief has been used for centuries in China, where it originated, and is also available as an option in the Birthing Unit at my local hospital instead of epidural drugs.
The findings challenge a commonly held belief that acupuncture works primarily as a placebo and while certain brain responses to acupuncture indicate facets of a placebo response, others clearly highlight specific mechanical activities in the brain that demonstrably reduce pain symptoms.

Acupuncture and Children With Lazy Eye:
It seems that it could also potentially become an alternative to patching for treating amblyopia (lazy eye) in some older children, which can affect up to 5 percent of individuals worldwide . The report by Jianhao Zhao, M.D., of Joint Shantou International Eye Center of Shantou University and Chinese University appeared in a recent issue of Archives of Ophthalmology and said that although this problem can be corrected easily with glasses or contact lenses it only appears to be effective in children age 3 to 7 years. Over that age, and up to 12, only 30 percent respond to visual correction alone and the usual solution is to also patch over one eye and this does increase this response rate to two-thirds.

However, there are problems with patching as children do not like it, often removing the patch when out of parental supervision and those that do follow the regime can experience emotional problems through teasing or feeling different and vulnerable.

Acupuncture has previously been used to treat dry eye and myopia and so a controlled trial involving 88 children was set up where 43 were randomly assigned to the acupuncture group and received five treatments per week targeting five acupoints, or needle insertion sites. The remaining 45 children had their good eye patched for two hours a day and were instructed to do at least one hour of near-vision activities with the lazy eye, such as reading or typing.

After 15 weeks there was a 75.6 percent improvement in vision of those in the acupuncture group and lazy eye was considered resolved in 16.7 percent of patched eyes and 41.5 percent of eyes in the acupuncture group. Both treatments were well tolerated; children had no problems complying with either therapy, and no serious adverse effects were found in either group.

Acupuncture is believed to be effective because by targeting vision-related acupoints it may change the activity of the visual cortex, the part of the brain that receives data from the eyes. It may also increase blood flow to the eye and surrounding structures as well as stimulate the generation of compounds that support the growth of retinal nerves.

Whatever you want to use acupuncture for, it is essential to only use a qualified practitioner and I recommend you ask if they have treated your condition before, how often, and what the success rate is. To find a qualified acupuncturist in your area ask at your local health stores and natural health clinics for recommendations or visit

Acupuncture Helps Young Patients with Chronic Illness

February 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Childrens Health, Health


There is plenty of evidence to support acupuncture for pain relief, and I personally am a big fan of it after it cured me of pain from a trapped sciatic nerve in my hip, and now doctors at Rush University Medical Center in Illinois but little has been studied for its effects on children.

Rush Children’s Hospital offers both Chinese and Western medicine to patients and this has prompted this new study to analyze and document how acupuncture might help in reducing pain in children and increase quality of life. The children have been diagnosed with chronic illnesses and they are testing acupuncture therapy to help ease the pain and negative side effects like nausea, fatigue, and vomiting caused by such conditions and intensive treatments such as chemotherapy.

Dr. Paul Kent is an oncology expert at the hospital and it is the lack of options for pain management in children that has prompted the study. Research indicates that up to 70 percent of paediatric patients experience pain and those with chronic illnesses often do not have adequate relief or prevention of pain. This is because as many of the solutions for adults such as narcotics and other serious pain medications carry too many risks of serious side effects in children. Dr Kent has no doubt it will be useful from his own experience at the hospital, he said that many children with chronic or acute health issues turn to complementary or integrative approaches after all other conventional treatment options are exhausted and that integrative therapies like acupuncture can be helpful from the onset of disease and can have a tremendously positive influence on a child’s quality of life.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) in the United States has published a statement concluding that acupuncture is effective for treating adults for nausea following chemotherapy and for pain after dental surgery. In children, both they and their parents have stated that acupuncture treatments were both helpful and relaxing so the therapy is being offered to patients between the ages of 5-20 years of age.

Those children in the study will receive eight acupuncture treatments at no charge.

Acupuncture can help radiotherapy patients

An uncomfortable and unpleasant side effect of radiotherapy for patients being treated for head and neck cancer can be xerostomia; a severely dry mouth. A new study in Texas at the M.D.Anderson Cancer Center has proved that twice weekly acupuncture treatments can help relieve this debilitating side effect.

People who have cancers of the head and neck typically receive large cumulative doses of radiation which affect the salivary glands, so that they are then not able to produce adequate amounts of saliva to lubricate the mouth and this is when xerostomia develops. This is not a trivial matter, as symptoms can include an altered ability to taste, dental decay, infections of the tissues of the mouth, and difficulty with speaking, eating and swallowing.

Suggested aids are things like chewing gum or lozenges to encourage saliva production, but these can only bring very temporary short-term relief. The most commonly prescribed medication, pilocarpine, has short-lived benefits and side effects including sweating, stomach upset, runny nose, flushing, chills, dizziness, weakness, and frequent urination. This drug may also affect vision, especially at night.

This pilot study was set up to see if acupuncture could reverse this, and although it is frequently used to manage pain and restore health it had never been tried for this particular condition. The patients in the study had xerostomia and had completed radiotherapy at least four weeks earlier. They were given two acupuncture treatments each week for four weeks and the acupuncture points used in the treatment were located on the ears, chin, index finger, forearm and lateral surface of the leg. All patients were tested for saliva flow and asked to complete self-assessments and questionnaires related to their symptoms and quality of life before the first treatment, after completion of four weeks of acupuncture, and again four weeks later.

The twice weekly acupuncture treatments produced highly statistically significant improvements in symptoms and a quality-of-life assessment conducted at weeks five and eight showed significant improvements over quality-of-life scores recorded at the outset of the study. Further studies are underway at Fudan University Cancer Hospital in Shanghai, China, to see if having acupuncture treatments on the same day as the radiotherapy will produce the same results.

If you know anyone who is suffering from this condition, do share this article with them and suggest they seek a qualified acupuncturist if they wish to try it for themselves.

Acupuncture with no needles

January 9, 2009 by  
Filed under featured, Medical Research & Studies, Wellness

I am a great fan of acupuncture for pain relief and boosting the immune system, but I appreciate there are people who don’t like needles. Well, good news for you because scientists at Linkoping University in Sweden have shown that it works just as well without using needles.

They were studying 200 cancer patients and using acupuncture to help relieve nausea during radiotherapy, Half received standard acupuncture and half were given pressure on the same acupuncture points with a blunt placebo needle that just touched the skin, but didn’t go in.

An impressive 95 percent of the patients in both groups felt that the treatment had helped relieve their nausea, and 67 percent had experienced other positive effects such as improved sleep, brighter mood, and less pain.

Feeling the heat in cancer treatment and menopause

October 7, 2008 by  
Filed under Natural Medicine, Womens Health

Hot flushes are the bane of many menopausal women’s existence, but they also commonly occur in breast cancer patients who have treatment-related vasomotor symptoms. This is when there is an increase or decrease in the diameter of a blood vessel, which can regulate the amount of blood travelling to a particular body part.

Hot flushes or night sweats that result from the sudden opening of the blood vessels close to the skin, usually due to hormonal fluctuation, can be very uncomfortable- whatever their cause. There are a couple of natural alternatives that can be an effective alternative to drug therapy with fewer side effects.

The first is acupuncture, as was reported at the recent meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology. The women in their study had reported a minimum of 14 hot flushes a week, and half the group had twice weekly acupuncture treatments weekly for the first four weeks, followed by weekly sessions during the final eight weeks. The other half of the group were given drugs to control the flushes and received the standard daily dose usually given to manage vasomotor symptoms.

The study found that not only was acupuncture effective in reducing or eliminating the hot flushes, but it had no adverse effects. What did surprise them was that the therapeutic effects of acupuncture persisted long after the treatment. To quote them:

“Women who took the drug therapy started to have an increase in the number and intensity of hot flushes within two weeks of discontinuing the drug therapy, whereas women who had acupuncture didn’t start to have an increase in the number or severity of hot flushes for 14 or 15 weeks after discontinuing therapy.” They also observed that the acupuncture group not only reported no treatment-related side effects, but said they had improvement in energy, clarity of thought, sexual desire, and overall sense of well-being

Herbal Remidies to Tame Flushes and Night Sweats

Herbs have long been used in many cultures to help with hormonal disturbance and one of the oldest in use is sage. An Australian study in 2005 found that it reduced severe hot flushes by 60% – that’s worth trying isn’t it?

To make sage tea, take ten fresh leaves, or one and a half teaspoons of dried sage if you can’t get fresh leaves. Pour hot (not quite boiling) water over the leaves and add a spoon or two of honey to sweeten it. That way you get some B vitamins to help lift your mood as well! Let it cool slightly and drink about an hour before you go to bed.

Another popular herb for hot flushes and night sweats is black cohosh. In my experience this seems to work well for some women – but I would have to say not for all but dong quai seems more effective for the majority. A comparative study between HRT and dong quai, done in 2003, showed a huge 30% reduction in hot flushes after a month. The suggested dosage for hot flushes is 600mg a day, BUT there is however a strong contra-indication if you are taking medication such as warfarin, as dong quai is known to act as a blood thinner. Hot flushes seem to be variable from woman to woman so you may have to do a bit of experimenting to see what works, and when you are reduced to sleeping naked in a cast iron bath to cool down – and yes that is the voice of personal experience speaking – then you don’t always feel that patient! If trying individual herbs doesn’t work for you then try one of the combinations that several supplement companies make – and also watch to see if you have any triggers for your flushes. Stress can be a major one, as can certain things like coffee – might be worth keeping a food and mood diary to see if you can pin it down.

Oh really?

June 10, 2008 by  
Filed under Health, Natural Medicine

I know many doctors are sceptical of alternative medicine and its benefits, but according to one story from the States it is really only safe to try it when the patient is dead. A Chinese woman of 19 underwent cranial surgery at an American hospital, but she died two weeks later. She was declared dead, but was kept on a ventilator to allow her parents to get to the hospital and see her. On arrival, the father asked that she be given a Traditional Chinese Medicine concoction, which he said was routinely used in his society for patients in a coma.

The doctors had several conversations with the father, but couldn’t see how the herb could help a patient who was, to all intents and purposes, dead. Perplexed, they called in the hospital’s ethics committee to ask whether they could administer the substance while the patient remained on a ventilator.

After much deliberation, the committee sanctioned the use of the herb as it offered “psychological benefits to the family and the absence of risk to the patient (since she was dead).” As a life-long believer in combining the best of medical knowledge with the vast experience of treatment from the many traditional (ie alternative) systems of medicine, I can only hope this was not typical of most medical staff’s beliefs. I know doctors and nurses in the UK who allow homoeopathy, aromatherapy and even acupuncture for pain relief in childbirth in some hospitals – let’s hope that attitude spreads.

Painful Hands?

If your hands are painful, do you know for sure whether what causes it? You could have arthritis or might it actually be Carpal tunnel syndrome, one of the most common forms of Repetitive Strain Injury? About three in 100 of people in the UK suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome and it is characterised by pain, tingling or numbness in the hand.

About half of all carpal tunnel cases are work-related, and it a ccounts for the highest number of days missed at work compared to all other work-related injuries or illnesses. The condition develops when the median nerve in the wrist becomes compressed as it passes through the carpal tunnel, the narrow passageway of bones and ligaments on the underside of the wrist. The median nerve controls sensations to the palm side of the thumb and fingers (not the little finger), as well as impulses to some small muscles in the hand that allow the fingers and thumb to move. Symptoms include:

· difficulty holding objects
· difficulty performing repetitive movements without pain
· numbness, burning pain, tingling in hand or wrist that increases at night

Some professions are more vulnerable to this condition than others. Particularly at risk are musicians, particularly pianists and violinists, hairdressers, reflexologists and masseuse, manual labourers, computer operators, and even surgeons. If you already have arthritis or any rheumatic conditions then this again can increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome as can conditions such as obesity, pregnancy, hypothyroidism, and diabetes.

What can you do about it?

Well painkillers, cortisone injections, splints and surgery (usually the final option) are the conventional route to go. However, my personal experience of a small sample of people I know that have had it done is that it needs to be carefully considered before you go under the knife. It can be painful and success is certainly not guaranteed, even orthopaedic surgeons admit that although surgery can cure night symptoms and transient tingling, if the nerve has been damaged as a result of carpal tunnel syndrome it probably won’t fully recover and complications from surgery can include complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS),which will permanently affect hand function.

On the alternative front, there are several options available:

1 Acupuncture can relieve the pain as it releases natural pain-relieving chemicals into the body, promotes circulation and balances the nervous system. If you can’t abide needles, then Acupressure will do the same job but usually takes a little longer to be effective in my experience.

2 Vitamin B6 deficiency has been associated with carpal tunnel syndrome in several research studies. If your diet is low in food sources such as sweet potatoes, avocados, brown rice, sunflower seeds, chick peas, salmon, pork, chicken, turkey, potatoes, bananas, and mangoes then supplementing with 50 mg 2 to 3 times a day is the suggested dose. At particular risk of B6 deficiency, in addition to poor diet, are those using oral contraceptives or HRT. The maximum intake of B6 from all sources should be less than 200 mg a day, unless otherwise recommended by your doctor or nutritionist.

3 Vitamin B12 – a study looked at the effectiveness of vitamin B12 for people with carpal tunnel syndrome due to overuse of the nonparalyzed arm after a stroke. For two years, 67 people in the study received 1500 mcg of vitamin B12 a day, and the remaining 68 did not. After two years, there was significant improvement in the group taking vitamin B12 compared to the untreated group. B12 is normally found in organ meats, and vegetarians may find they need supplemental amounts via injection which is often available on the NHS.

4 Enzyme supplements such as bromelain, found naturally in the juice and stems of pineapples, which are believed to help with the digestion of protein and may help to reduce tissue swelling associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. It can take several weeks to notice results.

5 One of my favourite homoeopathic remedies is Arnica, and in a double blind random study by the Department of Plastic Surgery of Queen Victoria Hospital in West Sussex, they found that arnica can speed up the recovery of hand surgery compared to a placebo. They used a combination of tablets and arnica ointment and saw a significant reduction in pain after two weeks.