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Scientific basis for common holistic treatments (Proceedings)

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Aug 01, 2008

There are a number of references for various modalities accessible through PubMed as well as summarized in various texts. The texts in the references at the end of this article are excellent sources for those who want more detail, including hundreds of individual references. There are also companies with good online references, also included with the references. This paper will discuss the validity and availability of research.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture has an increasingly broad base of favorable research. Before the United States, research in Sweden and France had highlighted much of its promise, but essentially none of it was translated into English. Much of the existing Chinese research has also not been translated, and the research published during the 1960's and 1970's is suspect, because of the political situation at that time. More current research from China is increasingly translated into English, and follows accepted standards of practice.

In the United States, some early research is based on faulty premises. For example, if an acupuncturist is needling a point, it is difficult to truly have sham acupuncture. With experience, it is possible to detect acupuncture points without seeing an entire body, and, if told to place a needle within an area, one might tend to place a needle in an acupoint, slightly away from the intended spot. Experienced acupuncturists often have results that are superior to beginners, even when needling the same points. True acupuncture consists of patterns, not single points. Research based on sham acupuncture is not reliable, in my opinion.

Other research methods don't always match actual use. For example, research on one point that is used for cardiovascular collapse (GV26) involved anesthetizing sheep with halothane and then stimulating the point. They saw no arousal. In real life, the point would be used when a sheep stopped breathing or its heart stopped beating, and anesthesia would have been stopped when the point was stimulated. All of us who have been using acupuncture for a long enough period have a story about restarting the heart again using this point.

However, there is an increasing body of research that illustrates the ability of acupuncture to influence the release of endorphins, enkephlins, serotonin, and reproductive hormones. It can influence heart rate, blood pressure, and peristalsis. Red and white cell count, IgA, phagocytic activity of neutrophils,

and Natural Killer Cell activity can be increased with acupuncture. (See Schoen's Veterinary Acupuncture for specific citations.)

Some research has shown that healing may be quicker with acupuncture. In addition, Robert Becker, MD, as detailed in his book The Body Electric, found that electrical currents measured in microvolts and nano-amps can speed or delay healing, depending on the direction of flow.

Herbs

Many are the basis for Western drugs. Pharmaceutical companies devote much of their time screening compounds isolated from plants for various activities. They do not always get the same results as herbalists—often because the ultimate action is from a combination of factors, not one single chemical. Nevertheless, a number of useful drugs deroved from plants are in common use, such as aspirin, from Salicis cortex (willow bark), digoxin from Digitalis purpurea (foxglove), Taxol from Taxus brevifolia (Pacific yew), Vincristine from Catharanthus rosea (periwinkle plant) and Synephrine from Citrus aurantium (bitter orange).

Medline or PubMed can be used to research herbs. You must know what you are looking for, which may be a derivative or an extract. For example, a search for "silymarin" will generally give you more results that searching for milk thistle (for liver problems). "Sanguinarine" will bring up results in the use of bloodroot for cancer.

The Germans have been researching herbs for decades. In Germany, their use is regulated by the government, and before an herb can be used, it must pass muster with their governmental Commission E. The Commission determines what is supported by research, what can and cannot be used, and publishes a monograph on each herb. Fortunately for us, the complete monographs have been translated into English. Unfortunately, the translated book is expensive. Phytopharmica is a company that bases their products on the German Commission E requirements.