Recent Study Proves Acupuncture Benefits for Lung Disease

by Garreth Myers

Imagine not being able to take a short walk, do your housework or climb stairs without feeling breathless. Imagine suffering from a chronic cough throughout the year and falling ill constantly with various respiratory problems. Imagine what it would feel like if the passages in your lungs were blocked and could not carry air efficiently to other parts of your body. Well, if you were diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD, you would be experiencing all these debilitating symptoms and more. What's worse is that there is still no known cure for this progressive disease, making COPD the third leading cause of death in the US today.

Instead of a cure, COPD sufferers have to resort to a long list of medications that could range from corticosteroids to bronchodilators and expectorants to inhibitors. Until recently, there was not much more that you could do to alleviate the symptoms of this lung disease. However, thanks to a recent study conducted by Masao Suzuki of Kyoto University and Meiji University of Integrative Medicine, Kyoto, Japan, and his colleagues, there appears to be a new alternative in the treatment of pain relief and symptoms of COPD - acupuncture.

Over a three-year period, these researchers studied 68 COPD patients and the benefits of acupuncture on various symptoms of the disease. Thirty-four of these COPD patients were assigned to a group that received real acupuncture for twelve weeks. The other thirty-four patients were placed in a placebo group and received sham acupuncture treatments (where the needles did not actually pierce the skin). All patients were allowed to carry on with their recommended medication. At the beginning and end of the study, the patients were evaluated on their performance during a six-minute walk. The Borg Scale was used where patients had to rate their breathing ability from 0 - which indicated 'barely breathless' to 10 - which meant 'severely breathless.' After three months of real acupuncture, patient scores improved significantly from 5.5 to 1.9. The placebo group however recorded no change in scores before or after treatment. According to the study results, there were clinically significant improvements related to the patient's BMI, airflow obstruction, and exercise capacity as well. Though the study from Japan is small and much more research needs to be carried out before doctors and policy makers are convinced, the initial findings are encouraging. Additionally, since the side effects of acupuncture are almost negligible, it certainly looks like a viable alternative to improve the quality of life if not to cure the disease.

There are several theories about why acupuncture may help treat COPD. Acupuncture is based on the principle of oriental medicine that believes in a holistic approach towards the treatment of all health problems. The benefits of acupuncture therefore extend to the physical health of a person as well as his mental and spiritual health. It is believed that acupuncture helps clear the body's energy or qi and allows for its natural flow to helps prevent illnesses and disease. Experts believe that acupuncture improves the homeostasis or stability in the body. As a result of the acupuncture treatment, patients experience better circulation as the flow of blood and oxygen to the lungs is encouraged. What acupuncture also does is relax the muscles around the back and the chest. This helps open up the lungs and airways and reduces shortness of breath and other breathing difficulties. Previous studies on this ancient practice also indicate that benefits of acupuncture are significant among people with inflammatory problems such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, vasculitis, rhinitis, and inflammatory bowel disease. In much the same way, acupuncture could also help the inflammation of the lungs caused by COPD. Doctors believe that the benefits of acupuncture are consistent with what is being attempted by other conventional treatments for COPD such as breathing exercises and relaxation techniques and thus explains it efficacy in the treatment of COPD symptoms.


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