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East Meets West

Scientific research on Eastern Medicine

Listed below is a small number of the many research articles about Asian medicine that are now available in various medical journals, PubMed, Google Scholar, and other online sources.  This collection of reference links will be curated over time as new and interesting topics and research results are published.

There seems to be a misconception that little research-based evidence for Asian medicine exists simply because there has historically been a limited number of publications available in English.  Decades of research on acupuncture, herbal medicine, herb-drug interactions, and other medical practices and procedures are available in China, Korea, and Japan.  They were published in hardcopy print, and mainly in Asian languages, rendering them inaccessible to those who were not able to physically visit the extensive medical libraries to access the documents, and to those unable to read the published language.  The current standard is to publish research electronically in English, which provides much wider access to the information.  Additionally, as acupuncture and other Asian medical modalities become more prevalent in Western countries, Western-style research on these topics is increasing.

Interestingly, there seems to be a cultural difference on what is accepted as valid “evidence”.  Western science strongly advocates for the use of the scientific method whereas Asian thought, historically, seemed to accept pragmatic, observation and experience collected over time.  Nowadays, with the wide proliferation of Western ideology, the Western scientific perspective and standards have been more widely adopted for research in many non-Western cultures.  


Acupuncture is not a placebo for treatment of chronic pain / NIHR Signal (June 2017)

This National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) funded systematic review shows that acupuncture is not just a placebo, and is better than usual care and sham acupuncture for pain from musculoskeletal conditions, knee osteoarthritis and chronic headache.


Alexander Technique Lessons or Acupuncture Sessions for Persons With Chronic Neck Pain / Annals of Inernal Medicine (2015)

“Acupuncture sessions and Alexander Technique lessons both led to significant reductions in neck pain and associated disability compared with usual care at 12 months. Enhanced self-efficacy may partially explain why longer-term benefits were sustained.”


Acupuncture or counselling for depression / PLOS Medicine (2013)

Acupuncture or counselling, provided alongside usual care, could benefit patients with depression, according to a study published in PLOS Medicine. 

“These findings suggest that, compared to usual care alone, both acupuncture and counseling when provided alongside usual care provided significant benefits at 3 months in primary care to patients with recurring depression. Because this trial was a pragmatic trial, these findings cannot indicate which aspects of acupuncture and counseling are likely to be most or least beneficial. Nevertheless they do provide an estimate of the overall effects of these complex interventions, an estimate that is of most interest to patients, practitioners, and health care providers. Moreover, because this trial only considers the effect of these interventions on patients with moderate-to-severe depression as classified by the BDI-II; it provides no information about the effectiveness of acupuncture or counseling compared to usual care for patients with mild depression. Importantly, however, these findings suggest that further research into optimal treatment regimens for the treatment of depression with acupuncture and counseling is merited.”


Acupuncture for poststroke spasticity A protocol of a systematic review and meta-analysis / Medicine (2019)

“Numerous studies have concluded that acupuncture can relieve spasticity.

At present, the researches on the antispasmodic mechanism of acupuncture mainly focus on the effect of acupuncture on spasm-related neurotransmitters and receptors, relieving spasticity by increasing the expression of inhibitory transmitters or decreasing the expression of excitatory neurotransmitters.

Some studies have found that acupuncture promotes the recovery of damaged neurons in brain tissue and senior central functions by reducing the expression level of inflammatory factors and regulating cell signal transmission, so as to establish a normal spinal cord reflex mechanism and relieve muscle spasm.

In addition, acupuncture has been proved to protect central neurons by improving blood supply in ischemic areas of the brain and promoting the proliferation of central nerve cells, so as to achieve the functional restructuring of the central nervous system, [Cite #1Cite #2] which is crucial for strengthening the central control of lower motor neurons to regulate muscle tension and relieve muscle spasm. However, there is still lack of valid evidence to support that acupuncture is effective for poststroke spasticity. Therefore, we will conduct an SR and meta-analysis to assess the effectiveness and safety of acupuncture for poststroke spasticity. It is hoped that the results of this SR may help to establish a better approach for the treatment of poststroke spasticity and provide reliable evidence for its wide application.”


Oscillatory neuronal dynamics associated with manual acupuncture: a magnetoencephalography study using beamforming analysis / Frontiers in Human Neuroscience (2012)

“Studies using fMRI have shown that acupuncture-induced alterations in the BOLD response are modified in patients with clinical conditions indicating a possible role for cortical plasticity. For example, there was a reduction in sensorimotor hyperactivation in carpal tunnel syndrome following clinical acupuncture treatment (Napadow et al., 2007). In stroke patients, acupuncture stimulation produced greater activations in the somatosensory cortex compared to controls (Li et al., 2006), and in post-stroke aphasia patients acupoint stimulation increased activity in language-related brain areas on the lesion side (Li and Yang, 2011). Such fMRI studies are not able to determine if there are any modifications in the dynamics of neuronal rhythms. It would be of particular interest to extend our MEG beamformer study of manual acupuncture in healthy participants, to various patient groupings with clinical conditions and determine whether there are any differences in source location mappings and associated neuronal oscillatory dynamics.”


Acupuncture for irritable bowel syndrome: primary care based pragmatic randomised controlled trial / BMC Gastroenterology (2012)

“In a rigorously conducted pragmatic randomised controlled trial, we have evaluated the effectiveness of acupuncture as a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome when offered as an adjunct to usual treatment in primary care. Acupuncture was found to significantly improve outcomes at three months, with the number needed to treat being six. We found some evidence of a sustained benefit over the longer term. Acupuncture should be considered as a potential treatment option in primary care alongside other evidence-based treatments.”


Acupuncture on BBC2

In the series Trust Me I’m a Doctor, a short section covered a brain scan during acupuncture provided by Hugh MacPherson. The purpose was to explore potential mechanism(s) by which acupuncture might work.


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