Acupuncture Works (Even When It’s Fake), University of Maryland-Baltimore Says

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Photo via ACAOM
Photo via ACAOM

Welcome to This Week in Research, BFB’s weekly exploration of some of the smartest, strangest, or most surprising research coming out of our local universities. Prepare to have your mind blown!

Acupuncture, the ancient Chinese medical practice of sticking needles in particular spots on a person’s body, sometimes gets a bit of side-eye from the medical community. But a recent study out of the University of Maryland -Baltimore offers some food for thought. It showed that acupuncture helped to ease the harsh side effects of breast cancer treatment — but also that sham acupuncture worked equally well.

Dr. Ting Bao, a medical oncologist, and her team gave 47 breast cancer patients eight weekly sessions of acupuncture. The twist? Only some of the patients got the kind of real treatment where needles are precisely placed in recognized acupoints. The control group got needles that didn’t actually penetrate their skin, placed in random spots on their body — sham acupuncture, in other words.

Both the receivers of real and sham acupuncture reported significant improvement of symptoms, especially hot flashes, after treatment. Does that mean the placebo effect was at work? Perhaps. But Dr. Bao isn’t ready to write off acupuncture just yet: ““Acupuncture as a medical procedure has been practiced for thousands of years. It has a minimal risk and potentially significant benefits,” she said.



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