Tag Archive: pain


Hi Folks, here’s some research news for you this week!

A comprehensive study commissioned by the Department of Veterans Affairs found strong evidence that acupuncture has a positive effect in the treatment of chronic pain, migraine and tension headache.
The same study found a potentially positive effect in dysmenorrhea, cancer pain, labor pain, insomnia, post-operative nausea and vomit, depression, and smoking cessation, although it suggests more research needs to be done.

Another meta-analysis found that acupuncture outperforms placebo in relieving the most common types of chronic pain: headache, low back, neck, shoulder and knee pain. The same analysis discovered that acupuncture significantly outperforms standard care in headache, low back, neck, and knee pain. In other words, this evidence suggests you’re likely to get a better result for these conditions by seeing your skilled acupuncturist than you are by seeing a typical MD. To me this isn’t surprising; an acupuncturist will usually be more hands-on and thus likely to get to the underlying cause of the problem faster than if someone simply takes drugs to mask the pain.

A network analysis showed that acupuncture is superior to most forms of physical therapy in the treatment of knee osteoarthritis.

In other positive news, I was pleased to see that the American College of Physicians and American Pain Society actually recommends acupuncture for chronic low back pain, although only as a second-line therapy.

The American College of Chest Physicians also recommends acupuncture for cancer patients when pain, nausea, vomiting, or other side effects of chemotherapy are poorly controlled.

There are some problems with most of these studies that IMO show a smaller effect than what clinicians actually experience in practice, but still I’m happy to see some of the medical authorities beginning to treat acupuncture seriously. I’m planning an entire page devoted to my “acupuncture research rant”, stay tuned for that 🙂 Many thanks to John Pirog for directing my attention to this research.

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So this week I’m pleased to bring you some good news about natural treatments for pain and inflammation.

One of the most impressive herbs for this purpose is turmeric. In this video by Dr. Greger he presents the latest evidence that turmeric is useful for rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory illness, which even proved superior to a common drug in a clinical trial (a dosage of 500 mg curcumin was used in this study, which is the amount in 10 grams of turmeric, or about one and one half tablespoons). Furthermore, turmeric also proved effective in treating osteoarthritis, which is caused by chronic wear and tear on joints. In fact once again turmeric compared very favorably with pharmaceutical drugs in the treatment of osteoarthritis-induced knee pain (a dosage of 90 mg curcumin was used in this study, the amount in about 2/3 of a teaspoon of turmeric). Turmeric also reduces inflammation in general.

One of the compounds in turmeric responsible for much of these beneficial effects is called curcumin; it’s about 5% by weight of a given quantity of turmeric. One problem in using turmeric as a medicine is that the bioavailability – the amount of the substance that is actually usable by the body – of curcumin is relatively low. You can increase the bioavailability of curcumin by 2000% by adding some black pepper; even just 1/4 tsp of black pepper turns out to have this effect. Another strategy is to add oil; a healthy oil like coconut oil or avocado oil might be useful here. So to get the medicinal effects one strategy is to take the traditional route: have a curry made with turmeric and black pepper. A nouveau strategy might be to make a smoothie using coconut milk, a teaspoon or two of turmeric, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper, a banana, and maybe a few dates for sweetness 🙂

Should everyone take turmeric? Dr. Greger cautions us that those who have gallstones, are prone to kidney stones, or are pregnant might want to avoid it or eat it only in moderation; it contains a fairly high concentration of oxalates (which are associated with kidney stone formation), can cause the gallbladder to contract, and in very high doses can cause DNA damage: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/who-shouldnt-consume-curcumin-or-turmeric/.

While we’re on the subject of osteoarthritis, there is also evidence that other natural approaches are effective in treating the pain it causes. Osteoarthritis (sometimes called progressive joint disease) is a disease caused by the gradual deterioration of the cartilage (connective tissue) of a joint, leading it to become stiff and painful. It turns out that ginger applied topically (daily for a week) appears to help. Unfortunately, that study didn’t include a control, but all the participants had previously had conventional medical treatment for their osteoarthritis and not been satisfied with the results. One of the effective methods of application used in the study is called a ginger compress. One simple method of applying a ginger compress that I like to use is this: I just take some very thin slices of fresh ginger, apply it to the painful area, place a thin towel over the ginger, and a hot water bottle or heating pad on top of the towel; I warm the area for about 15 minutes.

Tart cherries – in addition to the effects on blood pressure noted in my last post – also appear to help relieve osteoarthritis pain. Apparently, the effects can be achieved simply by drinking cherry juice. Note that this study is on tart cherries like the Montmorency, not sweet cherries like the Bing or Rainier varieties (although other studies show some benefits from those as well).

Eating sesame seeds, believe it or not, also help reduce osteoarthritis pain, and do so even better than Tylenol. The amount of sesame seeds used in the study to get this effect was 40 grams per day, which is less than two ounces; the seeds were powdered first (a coffee grinder can do this, or you can use a mortar and pestle). 5 tablespoons a day will get you 45 grams.

Finally on osteoarthritis, this study shows acupuncture beneficial for treating osteoarthritis of the knee: http://www.healthcmi.com/Acupuncture-Continuing-Education-News/1233-osteoarthritiskneeub23

On the subject of Chinese medicine and pain, I’m excited by the news that researchers have found additional evidence that the herb corydalis (corydalis yanhusuo) is helpful for pain, including inflammatory pain and neuropathic pain (pain caused by nervous system damage). Corydalis has enough analgesic properties to relieve the intensity of pain of a broken ankle, and furthermore does so in way that prevents the body from developing resistance to the herb. It is also non-addictive. These factors, the researchers suggest, may make the herb a suitable treatment for chronic pain.

Traditionally, 3-9 grams of corydalis is cooked in about 3 cups of water for 45 minutes to an hour, and drunk half a cup or so at a time as a tea. It may cause drowsiness, dizziness, and abdominal distention, especially when taken in doses of 10 grams or more; high doses of more than 15 grams can cause serious side effects. See Dan Bensky’s Materia Medica for more information on the traditional use.

And last but not least, Dr. Greger reminds us that the potassium in foods like leafy greens and bananas is a good way to reduce inflammation.

As always, use caution when interpreting this information and in choosing whether to apply it to yourself. In particular, note that herbs can sometimes interact with medications or supplements, so be sure to consult your MD if you’re on any medications. Please take a look at the disclaimer at the top of this page once again 🙂

Having said all that, if you’ve tried any of these strategies or had any experience with them, please feel free to let me know your results here. Anything else you’d like to find out about? I’d love to hear from you!

OK, time for a roundup of some of the more noteworthy studies done on the effectiveness of acupuncture and Chinese medicine. 

Stronger evidence that acupuncture is effective for back pain is now available, as this http://www.naturalnews.com/040545_acupuncture_back_pain_research.html article shows.

Another robust study  http://www.healthcmi.com/acupuncturist-news-online/756-flyingacupuncture that compared acupuncture’s effectiveness for insomnia to a pharmaceutical found that acupuncture came out on top by a considerable margin.  “The researchers discovered that the drug was 59.7% effective while acupuncture was 84.1% effective. The control group only showed a 25% effective rate thereby ruling out the placebo effect triggered by sham acupuncture.”  One of the features of this study that I really applaud is that the researchers identified and isolated a specific acupuncture technique: “This modern research tested the efficacy of this acupuncture point prescription combined with a classic manual acupuncture technique, the flying technique… The acupuncture technique is named after the motion exerted on the release of the acupuncture needle. The handle of the acupuncture needle is held while the needle is rotated slightly and the hand then releases the handle like ‘the flying of a bird.’”  Too many other studies don’t do this, leaving us to wonder what techniques were used and whether similar results would have been obtained if different techniques had been performed.

That’s why I have to shake my head and wag my finger at the researchers involved in this http://ptjournal.apta.org/content/early/2013/05/29/ptj.20110138.abstract study to determine whether acupuncture is effective for treating strokes.  They used a specific protocol of scalp and body points which did not appear to work; reporting that would have been fine, and useful for practitioners to know.  The problem is that the authors went beyond saying that this protocol was ineffective to concluding that all acupuncture is ineffective for strokes.  This is obviously problematic; what techniques did they use, and what if another protocol would work better? 

Take electroacupuncture for example, which has been shown to be protective of the brain after stroke: http://www.healthcmi.com/acupuncturist-news-online/761-electronli11st36.  This is a good example of how much too often researchers over-generalize from a specific protocol to all of acupuncture; in my opinion, this is often due to an ignorance of the scope of techniques and approaches available.

Finally, our cute story of the day: some veterinary acupuncturists are treating sea turtles with acupuncture, to good effect! http://www.contracostatimes.com/environment/ci_23288102/slow-pokes-acupuncture-helps-hypothermic-turtles

This article: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/lifestyle/body-soul/acupuncture-the-new-painkiller/story-e6frf01r-1225904782211?from=public_rss is very positive, and informed me of something I didn’t know before, namely that in Australia acupuncture is used as an emergency treatment for pain. What a smart thing, to have an alternative to drugs in such situations! Maybe we in the U. S. can learn from this… 🙂

Well this study: http://www.acupuncturetoday.com/archives2001/sep/09neckpain.html shows that a simple acupuncture protocol does better than your typical massage for neck pain. Of course a more palpation-based approach where one finds the points that are best for the particular individual is likely to be even better IMHO, whether you’re talking acupuncture or massage. Unfortunately most studies don’t test that. I do applaud the work done on this study, though.

Back Pain Study

Check out: http://www.one-tcn.com/11563/new-research-shows-acupuncture-more-effective-for-low-back-pain-than-conventional-treatment/

It seems that acupuncture has better results than allopathic medicine for chronic low back pain. Maybe people are starting to see the light after all! Expect the Codex Alimentarius crowd to try to suppress it…

Addition: here: http://www.acupuncturetoday.com/archives2002/mar/03lowbackpain.html is a study showing good long term results for low back pain better than placebo, from a very simple acupuncture protocol. I hope some enterprising researcher will endeavor to test a more individualized approach also, since the essence of Chinese medicine is to tailor the treatment to the individual.