||I've received requests from some members of the media about
acupuncture statistics, and I've noticed some others who should
have... so I've organized what I've found and put it all in
one place, along with requisite references for skeptical scientists.
If you find any new ones not in this document, please let
me know about them!
Open Minded to Acupuncture
According to a small National Commission for Acupuncture and
Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) survey (1), an estimated 10% of Americans
have tried acupuncture, and of those who haven't, two-thirds would
consider it. If true, this would mean about 30 million Americans
have tried acupuncture, which is amazing, considering it's only
been in the U.S. for 30 years, and there are only about 15,000
acupuncturists, many of whom have only been licensed in the last
However, data from a 2004 U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services
report (2) analyzed responses from a much larger group of Americans
(31,044) from the 2002 National Health Interview Survey, and found
that only 4% had ever tried acupuncture. Still, the same data
shows that acupuncture is slightly more popular than homeopathy,
four times more popular than naturopathy, and ten times more popular
Accepted By Western Medicine
According to a 1998 survey of the literature published in the
Archives of Internal Medicine (3), Western medical doctors are
most likely to refer patients for acupuncture (43%) than for chiropractic
(40%) or massage (21%).
This fits with the general perception by Western docs that chiropractors
have yet to prove the value of their therapy with research (4),
while many MD's are aware of at least some of the science that
supports and explains acupuncture.
Still, the 2004 USDH report shows that five times as many people
had ever had chiropractic than acupuncture, and almost eight times
as many of them had used chiropractic in the previous 12 months.
This is likely because Americans have been aware of chiropractic
longer, and because chiropractors have been so successful reaching
out to prospective patients directly. I suspect many of them don't
rely on MD's for referrals.
Likewise, the 2004 USDH report shows that of the people who used
an alternative medicine system (acupuncture, ayurveda, homeopathy,
or naturopathy), more people tried acupuncture than the other
systems because their conventional medical professional suggested
Research on Acupuncture
Succeeding the now outdated 1997 National Institute of Health's
Consensus Statement on Acupuncture is the World Health Organization's
2002 Review of Randomized Controlled Acupuncture Trials. (5)
They grouped their results this way:
- 28 diseases for which acupuncture is undoubtedly effective
- 63 diseases for which acupuncture has been shown effective
but more proof is needed
- 9 diseases Western medicine can't treat well (proof is weak
but acupuncture is worth trying), and
- 7 diseases in which acupuncture could be tried if the practitioner
has sufficient medical knowledge and equipment.
Of course, this is only one kind of research, which answers the
question, "Does acupuncture definitely help people with such
and such disease?" Answering such questions is complicated
by the fact that there is more than one style of acupuncture,
and so even if one style doesn't help, if the others haven't been
tried, we can't conclude that ALL acupuncture won't help the condition
Plus, there are other types of research that look more specifically
at what parts of the body are affected by different acupuncture
points. For example, MRI's and PET-scans have shown specific areas
of the brain (e.g., the visual cortex, or Broca's area on the
left side) activated by specific points. Since different people
with the same disease have different issues, breaking the research
down into these component parts may provide more valuable information
for clinical acupuncture than simply finding out that one or another
combination of points helped a certain percentage of people with
a specific disease.
Getting Results: Health and Life
In 2001, Members of the British Acupuncture Council surveyed
132 acupuncture patients, and found that
- Their physical symptoms were relieved 75% of the time, and
- Their emotional and mental symptoms 67% of the time.
- In addition, 54% felt "inner life changes," and
- 27% experienced "major life changes."
- 42% of the patients changed their reason for coming at some
point during the course of their treatment. (6)
The last 42% isn't surprising. We are still educating most patients
about what we can and can't treat. Many times, as we heal their
first complaint, they discover we can also help with another one,
and we shift to treating that.
Sometimes we run into the ironic experience of a patient calling
to cancel a treatment because they're sick - you're supposed to
go to the doctor when you're sick! Why would you stay home? And,
as you may read elsewhere, Chinese herbs are the best way to treat
most colds and flu's.
More Attention to Patients
In the 2002 study, "Characteristics of Licensed Acupuncturists,
Chiropractors, Massage Therapists, and Naturopathic Physicians,"
(7) the American Board of Family Practice found that, though acupuncturists
and Western physicians both average 25 hours per week with patients,
acupuncturists see fewer patients and spend double or triple the
time with each one.
I believe Chinese medicine takes more time because of several
- Most people who choose to learn and practice Chinese medicine
enjoy talking with their patients
- Chinese medicine covers mind, emotions and body, so there
is more to discuss
- Most acupuncturists are taught and continue a style of practice
that, despite the long initial intake, history, and diagnosis,
includes a shorter intake and re-diagnosis each visit.
Up and Coming Chinese Herbs
According to a national survey (8) of 2055 American adults published
in the November 1998 issue of the Journal of the American Medical
Association, about 12% of Americans take Chinese herbs.
Elsewhere, I've read that in 1998, 86% of households contained
medicinal herbs. That means about 1 in 7 herbs purchased are Chinese
herbs. This seems high to me. I would estimate that it's more
like 1 in 15. Of course, the key is how you define Chinese herbs.
If ginseng or ginger alone (single herbs) is counted as Chinese,
the JAMA figure makes sense. But if you mean traditional Chinese
herbal formulas, since Chinese herbal practitioners rarely or
never prescribe just one herb, I'd guess 1 in 15.
Click here to read about acupuncture
- Barnes PM, Powell-Griner E, McFann K, Nahin RL. Complementary
and alternative medicine use among adults: United States, 2002.
Adv Data. 2004 May 27;(343):1-19.
- Astin JA, Marie A, Pelletier KR, Hansen E, Haskell WL. A review
of the incorporation of complementary and alternative medicine
by mainstream physicians. Arch Intern Med. 1998 Nov 23;158(21):2303-10.
- For more on this, read former JAMA editor George Lundberg
MD's book, Severed Trust: Why American Medicine Hasn't Been
Review and analysis of reports on controlled clinical trials.
- Gould, MacPherson. Patient
Perspectives on Outcomes After Treatment with Acupuncture.
The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2001
- Cherkin DC, Deyo RA, Sherman KJ, Hart LG, Street JH, Hrbek
A, Cramer E, Milliman B, Booker J, Mootz R, Barassi J, Kahn
JR, Kaptchuk TJ, Eisenberg DM. Characteristics
of licensed acupuncturists, chiropractors, massage therapists,
and naturopathic physicians. J Am Board Fam Pract. 2002
- David M. Eisenberg, Roger B. Davis, Susan L. Ettner, Scott
Appel, Sonja Wilkey, Maria Van Rompay, and Ronald C. Kessler.
in Alternative Medicine Use in the United States, 1990-1997:
Results of a Follow-up National Survey. JAMA, Nov 1998;
280: 1569 - 1575.