Date: 03 Apr 2009

A Critical Evaluation of Acupuncture Research

Abstract

As Chinese medicine is going global, it is simultaneously adapting swiftly to local patterns of perception and interpretation, thereby being shaped into hitherto unknown forms. The globalization of Chinese medicine produces multiple localized visions of a healing system whose trademark is an “innate heterodoxy”. Barnes described the “psychologizing” of Chinese medicine in the USA (Barnes Cult Med Psychiatry 22(4):413–443, 1998). In Germany, however, biomedical instead of “holistic” patterns of perception and interpretation and a tendency to “physiologize” prevail among patients and Chinese Medical therapists. Here the recent German Acupuncture trials, and Acupuncture Randomized Trials (ART) and Cochrane data base metaanalysis (Linde et al., 2009a) shall serve as a prominent example of how German research centers around physiological phenomena and how these studies have triggered an international debate concerning the point-specific nature of acupuncture interventions. In order to evaluate the specific effect of acupuncture in randomized controlled trials, verum acupuncture, defined as acupuncture at “classical” acupuncture points, and sham acupuncture, defined as acupuncture at “non-acupuncture points”, are frequently compared. The anatomically exact location and specificity of acupuncture points are basic assumptions underlying this concept. But how clearly divisible are verum and sham acupuncture points if acupuncture physiology itself is a historical construct? To more adequately evaluate acupuncture’s effectiveness future clinical studies will have to tailor their methodology to the reality of the acupuncture encounter.