This ancient solution to lung disease is still the best one
Most people don’t realize it. But there’s another killer among us besides heart disease, diabetes, and cancer that’s keeping Big Pharma in big business…
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
COPD is the 4th most common cause of death in the United States. And just like America’s other top killers, all mainstream medicine has to offer are drugs that barely keep symptoms in check and that are laden with side-effects that would (and often do) make your head spin.
All the while, a safe, proven, natural solution has been left in the wake of Big Pharma…and lost in the quagmire of what western scientists call “research.”
The solution I’m talking about is acupuncture.
An acute solution, lost in research confusion
While acupuncture is finally being well-accepted for the treatment of pain, it still lags way behind as a treatment for anything else. Which is tragic.
Given its history and the science, acupuncture could safely and effectively help millions more suffering from all sorts of ailments.
But you’re not likely to hear it from the “modern medical establishment” anytime soon.
Of course, the Yellow Emperor of China had all the proof he needed 2,000 years ago. He based an entire healthcare system on acupuncture. For the world’s largest population with the most advanced civilization, no less!
Unfortunately, western researchers have yet to embrace the obvious— acupuncture works. Instead, they’re obsessed with trying to figure out the question of, “Why? Why and how does acupuncture work for different medical conditions.”
In fact, every time a study proves acupuncture is effective, instead of focusing on the conclusion of “it works,” western scientists are quick to think they have finally come up with an explanation as to why it works. And they tend to focus on that point, instead.
But then proof of its effectiveness for yet another “unrelated” condition sends them back to the drawing board. Because the reason why it works for one condition appears to be different from the reason why it works for another—at least as interpreted by the modern mainstream biomedical model.
It’s a never-ending cycle that leaves practitioners with the same useless conclusion—more research is needed.
And it’s all because western scientists are missing a very important tenet of Chinese medicine: Everything is related.
In Chinese medicine, there is no condition that exists independent of the whole body. So when you treat the whole body with a holistic therapy like acupuncture, you’re going to get results for all sorts of unrelated conditions.
But our un-holistic western biomedical paradigm just can’t make sense of the results—even though we can all observe them with our own eyes.
A breath of fresh air
Maybe that’s why it’s taking so long for the use of acupuncture in lung problems to catch on. While it’s easy enough for mainstream doctors to accept that acupuncture is effective for pain, they’re speechless, so to speak, about its breathing benefits.
But the fact is acupuncture provides serious relief for asthma, COPD, and other lung problems. Let’s take a closer look at those conditions.
Emphysema. Emphysema is an example of COPD. It is marked by an obstruction to airflow in and out of the lungs.
Emphysema makes lung cells lose their elasticity. Normally when air comes into the lungs, they expand like a balloon. But in emphysema, the balloon is more like a paper bag. It has lost its “rubbery” ability to deflate. So the person struggles to expel old air to make way for new air.
Emphysema happens when immune system cells and their enzymes enter the lungs to attack intruders. (Smoke and airborne pollutants, for example.) This destroys lung tissues. It’s no surprise that smokers are susceptible.
House painters were also notoriously prone to emphysema. The reason? Paint fumes—plus a higher likelihood to drink and smoke too much. When I was a medical examiner, I autopsied many house painters who fell victim to this toxic combination.
But genetics can be an even bigger risk factor than smoke toxins. In fact, people with certain genetic variations can’t neutralize the enzymes that break down tissue proteins in the lungs.
One of those enzymes is trypsin. Normally, lung cells protect themselves from trypsin with an enzyme called alpha-one anti-trypsin. Not so in people with a genetic abnormality of this enzyme.
That’s another reason that smoking isn’t the whole story when it comes to emphysema and lung disease. Back in the 1970’s I did a summer student research project on identifying genetic variants of this enzyme, and then wrote an undergraduate dissertation on this topic for my major in chemistry. But since, we have never heard much about this important cause of emphysema—it seems to get lost in all the smoke about cigarettes.
Asthma. In asthma, the airways of the lungs constrict, becoming narrow and sometimes even closing off completely. So it has an “obstructive” component too. That means it’s hard to breathe in…and even harder to breathe out again. Thus, causing the “wheezing” sound of breathlessness.
The western medical approach to asthma is to use drugs to open the airways. These drugs, called “bronchodilators” act like adrenaline.
Under normal circumstances, the body releases adrenalin when it senses danger and has to respond with “fight or flight.” That’s because adrenalin increases heart and muscle performance and reactions. It also expands airways, allowing more air to enter the lungs more quickly. That gets more oxygen to the blood, muscles, and other tissues.
But too much adrenalin causes problems too. And so do these drugs. They can cause heart arrhythmia and fatal acute cardiac arrest. In the 1970s, there was an epidemic of young people dying from using inhalers. The
FDA finally took note in the 1990s and made some changes, which I’ll tell you about in just a minute. But first, let’s talk about some natural alternatives…
Nature’s breathing helpers
As usual, better ways to deal with breathing problems can be found in nature.
Caffeine and theophylline in coffee and tea are both effective bronchodilators. In fact, for general congestion from allergies, I recommend a strong cup of coffee or tea in the morning. It will help get you going— without resorting to antihistamines and all their side effects. Or using decongestants that make you feel like the top of your head is coming off.
But for the serious breathing issues discussed above, we can look back to Chinese medicine. The Chinese had solutions for obstructive lung disease— not only with acupuncture, but also with a powerful herb.
This herb, Ma huang comes from the bark of a tree containing ephedra (the source of the drug ephedrine).
Ma huang was one of the first Chinese remedies western medicine picked up on. In the mid-20th century, Karl Schmidt and K.C. Chang studied it at my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania.
Ephedra, too, acts like adrenaline. And that, unfortunately, led people to use it in unhealthy ways. Dietary supplement manufacturers put it into appetite suppressants and performance enhancers. And no surprise, people misused them. So ephedra was even implicated in some deaths (that also involved other factors). And the FDA banned it.
So in our culture of “more is better” we’ve managed to take one of Chinese medicine’s effective remedies off the table.
Luckily acupuncture hasn’t been outlawed—it doesn’t pose the risks of drugs or even some dietary supplements. But it almost wasn’t an option!
Acupuncture’s “approval” almost didn’t happen…
In 1997, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) looked at the science behind acupuncture. Their conclusion: It helps dental pain, certain chronic pain, and nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy and pregnancy.
Still, many mainstream medical practitioners and the FDA aren’t sold. After all, we already have many “good” drugs for pain, nausea, and vomiting, so why bother with something exotic like acupuncture? (Could it maybe have something to do with the fact that acupuncture takes 15 minutes to administer, while writing a prescription and popping a pill only takes seconds and results in more revenue?)
But other results of acupuncture on lung disease (missed, of course, by the NIH) did catch the attention of FDA. These guys were located a mere three miles down the pike from the NIH, but they didn’t manage to share their knowledge. Same old government bureaucracy…
FDA knew that the drugs available for asthma were dangerous. In principle, the FDA should be concerned not only with finding more effective treatments, but also with finding safer treatments. So, if acupuncture (perfectly safe) were effective for asthma and lung diseases, it should be very interesting to the FDA.
Meanwhile diligent attorneys such as Jim Turner had been petitioning the FDA to stop classifying acupuncture as an experimental device. Experimental devices are only allowed to be used in research experiments approved by the FDA.
And at the same time, I had started the first medical research journal on complementary and alternative medicine in the United States. In the very first issue, we published a massive collection of research (mostly published in the U.K. and Europe) on acupuncture for the treatment of (you guessed it) lung disease. The new journal and this article got a lot of attention… including by the FDA.
In typical government fashion, the FDA bumped the reclassification of acupuncture. Which means it would be left sitting on the shelf somewhere.
But fortunately for you and me, some dedicated and courageous FDA scientists petitioned their boss to be allowed to work on it on their own time. They gave up their evenings and weekends to complete the approval process, without interfering with the regular 9-to-5 priorities of the “overworked” agency.
To save time and trouble, these scientists asked me to send them the computer disc with the hundreds of scientific citations and references I had compiled for the journal.
Sure enough, the FDA approved the acupuncture needle as a therapeutic device in the late 1990s. And we can all be thankful that a lot of pain and suffering is now being legally alleviated. Especially given all the government interference with effective pain-killing drugs (see the 11/9/12 Daily Dispatch “DEA or DOA?” for more on that topic).
But there is always room for more news about proven treatments that are thousands of years old.
New developments in old medicine
Shortness of breath is a major problem with COPD (not surprising). This is called dyspnea. It’s particularly bad during physical exertion. Dyspnea on exertion (DOE) is a major symptom of COPD. It’s notoriously difficult to control—even with the drugs currently available.
A new study performed by Japanese researchers—in which acupuncture was actually performed properly, instead of blundered as it often is in western studies— proved acupuncture beats placebo in improving DOE in patients with COPD receiving standard medication.1
Apparently the “standard” medications were not helping. They were still considered standard—but of course, for ethical reasons, the patients still had to be given the drugs that weren’t working anyway, because the experimental acupuncture treatment might not have been effective!
The researchers concluded that acupuncture is a “useful add-on” therapy. So if you suffer from COPD, keep taking those drugs (that apparently don’t help for shortness of breath). But for real relief, also try something safe that really does work.
Safe, effective, and available
As the researchers continue trying to prove this age-old medicine, I believe the evidence is more than strong enough to trust that acupuncture does work. Not just for the standard uses (pain and nausea), but even for more complicated problems like COPD and asthma. And all without side effects.
Now that should give you cause to breathe easier.
1. “A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial of Acupuncture in Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)The COPD-Acupuncture Trial (CAT),” Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(11):878-886