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Acupuncture: Is it an Effective Treatment for Fibromyalgia?

Acupuncture: Is it an Effective
Treatment for Fibromyalgia?
Reply to a Question by Dr. John C. Lowe

September 7, 2005
Question: I read in a newspaper article that acupuncture cures fibromyalgia. Doesn’t
that show that your idea that fibromyalgia is caused by hypothyroidism is wrong?

Dr. Lowe: Perhaps you did read that acupuncture “cures” fibromyalgia. If so, what
you read is wrong. Of course, media people commonly misrepresent the contents of
press releases they receive from researchers and institutions, and you may have read
one of these misrepresentations.

The story you read was probably based on a recent press release sent out by the
Mayo Clinic. The subject of the press release was a study conducted by Dr. David
Martin. He reported the results at the 11th World Congress of the International
Association for the Study of Pain in Sydney, Australia.[1] Dr. Martin is a Mayo Clinic*
anesthesiologist and the study’s lead investigator.

You said you read that acupuncture cures fibromyalgia. But here is what the press
release actually said about the effects of acupuncture: “. . . the patients saw
improvement in symptoms,” with fatigue and anxiety improving most. Note that the
release did not say the patients were relieved or freed of their symptoms; instead,
they saw improvement.

Logically, improvement could entail full recovery, but the release didn’t say the
patients no longer met the criteria for fibromyalgia. In fact, Dr. Martin wrote, “Their
physical function did not increase even though the patients were less tired and felt
less pain.” The patients obviously didn’t fully recover. If they had, then surely the
release would have emphasized it. Improvement, then, meant that acupuncture only
reduced the intensity of some of the patients’ symptoms.

Dr. Martin wrote that “acupuncture is one of the few things shown to be effective for
these symptoms.” (Italics mine.) However, that acupuncture is effective at all for
fibromyalgia patients is far from conclusive. After all, another 2005 study of
acupuncture treatment for fibromyalgia showed that it worked no better than “sham”
(pretend) acupuncture.[5]

But assuming Dr. Martin is correct that acupuncture was effective in his study, we
must be careful to deduce what he meant by the term “effective.” The term could
mean anything from fully relieving to barely reducing patients’ symptoms.

I am often critical of fibromyalgia (and other) researchers for failing to precisely
formulate their statements. This criticism is no mere quibble. In Dr. Martin’s case,
some fibromyalgia patients may mistake his term “effective” to mean that
acupuncture can fully free them of fibromyalgia. But clearly, patients in the study got
a palliativenot curativeeffect from the acupuncture.

Dr. Martin also wrote, “Our study was performed on patients with moderate to severe
fibromyalgia. It’s my speculation that if acupuncture works for these patients with
recalcitrant fibromyalgiawhere previous treatments had not provided satisfactory
reliefit would likely work for many of the millions of fibromyalgia patients.”

Many fibromyalgia patients may get palliative benefits from acupuncture. I say “may”
because of the other 2005 study that showed acupuncture per se was not effective.[5]

We don’t for a second suggest, however, that fibromyalgia patients not avail
themselves of possible palliative benefits from any form of treatment, including
acupuncture. In fact, we always give fibromyalgia patients a particular piece of
advice: use most any form of treatment that makes life tolerable for you until you can
recover with metabolic rehab. One should not forget, though, that at best, the
benefits of acupuncture are palliative. By definition, palliative treatments lessen the
severity of symptoms without relieving them; the improvement is temporary and less-than-complete.

Because of this, palliative treatments should not substitute for
patients undergoing metabolic treatment that may fully free them from their
The press release quotes Dr. Martin as saying, “there’s no cure available.” This
absolute statement implies that he has omniscient knowledge of the treatment studies
of fibromyalgia. If he did, however, he could not be responsible and make this
statement. In his defense, however, our major studies were blocked from publication
in journals that have major indexing. Partly because of that, he most likely is unaware
of our studies. Nonetheless, the studies exist. And in line with those studies,
theoretical deductive science shows that fibromyalgia is a disorder of hypometabolism
underlain mainly by too little thyroid hormone regulation.

We will soon make this known on the broadest scale so that investigators such as Dr. Martin are aware of it.
The bottom line is this: acupuncture may give some fibromyalgia patients palliative
benefits, as do massage therapy and chiropractic care. Patients and clinicians should
keep in mind, however, a statement by acupuncture researcher Dr. Haiko Sprott that I
quoted in The Metabolic Treatment of Fibromyalgia:[6,p.921] “Acupuncture is useful only
when used as an adjunct within a comprehensive therapeutic program. The clinician is
cautioned not to use acupuncture as the only remedy.[3]”

*I must say that personally, I hold in the highest suspicion any study
announcement coming from the Mayo Clinic. When some doctors at an institution
have been found guilty of science fraud, I forever distrust the institution’s
competence or willingness to uphold integrity in science.

As Professor Linus Pauling reported,[2,pp.233 & 312-313] in 1985 six of Mayo’s doctors
committed science fraud. They did so by intentionally falsely reporting (in the New
England Journal of Medicine[4]) that high-dose vitamin C had no value for advanced
colon and rectal cancer patients.

In my mind, the Mayo doctors’ fraudulent action
demeaned the reputation of the Clinic. It also raised serious doubts about the New
England Journal of Medicines internal controls for insuring honesty and accuracy in
medical science reporting. But even worse, popularization of the Mayo doctors’
fraudulent report may be responsible for worsening the misery and shortening the
lives of many patients whom high-dose vitamin C therapy may have helped.
This statement of my distrust is directed at the Mayo Clinic and the New England
Journal of Medicine. It is not directed at Dr. David Martin personally or

[2] Pauling, L.: How to Live Longer and Feel Better. New York, Avon Books, 1986.
[3] Sprott, H.: Efficiency of acupuncture in patients with fibromyalgia. Clin. Bull. Myof. Ther., 3(1):37-43, 1998.
[4] Moertel, C.G., Fleming, T.R., Creagan, E.T., Rubin, J., O’Connell, M.J., and Ames, M.M.: High-dose vitamin C versus
placebo in the treatment of patients with advanced cancer who had no prior chemotherapy. N. Engl. J. Med., 312:137-141,
[5] Assefi, N.P., Sherman, K.J., Jacobsen, C., et al.: A randomized clinical trial of acupuncture compared with sham
acupuncture in fibromyalgia. Ann. Intern. Med., 5;143(1):I24, 2005.
[6] Lowe, J.C.: The Metabolic Treatment of Fibromyalgia. Boulder, McDowell Publishing Co., 2000.


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