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The Impact of Money in Research & How to Find Quality Acupuncture Research

by Dr. Amber Hincks LAc

Medical research is a significant part of the healthcare industry.  Well-designed and conclusive research is essential to the development of new therapies and treatments.  The creators of these treatments have financial incentive for favorable outcomes.  While industry standards have developed to protect consumers and patients and provide physicians with accurate information, money will always impact the way this information is gathered and delivered.  Being aware of this impact through the disclosure of funding can help to mitigate this influence, while still trusting the science and methodology that determines research significance.

Biomedicine tends to view acupuncture as experimental.  But there are in fact many research studies proving its validity as a treatment for many conditions from knee pain to nausea.  When acupuncture is compared to a no-treatment control group or standard-care control group, it performs very well with a vast array of conditions.  Trials that compare acupuncture with a placebo, referred to as sham acupuncture, often where needles are inserted in the wrong points or not as deep, are less conclusive.  This is likely because acupuncture is still being performed, many would say, just with less precision.  Most of this research has taken place within the National Institute of Health, an agency of the United States government.  And even more comes out of China. The Impact of Money in Research & How to Find Quality Acupuncture Research, Amber Hincks Acupuncture in Beaverton, OR

The NIH funds a lot of research and their review boards help to ensure quality protocols.  Additional research is funded through educational institutions.  And then a large amount of research is funded by pharmaceutical companies and medical device companies.  Obviously these companies have a vested interest in the success of their studies.  Research has shown that these for-profits publish far more positive studies than not-for-profit institutions.  More publishers are starting to require disclosure of funding to allow physicians to account for these influences.  

There is not a lot of money in acupuncture research.  There is no one who serves to gain other than the populations acupuncture benefits.  Where acupuncture is more successful than standard care, say for something like low back pain, there is the potential to reduce financial burden to patients and insurance companies and the consideration of the cost to productivity and quality of life that chronic pain or other suffering creates in society.  Acupuncture is also difficult to research in the form of the double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trials.  It is better studied as part of whole-systems research, which accounts for the fact that treatments are non-standardized, they vary according to individual presentations, and they involve elements not limited to the insertions of needles.  

If you are interested in reading more about acupuncture research, a quick pubmed search will allow you to review abstracts, if not full-text, research studies by the thousands. The NIH has a division called the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine, which has a lot of information on acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine research. Or bring your questions to us! Research informs our practice and we love to learn.