Acupuncture Awareness Week with the Food Doctor

I received an interesting email yesterday from The Food Doctor (not a doctor), pointing out that 27th February – 4th March is Acupuncture Awareness Week.

To coincide with this, Kate Winstanley, resident acupuncturist and member of their Clinical Team (none of whom are doctors), shares some ‘facts’ about acupuncture. Unfortunately, Ms Winstanley does not seem to fully understand how acupuncture works, what it can treat, or indeed what the CAP advertising guidelines have to say on the subject.

Taking inspiration from anarchic teapot’s wonderful Homeopathy FAQ, I will try to clear up a few points for Ms Winstanley and hopefully make her more aware about acupuncture.

Corrections are in red.

To coincide with Acupuncture Awareness Week (27th Feb – 4th March) our resident acupuncturist Kate Winstanley shares some facts about advertises a 2000 year old practice which is probably not becoming more and more popular.

Acupuncture really doesn’t seem to be is a hot topic right now. Everywhere I look there are features, case studies, articles and research findings on the news, on line and in glossy magazines. There are occasional news articles following unfavourable research findings and discussing controversial degree courses in acupuncture. So what’s acupuncture all about? Here, I will give you the low-down on how I like to believe it works, what treatment is ideally like and what I like to believe it can help you with.

How does acupuncture work?

It is an elaborate placebo. Acupuncture is about treating the underlying cause of your symptoms to return the body to optimum health. The conditions for which acupuncture appears to work usually get better on their own. Daily stresses, unhealthy lifestyle choices and injury upset our finely tuned balance and lead to physical and emotional symptoms. Through careful questioning and examination I can identify the root cause of your symptoms. Basically, I’ll talk to you about what you are suffering from. Gentle stimulation of specific acupuncture points brings your body and mind back into balance and symptoms usually disappear whether you use acupuncture or not. Needling acupuncture points (according to research and MRI scans) triggers the body’s own natural healing response releasing necessary hormones and/or the body’s natural painkillers. An objective and comprehensive review of acupuncture research indicates that if there is any benefit (beyond placebo), it is small and not worth the associated risk.

What is acupuncture REALLY like?

… and “Does acupuncture hurt?” are two questions I get asked a lot. During your first visit I take a thorough health history to form a complete picture of your health and lifestyle.  I take the pulses on both wrists, for some reason look at your tongue and feel for areas of tension (if relevant).

Having made a diagnosis you then try to relax on the treatment couch and I use very fine single-use needles to stimulate acupuncture points on your body.

I love hearing clients’ descriptions of the needle sensation.  I’ve heard it described as: “a dull ache”, “a slight bruising feeling” and “a warm energy radiating up my arm”.  Ok, sometimes clients say “ouch” but not very often!

What can acupuncture help me with?

I have clients who see me for many different reasons but most often when they have exhausted conventional avenues or are reluctant to be on long-term medication.

The most common concerns that I treat are: lower back pain, IBS, stress, depression, insomnia, fertility and low immune systems. I should not be advertising to treat IBS, stress, depression, insomnia, fertility or low immune systems with acupuncture unless I have robust evidence of its benefit (which I won’t have – since it does not exist).

Other complaints successfully treated include (NB the only ones I should be advertising to treat without robust evidence are highlighted in blue):

  • Pain : injuries, short term neck/short term lower back/hip/short term adjunctive treatment of osteoarthritis knee pain, sciatica, frozen shoulder, short term adjunctive treatment of osteoarthritis knee pain
  • Digestive disorders: IBS, indigestion, bloating, heartburn, nausea,
  • constipation, eating disorders
  • Stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, insomnia, chronic fatigue
  • Menstrual and menopausal disorders : PMT, painful periods, PCOS
  • Fertility (including IVF support), pregnancy discomfort and labour induction
  • Short term relief of Headaches and migraines
  • Skin conditions: eczema, asthma, psoriasis, acne

How many sessions do I need?

Acupuncture slowly unravels and heals the imbalances that have developed over time. Often there is instant relief but a few treatments are more time is usually required for lasting results. Generally clients will see me weekly and then, as symptoms improve and the body is staying balanced treatment can be spaced out to 2-weekly sessions. EventuallyHopefully clients see me seasonally ie. 4 times a year for an ‘MOT’.

The big question. Does acupuncture work?

Yes acupuncture works (as an elaborate placebo)! Although acupuncture is so robustly researched, it is still that it is now occasionally prescribed by the NHS for a certain conditions including chronic lower back pain. So do ask your GP to refer you for a course of acupuncture and remember that some private health insurers cover treatment too.

You can find research statistics links to favourable newspaper articles and factsheets at

Here’s what my clients say:

“Thanks for a great treatment today – you are a miracle worker.”
James, 32, lower back pain.

“Thanks for saving me from having to be induced. I went into labour naturally after treatment. What a relief!”
Alison, 34.

“I have suffered with IBS for many years and despite various treatments have found little relief. After just 3 treatments with Kate I have noticed a massive difference. I have also been less tired, less irritable and more energetic. Thank you.”
Jonny, 35.

“My mind feels clearer and I’m not finding life such a struggle. I almost went down the anti-depressants route . I’m so glad I saw Kate first.”
Sophie, 33

Acupuncture is a wonderful, effective treatment. I hope this gives you an idea of what you can expect from treatment, what it can help with and with what results. I’m always happy to answer any questions so please feel free to get in touch this Acupuncture Awareness Week.

Further reading

Puncturing the Acupuncture Myth Harriet Hall, Science Based Medicine, 21/10/08

Trick or Treatment?: Alternative Medicine on Trial Simon Singh & Edzard Ernst, 07/05/09

How popular is acupuncture? Brennen McKenzie, Science Based Medicine 25/03/11

Acupuncture Revisited Harriet Hall, Science Based Medicine, 29/03/11

Acupuncturists show that acupuncture doesn’t work, but conclude the opposite: journal fails David Colquhoun, DC’s Improbable Science, 31/05/11

Made-up medicine works on made-up illnesses The Daily Mash, 31/05/11

2 responses to “Acupuncture Awareness Week with the Food Doctor

  1. I find both your coments and views quite stupid and offensive, you quite obviously know really nothing about acupuncture and how it workks for so many problems. Everything comes down to the immune system, and the triggering of nerve reactions. I personally have been qualified via the U
    niversity of Shanghai since 1958 in the art of Tradional Acupuncture
    I have treated many hundreds of people , both in the UK and USA over the last 50 years with great success. And since 1966 have been pioneering the use of cold laser used mainly on acupuncture points with equally reat success. Get Real Professor Gordon

  2. Well done JJ, a genuine Apoplectic Letter To The Editor, a sign that the truth does indeed hurt.

    Dear “Professor” Gordon. Acupuncture has been shown to have no effect on the immune system (unless the needles are contaminated, obviously) and the only nerve reactions triggered are (usually) mild discomfort when the pins go in.

    Incidentally, I have been qualified via the University of Real Life since 1958 and if your grasp of science sucks as much as your writing skills, I pity your poor patients.

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