Letter: Needle match

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Ron Bishop (Letter, 3 November) declares that traditional Chinese acupuncture is superior to the form of acupuncture used by doctors, which is based on western physiology. This raises questions which are also relevant to the debate about many other complementary therapies.

Strong assertions that traditional acupuncture is best need to be based on clear facts. Case histories and anecdotes exist, but they are paltry evidence. Where is the rigorous research that is needed before making such statements? Can traditional Chinese acupuncturists offer any evidence to back up their hypothesis that acupuncture can "rebalance the energy", a concept which runs contrary to the whole of human physiology? Why can they not accept the right of other practitioners to believe that talk of energy is fatuous and the needles stimulate nerve endings?

This solution is not only glaringly obvious but it is also backed up by some rather impressive research. How long will traditionalists go on claiming that medieval Chinese philosophy is the only possible explanation for acupuncture, when there is evidence that acupuncture started in Europe long before it was practised in China?

Most importantly, can non-medical practitioners reassure us that they are safe to diagnose and advise patients who have conditions that are best treated by western medicine? They study western medicine for a year, at most, whereas conventional doctors are trained for at least nine years and still make mistakes.

I have recently been involved in attempts to build bridges between the various branches of the acupuncture profession, whose antipathy prevents useful communication between professionals and is undoubtedly not in our patients' best interests. The differences will be difficult to overcome if they are based on prejudice, self-interest and narrow-mindedness.


Research Fellow

Department of Complementary Medicine

School of Postgraduate Medicine and Health Science

University of Exeter