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Acupuncture Lowers Blood Glucose

Updated: Apr 26, 2019

A recent acupuncture study by researchers at the University of Bangalore tested the effect of one point (CV-12) on blood glucose levels in healthy humans, in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial.   Quite a few previous studies of acupuncture on diabetic rats and humans have shown significant reductions in blood glucose and fasting insulin levels (cited in study).  The new Bangalore study also shows a reduction in the blood glucose of acupuncture subjects—and an increase in blood glucose among the placebo subjects—neither of them statistically significant.

The disappointing thing about this study, to me however, is not that the results were statistically insignificant, but rather that the study design seems guaranteed to have produced such results.  The researchers used very healthy individuals—19-year old, non-smoking, non-drinking, non-diabetic, non-overweight individuals (the average B.M.I was about 21).  Now, I understand that the idea was to control for all sorts of variables, in order to get unambiguous results, however, the choice of using non-diabetic individuals makes the results predictable.  According to theory, acupuncture works by stimulating the body’s systems to return to a natural balance.  The authors of this study seem to have been testing whether this one acupuncture point alone would simply increase or decrease blood glucose when there was no significant imbalance in the subjects.   That’s not the way acupuncture should work; if my blood glucose went down significantly each time I activated CV-12, I would be severely hypoglycemic! (Because activating CV-12 is part of many qi gong exercises).  Thankfully, the point, if it works, works in conjunction with others to nudge the body’s systems closer to a healthy balance, not to arbitrarily lower blood glucose levels.

Study Seemingly Designed to Disprove Acupuncture

Which raises the other aspects of the study which seem designed to reduce the effects of its treatment.  The use of a single point, I think, is good research, for otherwise we will never verify the effects of each point alone, however, one should expect the effect to be much lower than when using combinations of points, such as in almost all other studies.  And 20-minute session? This would seem to insure a very minor effect! It is good to find out how much one 20-minute session does, but to expect a significant effect seems misguided; and, they could have discovered the one-session effect while still continuing sessions to look for a cumulative effect.  Except of course, that since these were healthy teenagers, we should hope and expect that further sessions would not lower their blood glucose too significantly!

Acupuncture Lowers Blood Glucose

So, given those considerations, it seems to me that the fact that there was any difference between the acupuncture and placebo groups, even an insignificant one, is significant!

But, obviously, we need to do more research.  Diabetes is a terrible—pandemic—problem.  And research so far suggests that acupuncture can help.  And medical science is supposed to advance slowly and surely, through much and varied testing (if only the same caution were applied to all medicines!).  So, I commend these researchers for trying to get unambiguous results of some kind, and I do not find the slightness of those results discouraging in this case.

But the slow advance of medical proof should provoke us to focus more on the empowering aspect of much alternative and complementary medicines--that we need not be at the mercy of drugs, or acupuncture, to make ourselves feel better and increase our health every day.  Everyone agrees that the ideal treatments for type II diabetes are healthy diet and exercise.  And you can find plenty of recommendations and reliable information about those options, here and elsewhere.  Let us continue to investigate alternative treatments like acupuncture, because the more risk-free options we have the better; and acupuncture is well enough validated already to justify using it.

And let’s not think in terms of “treatments” all the time; I think, ideally, we want to take care of ourselves, by living well, and this is the best reason to pursue complementary and alternative medicine.

- Aaron D. Nitzkin, Ph.D.

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