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Acupuncture and anxiety

For those of us living in the West, it can seem a little strange to hear of all the uses for acupuncture. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as now practiced in China itself and throughout ASEAN, has the complete trust of the people forming slightly less than one-third the Earth’s population. The current population of the world is about 6.8 billion. The number of people actively relying on TCM is about 2 billion. The question this forces you to ask is, Can all these people be wrong? The answer is easy. For two thousand years, TCM has been building up expertise and has earned the trust and respect of each new generation as it grows up with the latest practice standards. Before we in the West get too high and mighty, we should remember that up to about one-hundred-fifty years ago, we were relying on hard drugs derived from opium like cocaine, using leeches to purify the blood and maggots to cleanse the wounds of those wounded in battle.

Against this background, it’s interesting to watch the spread of acupuncture in the West. For the last twenty years, there’s been a steady trickle of research studies praising acupuncture in the treatment of physical conditions. The best results are achieved by combining meditation through tai chi with acupuncture. It’s the balance between stimulation of the nerve bundles through the needles and the smooth physical movement of tai chi. This is the yin and yang of static and mobile treatments. The fairly consistent testbed for this type of alternative therapy has been the military. As an increasing number of personnel are returning home injured from active service in the Gulf and Afghanistan, it has been appropriate to throw out the medical rule book and try every possible therapy to deal with increasingly complex injuries.

At first, this was a successful approach to physical injuries but, with up to 45% of returnees suffering a mental disorder (about 17% have PTSD), a more active approach to their treatment has been required. Currently, there are sixteen different programs for PTSD based on acupuncture along with counseling and other supportive therapies. The first large-scale program began in the appropriately named Fort Bliss in 2007. This was a response to the spike in suicides among active service personnel. The Fort Bliss approach is now the increasing pattern for treating PTSD and, as more Vets are returning to civilian life, they are demanding acupuncture from their local healthcare services. The military does not care whether a treatment is standard or not. It’s only interested in practical benefits. Soldiers have been returning to active duty. That’s all the proof the Army needs. Hopefully, the civilian world will be more open-minded.

This turn to the East has not driven out Western medicine altogether. There’s still reliance on Valium (Diazepam) as one of the more reliable of the anti-anxiety medications. The strategy is to use an initial week or so of Valium (Diazepam) to break the cycle of hypervigilance and threatening depression. This produces a calmness of mind and, with the support and encouragement of the Army psychiatrists, the soldiers move on to acupuncture. This balance between drug therapy with Valium (Diazepam) as needed and consistent acupuncture and meditation is producing scientific data that will hopefully convince civilian doctors to take acupuncture more seriously.