June / July #15 : On Pins and Needles - by David Thomas

POZ - Health, Life and HIV
Subscribe to:
POZ magazine
Join POZ: Facebook MySpace Twitter Pinterest
Tumblr Google+ Flickr MySpace
POZ Personals
Sign In / Join

Back to home » Archives » POZ Magazine issues

Table of Contents

Do You Believe in Magic?

Cents and Sensibility


A Mind of Her Own

Blade Runner

Mortal Obsession

The Heat Is On

Betrayal! Cowardice! Treachery!


On Pins and Needles

Crazy? Not at All

Missing Person

In the Matter of Life and Death

"What About AIDS?" Again.


Up In Smoke

Manifesto Destiny

Fast Times at Hillsboro High

Sense of a Woman

Show Me Some Skin

Who to call to help pay for meds

It's Up To Him, New York: Ronald Johnson

Cool Food

Most Popular Lessons

The HIV Life Cycle


Herpes Simplex Virus

Syphilis & Neurosyphilis

Treatments for Opportunistic Infections (OIs)

What is AIDS & HIV?

Hepatitis & HIV

email print

June / July 1996

On Pins and Needles

by David Thomas

Acupuncture may be ancient, but it offers thoroughly modern benefits

For a treatment going back two millennia, acupuncture has gotten a lot of attention in recent years -- much of it from the HIV community: Several scientific reports about this treatment's benefits for PWAs have been presented at each International Conference on AIDS. The Office of Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is funding a survey of broad patterns of benefit from nondrug therapies (including Chinese medicine) used by people with HIV. That office has also supported two small HIV-related studies of acupuncture and herbal treatments, one for sinusitis and the other for anemia (now under way). Most important, a crop of HIV-specialized Chinese medical centers has sprung up nationwide, offering acupuncture along with such associated techniques as herbs, massage, heat, diet and exercise.

Acupuncture originated in China and is now used worldwide (in the U.S., 33 states license and regulate the practice). It is the best-known component of a complex medical system whose philosophical foundation holds that the body becomes sick when the life force, called qi (pronounced "chee"), is out of balance. Qi moves along invisible pathways, or meridians, connecting each organ to the others and to surface points on the skin. Through the insertion of solid, very thin sterilized needles at these points -- generally a painless procedure -- acupuncture stimulates the restoration of the balance of qi, and this engenders a gradual and gentle rebuilding of the body's innate healing ability.

Acupuncture users report that it can help with such HIV-related symptoms as peripheral neuropathy (a painful tingling in the limbs), sinusitis, pain-related problems, night sweats, insomnia, dry skin, headache, low energy and fatigue; the treatment has also proved useful for anxiety and depression. Studies have shown it can be a powerful tool to break addictions to drugs, alcohol or cigarettes (its use for drug detox is covered by Medicaid).

"In general, acupuncture is a stress-reduction treatment," says Laura Cooley, an acupuncturist at the Creekside Whole Health Center in Austin, Texas. "Most acupuncturists understand the connection between stress and the immune system. People almost always leave feeling very good."

Cooley says she doesn't think about acupuncture in terms of a balance of esoteric forces: "The doctors I work with don't look at it that way. Acupuncture is about empowerment -- it builds the system in general. When you build the system, you're increasing your resources -- physically, emotionally and mentally."

Acupuncture has been shown to release endorphins -- brain chemicals that lessen pain, induce restfulness and, by stimulating the immune system, may help the body withstand infection. While not everyone with HIV experiences dramatic benefits -- those with advanced AIDS generally have the least physical improvements -- the great majority report an enhanced sense of well-being, helping provide the clarity to make key life-preserving decisions. "Over time, acupuncture influences people to pay attention to their bodies in a deeper way," Cooley says. "This guides patients to become much more active participants in their own diagnoses and treatments."

Traditional Chinese medical clinics across the country have amassed considerable experience using acupuncture to treat HIV. Unfortunately, their shoestring budgets and the medical establishment's hostility to researching non-Western treatments have prevented large-scale studies of acupuncture's effects. The largest study now under way is being conducted through the Community Programs for Clinical Research on AIDS (CPCRA), a unit of NIH. This trial, which since 1994 has enrolled 189 patients at 11 sites, compares acupuncture to amitriptyline, an antidepressant drug, for the relief of peripheral neuropathy. Preliminary results are due in September. Dave Cohn, principal investigator of the Denver CPCRA and co-director of AIDS Services at Denver General Hospital, says, "There is a potential rational, physiological basis for why acupuncture may benefit peripheral neuropathy."

Like Cohn, Renslow Sherer is an M.D. interested in acupuncture. The director of AIDS Services at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, he runs a complementary therapy clinic offering acupuncture and massage to about 100 poor clients a month as a treatment for peripheral neuropathy, detoxification and other problems. "Demand in the community has been high, and acceptance on the part of the hospital has been high," Sherer says, adding: "But with the deep cuts in AIDS funding, we may not be able to sustain the program. In the long run, treatments like acupuncture are cost-effective, because they keep people healthier longer, which reduces the need for expensive combination drug therapies."

Acupuncture's appeal may not be universal, but for many people living with HIV, it has relieved physical and emotional stress. If the outcome of current research is encouraging, acupuncture may become even more popular in the AIDS community.

[Go to top]

Facebook Twitter Google+ MySpace YouTube Tumblr Flickr Instagram
Quick Links
Current Issue

HIV Testing
Safer Sex
Find a Date
Newly Diagnosed
HIV 101
Disclosing Your Status
Starting Treatment
Help Paying for Meds
Search for the Cure
POZ Stories
POZ Opinion
POZ Exclusives
Read the Blogs
Visit the Forums
Job Listings
Events Calendar
POZ on Twitter

Ask POZ Pharmacist

Talk to Us
Did you participate in an event for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day 2016?


more surveys
Contact Us
We welcome your comments!
[ about Smart + Strong | about POZ | POZ advisory board | partner links | advertising policy | advertise/contact us | site map]
© 2016 Smart + Strong. All Rights Reserved. Terms of use and Your privacy.
Smart + Strong® is a registered trademark of CDM Publishing, LLC.