Acupuncture: in aid of Smokers

Acupuncture: in aid of Smokers
MORE and more patients who fail to respond to modern medicine are turning towards alternative forms of therapy. Do these alternative systems work? Is it merely a placebo effect? Few doctors have done clinical studies to gather objective evidence to answer these questions.
In England, Dr. Tanvir Jamil, has systematically gathered information that suggests acupuncture could help patients quit smoking. He has used acupuncture on 21 patients who wanted to quit smoking and found that five of these gave up the habit, seven reduced the number of cigarettes smoked, and all found the therapy beneficial.

Basic principles

Chinese physicians have practiced acupuncture for over 5000 years. It is based on the concept Qi or bio- energy. The Chinese believe that Qi flows in the body through certain channels or ‘meridians’. Impaired flow leads to disease. ‘Acupoints’ are specific areas on the surface of the body which when stimulated modulate flow of Qi and influence the function of internal organs. Stimulation is achieved by puncturing the ‘acupoint’ with a needle or pressing it with the fingertip (acupressure). Doctors use special ‘maps’ that indicate the location of acupoints all over the body that can be stimulated to treat various conditions.

Many doctors in the West are using acupuncture to treat aches, pains, respiratory infections and allergies. Some claim that they have helped patients quit smoking, but there are no published data. So Dr. Jamil decided to bridge the gap by compiling information on patients who received acupuncture therapy in his clinic to help them quit smoking.
TherapyOver a six-month period, 15 women and 6 men received one acupuncture treatment every week for an average of four (range 2-5) weeks. At each session five ear points (see diagram) and two distal points in the hand were punctured and the needle was left in place for 20 minutes. Patients were also taught to use simple acupressure methods like applying firm pressure on the ‘lung point’ if they felt the urge to smoke.
ResultsFour patients withdrew from the therapy. Five quit smoking and seven decreased the number of cigarettes. Many found that acupuncture reduced stress and controlled craving. In one case, the patient had already stopped smoking and found the acupuncture helped in dealing with “withdrawal’ symptoms. Some noticed that the cigarettes started to taste terrible. Acupressure gave many patients something to do and distract themselves during periods of craving. Overall, patients found the therapy of ‘definite’ benefit.

One 66-year-old woman who had been smoking 20 cigarettes a day for more than 20 years could give up smoking because of this therapy. She had tried unsuccessfully to quit smoking five years earlier when her father died of bronchitis. Her husband had managed to quit with the help of nicotine patches. Neither nicotine patches nor smaller packs of cigarettes nor herbal cigarettes nor hypnotherapy helped her in any way. But after two sessions of acupuncture, she was down to five cigarettes a week. At the end of five sessions, she had stopped smoking. There was some craving initially but this settled rapidly after her second session. She found that acupressure helped her relieve stress. Three years after therapy, she continued to be a non-smoker. In this time, she had taken three sessions of acupuncture during periods of stress.

Scientific basisThe results seen by Dr. Jamil’s clinic could be due to release of endorphins and encephalins that were able to latch on to nicotine receptors in the brain. They could also have been due to hormonal stimulation that brought about the stress relief. Placebo effect cannot be ignored, especially as most of the patients were highly motivated and had wanted to give up smoking for a number of years.

Dr. Jamil has acknowledged that his sample size was too small with no control group to generalize the findings of his study. But data from an open study are better than no data at all. Besides, the results are encouraging enough to undertake further research.