Acupuncture: Real or Not, Can Ease Side Effects of Cancer Drugs


Story at-a-glance -

  • Acupuncture helped to significantly improve menopausal symptoms among women taking estrogen-lowering drugs for breast cancer
  • Both patients who received traditional acupuncture and those who received a sham acupuncture procedure experienced similar symptom reductions
  • This could be a demonstration of the placebo effect in action, or the slight pricking of the skin involved in the sham procedure may have caused actual physiological changes
  • Acupuncture has been safely used for thousands of years to treat dozens of health conditions, including chronic pain, nausea, high blood pressure, and more
  • Acupuncture appears to work equally well with skin-penetrating needles or acupressure (the use of pressure to stimulate acupuncture points)

By Dr. Mercola

Every year, millions of Americans turn to acupuncture as part of their health care routine, using it to relieve chronic pain, high blood pressure, nausea and much more. Although in the US, acupuncture is considered an alternative to conventional forms of medicine, it is actually one of the oldest healing practices in the world.

In China, Japan, Korea, and other Asian countries, acupuncture has been used for thousands of years, and its staying power isn’t merely a matter of superstition or coincidence.

Acupuncture has withstood the test of time because it works to safely relieve many common health complaints. And, interestingly, one recent study even showed that not only does acupuncture work, but so, too, does a sham acupuncture procedure…

Acupuncture May Ease Menopausal Symptoms in Cancer Patients

New research has again confirmed acupuncture’s usefulness, this time among women being treated with aromatase inhibitor drugs for breast cancer. The drugs, which lower estrogen, often lead to significant menopausal symptoms including joint and muscle pain, hot flashes, and night sweats.

The study involved nearly 50 breast cancer patients taking aromatase inhibitors. They received either eight weekly acupuncture sessions or a sham procedure involving non-penetrating needles placed in “fake” acupuncture points.1

It turned out that both sets of patients reported significantly improved symptoms, especially among hot flashes. This included those who had received either the real or sham acupuncture.

This could certainly be a demonstration of the placebo effect in action, although the researchers also suggested that the slight pricking of the skin involved in the sham procedure may have caused physiological changes. Either way, if it works to make you feel better, does it really matter why? As Dr. Ting Bao, the study’s lead author, stated:2

“Acupuncture as a medical procedure has been practiced for thousands of years… It has a minimal risk and potentially significant benefits.”

How Does Acupuncture Work?

With documented use dating back more than 2,500 years, acupuncture is based on the premise that there are more than 2,000 acupuncture points in the human body, which are connected by bioenergetic pathways known as meridians. It is through these pathways that Qi, or energy, flows, and when the pathway is blocked, the disruptions can lead to imbalances and chronic disease.

The treatment itself, which involves the insertion of metallic hair-thin needles (typically three to 15) into specific acupuncture points, can be conducted by a physician or a trained acupuncturist. It generally involves little or no discomfort, and patients often report feeling energized or relaxed following the procedure.

Acupuncture is proven to impact a number of chronic health conditions, and it’s thought that it stimulates your central nervous system to release natural chemicals that alter bodily systems, pain and other biological processes. Evidence, in fact, suggests that acupuncture impacts the body on multiple levels, including:3

  • Stimulating the conduction of electromagnetic signals, which may release immune system cells or pain-killing chemicals
  • Activation of your body’s natural opioid system, which may help reduce pain or induce sleep
  • Stimulation of your hypothalamus and pituitary gland, which modulate numerous body systems
  • Change in the secretion of neurotransmitters and neurohormones, which may positively influence brain chemistry
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Acupuncture Has Nearly 30 Proven Uses and 60+ Potential Uses

When it comes to acupuncture, one of the most common uses is in treating chronic pain. One analysis of the most robust studies available concluded that acupuncture has a clear effect in reducing chronic pain, more so than standard drug-based pain treatment.4

Study participants receiving acupuncture reported an average 50 percent reduction in pain, compared to a 28 percent pain reduction for standard pain treatment without acupuncture

However, chronic pain is only one of 30+ proven uses for this natural treatment. The World Health Organization (WHO) conducted an extensive review and analysis of clinical trials related to acupuncture, and reported the procedure has been proven effective for the following diseases:5

Adverse reactions to radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy

Allergic rhinitis (including hay fever)

Biliary colic

Depression (including depressive neurosis and depression following stroke)

Dysentery, acute bacillary

Dysmenorrhoea, primary

Epigastralgia, acute (in peptic ulcer, acute and chronic gastritis, and gastrospasm)

Facial pain (including craniomandibular disorders)


Hypertension, essential

Hypotension, primary

Induction of labor

Knee pain


Low back pain

Malposition of fetus

Morning sickness

Nausea and vomiting

Neck pain

Pain in dentistry (including dental pain and temporomandibular dysfunction)

Periarthritis of shoulder

Postoperative pain

Renal colic

Rheumatoid arthritis




Tennis elbow


Additionally, acupuncture has also shown a therapeutic effect for treating the following diseases and conditions, which range from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and addictions to whooping cough, although further research is needed:

Abdominal pain (in acute gastroenteritis or due to gastrointestinal spasm)

Acne vulgaris

Alcohol dependence and detoxification

Bell's palsy

Bronchial asthma

Cancer pain

Cardiac neurosis

Cholecystitis, chronic, with acute exacerbation


Competition stress syndrome

Craniocerebral injury, closed

Diabetes mellitus, non-insulin-dependent


Epidemic haemorrhagic fever

Epistaxis, simple (without generalized or local disease)

Eye pain due to subconjunctival injection

Female infertility

Facial spasm

Female urethral syndrome

Fibromyalgia and fasciitis

Gastrokinetic disturbance

Gouty arthritis

Hepatitis B virus carrier status

Herpes zoster (human (alpha) herpesvirus 3)




Labor pain

Lactation, deficiency

Male sexual dysfunction, non-organic

Ménière disease

Neuralgia, post-herpetic



Opium, cocaine and heroin dependence


Pain due to endoscopic examination

Pain in thromboangiitis obliterans

Polycystic ovary syndrome (Stein-Leventhal syndrome)

Postextubation in children

Postoperative convalescence

Premenstrual syndrome

Prostatitis, chronic


Radicular and pseudoradicular pain syndrome

Raynaud syndrome, primary

Recurrent lower urinary-tract infection

Reflex sympathetic dystrophy

Retention of urine, traumatic


Sialism, drug-induced

Sjögren syndrome

Sore throat (including tonsillitis)

Spine pain, acute

Stiff neck

Temporomandibular joint dysfunction

Tietze syndrome

Tobacco dependence

Tourette syndrome

Ulcerative colitis, chronic


Vascular dementia

Whooping cough (pertussis)

There Are Many Different Types of Acupuncture: You Choose What Works Best for You

While traditional acupuncture involves the use of needles (acupuncture actually means “to puncture with a needle”), sometimes the stimulation of acupuncture points is done using electricity, lasers, or acupressure (the use of pressure to stimulate acupuncture points).

The term acupuncture is often used to describe all of these modalities, as each has shown similar benefits. This means that if you like the idea of trying a natural, ancient technique like acupuncture, but don’t like the idea of having needles inserted into your body, there are needle-free alternatives you can try that can offer many of the same benefits.

In one study that evaluated acupuncture for cancer patients suffering from nausea during radiotherapy, one group received traditional acupuncture with skin-penetrating needles while a second group received simulated acupuncture with a blunt placebo needle that only touched their skin.6 Interestingly, 95 percent of the patients in both groups felt that the treatment helped relieve nausea, and 67 percent experienced other positive effects such as improved sleep, brighter mood, and less pain.

My favorite form of “needle-less acupuncture” is The Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT, which is the psychological acupressure technique I most highly recommend. EFT is based on the same energy meridians used in traditional acupuncture to treat physical and emotional ailments but without the invasiveness of using needles, nor the inconvenience and cost of having to have a practitioner available to treat you.

Instead, simple tapping with the fingertips is used to input kinetic energy onto specific meridians on your head and chest while you think about your specific problem -- whether it is a traumatic event, an addiction, pain, etc. -- and voice positive affirmations. This combination of tapping the energy meridians and voicing positive affirmation works to clear the "short-circuit" -- the emotional block -- from your body's bioenergy system, thus restoring your mind and body's balance, which is essential for optimal health and the healing of physical disease.

You can conduct EFT yourself, but if you are not getting the results you would like, or you have a particularly traumatic issue, consider consulting with a skilled EFT professional. Likewise, if you decide to give traditional acupuncture a try, be sure you consult with a qualified practitioner, as your results may vary depending on the practitioner’s skill level.