In our modern world, an increasing number of people are suffering from chronic diseases, functional and pain disorders. Stressful lifestyles, deteriorating economic situations, unhealthy diets and lack of exercise are some of the factors affecting these trends in our society. Many adults are struggling with insomnia, nervous breakdown, anxiety, depression, over-eating, and various pain syndromes. Also, increasingly more children are suffering from obesity, diabetes, asthma, attention deficits and hyperactivity, environmental and food allergies, substance abuse and addictions. Consequently, more analgesics, narcotics, and psychotropic drugs are being prescribed in primary care. Unfortunately, these medications are often less than ideal and can cause side effects. There are other modalities that can be utilized to help solve these problems in medicine, one of them being acupuncture.
According to the 2002 United States National Health Interview Survey, around two million Americans reported recent use of acupuncture (#1). Another survey from 2002 estimated that 8.2 million adults in the United States had used acupuncture (#2).
The fact that so many of our fellow citizens seek acupuncture treatment should alert physicians to pay attention. Generally speaking, most people seek acupuncture because somebody they know has benefitted from acupuncture. Often, the conventional treatment they were prescribed was either not working, or working but inadequate, or causing side effects. The conventional treatment can also be too invasive, too costly, difficult to comprehend, or not addressing or meeting the needs of the patients. Imagine a hyperactive child suffering from insomnia and stunted growth as a result of taking amphetamines for his attention deficit. What is the mother to do? Continue the medication so her son can focus at school despite the side effects? Also imagine a son caring for his elderly father with chronic pain. Due to his kidney failure (thus anti-inflammatory drugs are contraindicated), this elderly father has to resort to taking narcotics to alleviate his pain. Consequently, he spends his waking hours in a daze and is at high risks of falls, needing 24-hour supervision for his daily living.
Certainly, there are gaps to be filled in primary care. We cannot forget that modern medicine has saved thousands of lives, increased our longevity, and improved the quality of our lives. Vaccinations, antibiotics, IV hydration, cardiopulmonary devices, surgical procedures and cancer therapies have kept us healthy and living longer. However, the disease model or approach taken in modern primary care medicine has its shortfalls. Most chronic diseases develop through time and exhibit very non-specific symptoms at an early stage. Most people who present to their doctors have certain dysfunctions that more often than not, do not fit any disease categories. These dysfunctions can be addressed through good doctor-patient relationships, careful observations, diligent follow-ups, involvement of patients and the community in health maintenance. Perhaps a shift of our medical paradigm is in order, as alleviating suffering prior to the development of disease is critical in the prevention of chronic diseases. Acupuncture, as the story unfolds on this website, can be a useful tool in reducing suffering prior to disease development, thus can play a part in prevention and public health.
Before we arrive at how we may want to use acupuncture for disease prevention and public health, however, an understanding of the history and the current research status of acupuncture is necessary.