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Ask an expert - body - skin conditions

30 questions

A: There are a number of studies of the use of acupuncture for treating Raynauds, such as:
which are also included in our factsheet

but as we conclude there, the evidence is not really conclusive enough to give any guarantee that acupuncture would be of benefit.
However, Chinese medicine looks at the functioning of the body in entirely different ways from orthodox medicine, and the theories, which are based on the flolw of energy called 'qi' in the body, can often provide treatment strategies where western medicine has nothing to offer. This is not to claim acupuncture will succeed where orthodox medicine failed; many conditions are just as difficult to treat in the eastern paradigm as they are are in the western one. The different understanding of human physiology and the different techniques often provide alternative approaches where western medicine has run out of options, and Raynauds Syndrome is a condition whose intractability means that sufferers are often left with few options.

In particular, an acupuncturist might focus on the parts of the system which are understood in Chinese medicine to be responsible for ensuring that energy is properly distributed to the extremities. Some of these Organs (capitalised to differentiate the concept from that of a western organ) have a number of wide ranging functions, and if one aspect is failing there should be evidence of poor performance in other functions which confirm what is going on. The taking the pulse at the wrist and looking at the tongue can also provide evidence of how different parts of the system function and inter-relate. After taking a look at how the whole system is functioning a practitioner will have a clear idea of whether there is a functional dusturbance in the whole system or local blockage, and treat accordingly. Whatever he or she finds will be unique to you; the very great strength of Chinese medicine is that it treats patients, not simply conditions, and finding out why you in particular have this problem is an essential part of trying to solve it. 

 Our best advice is to contact a BAcC member local to you and seek their advice face to face in whether they can help with the Raynauds as it manifests in your system. We are confident that they will give you an honest assessmenmt of whether acupuncture would be of benefit to you. 


A:  We have a factsheet on our website
which outlines some of the research evidence for the treatment of herpes zoster (shingles) and makes encouraging noises.
However, from a Chinese medicine perspective, shingles is described in terms of being an 'external invasion of wind and heat', and there are protocols which are used for its treatment when it first appears. As in the equivalent western treatment, the taking of acyclovir, there is a strong correlation between early treatment and reduction in the severity of the symptoms. In Chinese medicine, there are many case studies which describe how rapid intervention to expel the pathogens seems to make a considerable difference.
Once the condition is entrenched, though, it becomes more difficult to shift, whichever system of medicine is used, and the best that one can hope for from acupuncture treatment is usually only the reduction in severity of the symptoms.
A great deal depends on where the rashes have appeared. Those of the face and head can be particularly uncomfortable, and many patients are happy to accept whatever relief they can get. We always counsel caution in cases like this, because relief can be transient, and prolonged treatment  can become very expensive. If someone values the relief they get, whatever the expense, we like to ensure that they do so as a conscious choice and not simply rack up a large bill over time through habit. Our experience is that patients like to be in charge of this kind of process and can become upset if they aren't involved in regular reviews of progress and outcome.

Chinese medicine works from an entirely different theoretical basis which can often make sense of a symptom for which there is no obvious classification in conventional medicine. In fact, there are occasions where problems which people would not take to a GP fall within an understanding of possible pathologies from a Chinese medicine perspective.
However, you do need to at least check with your GP whether there is anything going on with your system as a whole. Although it would be rare for your symptom to be a sign of a serious underlying illness, there are a small number of conditions where excessive redness of the face together with a sensation of heat might be pointing to a condition which requires conventional treatment.
After that it would be worth your while to seek the advice of a BAcC member local to you. There may be other indicators in the way that your system is functioning which point to more general patterns of imbalance, or there may be local blockages in the flow of energy which are causing the symptoms to manifest - a great deal depends on exactly where the symptom appears, and when.
We would advise you to be careful, however. BAcC members are particularly careful not to embark on long sequences of treatment for conditions like this, where changes may or may not occur, and regularly review what they do to ensure that the patient retains control of the process. We have heard of less scrupulous practitioners, though, and anyone who guarantees success or asks for a commitment to ten sessions is to be treated with caution.    

There is not a great deal of evidence that acupuncture has been used successfully for treating this condition. This becomes very clear when you undertake any searches for evidence. There is a single paper for the use of acupuncture and hypnotherapy ('hypnopuncture')

Please click here

which is cited over and over again without any further additions, a certain sign that there is no other evidence. We are sure that there are probably a large number of trials which have been undertaken in China, but the great majority of these have not been translated and are often regarded in the West as methodologically flawed.

However, skin diseases are as old as mankind, and the systems of Chinese medicine do have ways of interpreting the signs and symptoms of diseases like prurigo within its framework. These often use terms like 'invasions' of 'heat', 'wind' or 'damp' which sound alien to the western ear but describe the effects of climate (as experienced by a largely agrarian population) on the flow of energy, called 'qi', especially where this disrupted the flow, rhythm and balance near the skin surface. Everyone is aware of the short term effects of exposure to extremes of climate, and from a Chinese medicine perspective, whether this is the primary cause of a problem, or whether there is an underlying weakness which makes particular people vulnerable, the skill of the practitioner lies in assessing the overall balance as well as the presenting symptoms, and attempting to restore balance.

The best advice that we can give you is that you visit a BAcC member local to you for a brief face to face assessment of the problem. Crucial  to this assessment will be whether the problem is local or widespread. In broad terms, the more localised, the more treatment options there are. We would also recommend that you might want to see advice from someone who also does Chinese herbal medicine. The majority of the members of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine are also BAcC members. We say this because herbal medicine has developed a very good reputation over the years for treating skin conditions, the daily dose of herbs helping to maintain a treatment momentum. It may be that a combination of acupuncture and herbal medicine may prove a more potent force in helping your problem, but to what extent would depend on a more thorough assessment than we can give here.

You may find a number of American sites such as this one

Please click here 
which give some very clear and unequivocal advice about the treatment of hair loss. You may also have seen some of the high street shops with lurid photos of 'before' and 'after' treatment.
The reality is that there is very little research evidence to suggest that acupuncture can reverse hair loss if that is a stand-alone problem. This is becoming an increasing problem for men especially in modern times, and there are a number of theories, from stress to electro-magnetic radiation to increases in background hormone levels in drinking water, as to why this might be. However, there is no conclusive evidence for any of these, and no evidence that acupuncture can treat hair loss as a specific symptom.
However, hair loss can be associated with other conditions like Polycystic Ovary Syndroe (PCOS) in women and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in both sexes, and if this is the case, there are approaches in both conventional and Chinese medicine which may prove beneficial. Clearly the Chinese medicine ones will be looking at the symptom in the context of other symptoms which someone may have, and also in the context of understanding the body as a system of energy, or 'qi', whose flow, rhythms and balance have been disturbed. There are a number of functional elements understood from this perspective which contribute to the health and quantity of the hair, as well as its 'vitality', and if a diagnosis can make sense of the hair loss within this wider context, then there is some sense that acupuncture treatment may help.
However, progress, even if good, is likely to be slow, and there are, sad to say, professionals (not BAcC members, we are pleased to note) who make the kinds of claims for hair growth and recovery which  we do not believe are underpinned by evidence, either research or anecdotal, so we recommend great caution.   

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