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What are the most serious side effects of acupuncture?

Q: One of my friends had an acupuncture treatment to gain height. He is now worried whether it'll effect his life after marriage as he is still 25. And wants to know what are the most serious side effects of acupuncture.

A:  We're not quite sure what exactly your friend is worried about, but also a little uncertain about the treatment he had. Although we know of several clinics, mainly in India, where treatment is offered to help people gain height this is not something which any of us would tend to accept as a primary focus of treatment. As practitioners of Chinese medicine our principal focus is the treatment of the person, not the condition, and if this meant correcting functional disturbances from a Chinese perspective which had the corollary of making a conventional function change, then it is possible that someone might gain height as a consequence. One immediately thinks of the various growth hormones and the fact that acupuncture treatment might have the effect of stimulating a general improvement in their levels.

 There are a number of experiments on rats like this one

 which offer a view that treatment may have this effect, but no studies on humans from which it would be possible to draw conclusions.

 What we are pretty sure of, though, is that this will have no residual effect after his marriage. Where he is now is where he will stay unless his constitution is affected by age and lifestyle. We are not aware of any outcomes from treatment which create long-term lurking problems which emerge at a later stage. 

 As far as safety is concerned we helped to put together a safety website some while ago and this page

 refers you to several studies which show the kinds of adverse events which have been reported in the UK and western Europe. You will see from the figures that adverse events are rare and usually very mild and transient. The World Health Organisation study here:

 provides details of much nastier outcomes which our critics are often happy to trot out, but the reality is that these only occur when people lack proper training and equipment, and simply reflect that any medical treatment, complementary or conventional, where someone is not properly trained will lead to poor outcomes. In the UK the safety record is far better than nearly all forms of conventional medical treatment.


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