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Acupuncture for colds and bad throats

Q:  My 23 year old daughter has always suffered with colds/bad throats throughout her childhood. Unfortunately it has carried on into adulthood and this last year she has had one after the other. Would acupuncture help her, she also has at  times suffers with hair loss, leading to bald patches.

A:  The evidence for the treatments of cold and flu, as you can see from our factsheet

does exist but is a little less than convincing. This does not come as a great surprise to us, though. The kinds of trials favoured in the west for proof of efficacy, the so-called randomised double blind control trial borrowed from drug testing, does not particularly suit acupuncture treatment in general, and colds and flu in particular. The aim of RCTs is to reduce the number of variables to measure a specific outcome, but from our perspective the biggest variables are patients whose unique energy balances we work with, the from any perspective deciding what counts as 'identical' in two colds to make testing possible is well nigh impossible.

Chinese medicine has a very rich understanding of the conditions which from its perspective create the symptoms which we describe as colds, and most are related to the climate and changes within it. The Chinese were essentially an agrarian race, and factors such as exposure to wind and cold, or damp and heat, were seen as inherently threatening to a system unprepared for them. The fact that we are not exposed to similar conditions does not change the fact that the symptoms as they appear in modern times are amenable to the same treatments.

However, while there are agreed protocols for treating what we call colds, the situation with a cold which continues without really clearing, or which renders the person susceptible to cold after cold is slightly different, being seen by the Chinese as a weakness in the immune system, although this was not a word they used; in Chinese medicine the defensive energy of the body would be said to be weakened to the point where it cannot throw off the 'invasion' of the factor which generates symptoms. While the treatment of a relatively fresh cold is often aimed at clearing a pathogen, the treatment of a long-term weakness often involves building the whole system up. In modern times the advent of conditions grouped under names such as ME, or Post-Viral syndrome or Chronic Fatigue syndrome often display clinical features which are similar to defensive energy weakness.

This does not mean that they are automatically treatable. As you know, many people are crippled with ME and it can take years for someone to recover, so we would not even begin to estimate whether your daughter can be helped by acupuncture treatment. Our best advice is for her to visit a local BAcC member and to ask in person what, based on her signs and symptoms he or she may be able to achieve. This is likely to be far more helpful than bland positivity from us.

As far as hair loss is concerned, we have been asked questions about this before and we repeat our most recent advice below. There is a cautionary overtone to our response as you can see, because we have found that the fact that sufferers are highly self-conscious about their appearance can, if you are not careful, be mis-used in running up a large treatment bill. We are not suggesting that this is what the practitioner here is/was doing, but it is something which has to be borne in mind.

It may well be, though, that the weakness in the immune system is a contributory factor, so it may be worth seeing, if you decide to pursue acupuncture treatment, whether straightforward constitutional treatment helps to reduce the problem. 

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