Ask an expert - body - skin conditions

53 questions

As our fact sheet says please click here
 
there hasn't been a great deal of research in the use of acupuncture for the treatment of psoriasis, and where small studies have been done there has not been a great deal of success on which one could base a positive recommendation.
 
This is not to say that acupuncture treatment may not be of benefit. Skins problems such as eczema and psoriasis can have a variety of causes, some of them mental and emotional as well as environmental and the universal 'idiopathic', which is western medical speak for 'it just happens', or 'we don't know what causes it'. Traditional Chinese medicine was initially premise on the simple but profound belief that symptoms were merely alarm bells that the system as a whole was out of balance, and that a skilled physician would be able to assess what was needed to restore balance and by doing so eradicate the symptoms. There is no doubt that each year many people have acupuncture on this more general basis and experience some very encouraging results.
 
However, we have to say that the received wisdom in the acupuncture profession is that Chinese herbal medicine often generates better results for skin conditions, possibly because the regular daily or twice daily treatment is better suited to dealing with the problem or possibly because the precise adjustments of the prescription achieve what broader techniques may not. In any event, it may well be worth your while contacting a member of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine (RCHM) for advice. You will probably find that the person you speak to i also a BAcC member, since more than 90% of the RCHM membership is dual-registered.
 
This does not mean that we would entirely rule out acupuncture as your first option, and you may still find it valuable to discuss your own unique presentation with a BAcC member local to you. He or she will be able to give you a better face to face assessment depending on the spread and location of the condition than we could do here.

As you are no doubt already well aware, this is a relatively rare condition, and usually presents as a symptom of a number of auto-immune or connective tissue disorders. It is true to say, though, that much is still unknown about the problem.
 
From a traditional Chinese medicine perspective, where the diagnostic process takes signs and symptoms and assesses them against an entirely different conceptual framework, there may be ways of interpreting how the condition manifests, and should this be the case, there may be some possibility of treating it. Even were this not to be the case, the earliest forms of Chinese medicine tended to be less symptom driven and more concerned with the balance of the system as a whole. Clearly, if this condition manifests as a sign of a widespread problem as seen in Western terms, then an overall perspective such as that applied by the more constitutional forms of acupuncture may be equally appropriate.
 
It is important to point out, however, that there is no research of any kind which suggests that acupuncture treatment may be effective, partly we are sure, because of the rarity of the condition and the problems of assembling enough people to make a trial worthwhile. If you did decide to consider treatment it would be best to seek a brief face to face discussion with a BAcC member local to you for them to give you a clearer assessment of whether your particular presentation might be amenable to treatment. If you go ahead, we would recommend that you set very clear outcome measures and review periods to ensure that you can assess whether it is worth continuing.
 
We often advise enquirers with skin problems to consider Chinese Herbal medicine as well as, or even instead of, acupuncture. Fortunately many of our members are dual qualified, and if you check the RCHM (Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine) register you may find that someone local to you is also a BAcC member. Chinese herbal medicine has built up quite a solid reputation for addressing skin problems, and we believe that there is something about the precise formulae created and the daily treatment regime which seems to work with long term skin problems. Ideally your practitioner could combine the best of both forms of treatment, should you both agree that this is worth trying. 

Q:  I suffer from a severe form of acne and have despaired of all the drugs, treatments and diets. Can I be recommended a specific practitioner with experience of treating skin conditions?

 

A:  As our factsheet shows please click here
 
there is some evidence to suggest that acupuncture treatment may offer some hope of relief for sufferers from this condition. However, the trials on which this conclusion are based are almost all ones conducted in China and generally on a rather small scale with some methodological weaknesses, so we would be reluctant to say that you would be guaranteed positive results from treatment. We do know that it wouldn't do any harm, but after years of suffering that is not going to be a unique selling point.
 
When people approach us about skin problems we very often suggest that they consider Chinese Herbal medicine alongside, or possibly even instead of, acupuncture treatment. There is no doubt that the evidence from herbal medicine for treating skin problems in general is encouraging, and although CHM is based on the same diagnostic criteria which underpins a large percentage of conventional treatments, the fact that treatment is daily and that the herbal preparations are mixed for the specific presentation can add value to the outcomes.
 
The greater majority of practitioners on the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine (RCHM) are also BAcC members, and the Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ATCM) has members who are dual qualified in acupuncture and herbal medicine. Both have websites where you can find members near to you and it is highly likely that they will be able to offer you a brief consultation without charge to give you a face to face assessment of whether acupuncture and/or herbal medicine may be worth pursuing for your condition.

Q: I have what has been diagnosed as raynauds syndrome. my hand is numb and stings all the time. would acupuncture help?

 

A:  There are a number of studies, such as:
 
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9077368
 
and
 
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22516031
 
which are also included in our factsheet please click here


 
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.
 
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. 
 

Q: I´m a family doctor who recently graduated in acupuncture with the masters from our Medical Council in Barcelona. I have a friend who is suffering from a alopecia associated with stress the last 2 years, having also skin problems since his childhood (hipercrhomia and vitiligo). Does anyone has experience or a good literature source about alopecia treated with acupuncture?

 

A: There is not a great deal of literature to assist you, we're sorry to say. We tend to undertake the same sorts of literature searches which you might do using the 'ncbi' resource to access most of the Pubmed resource, mainly because we are constrained under UK advertising law to be very clear about the existing evidence for the treatment of specific conditions and extremely clear about what level of certainty this generates. Given that traditional acupuncture and randomised control trials are not a happy mix, the evidence is generally scant. In the case of the acupuncture treatment of alopecial there are only two or three articles in English and these date back to the 1980s and 1990s. There are undoubtedly hundreds in Chinese but we do not have the resources to translate them and assess them carefully for their methodological soundness.
 
There are a number of articles available in the traditional acupuncture press, such as
 
http://www.jcm.co.uk/product/catalog/product/view/6412/the-treatment-of-alopecia-with-acupuncture-and-related-techniques/
 
but if your training is in medical or western acupuncture, as we suspect it might be, then much of what these articles say will be largely incomprensible.
 
Certainly from an eastern or traditional acupuncture perspective we would be likely to see what else was happening in the patient's system which might place the symptom of alopecia in a wider and more informative context. Although the problem might be a local one the chances are that there are wider patterns of disharmony and imbalance, and correcting or addressing these patterns might offer the best chance of sustainable improvement. That said, there are a number of treatments which do involve the insertion of a number of needles both within and on the margins of the affected area. From an eastern perspective this is seen as encouraging the local flow of 'qi', and from a western perspective is understood in neurophysiologial and segmental terms, and there is an outside chance that this may help to reduce or reverse the condition. Our experience, however, is that alopecia is not very easy to treat, and we tend to ensure that patient expectations are as realistic as possible.

 

 

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