In India, nearly 93 million people suffer from chronic respiratory conditions, out of which 37 million people are asthmatics. Asthma is characterised by bronchial hyper-responsiveness along with chronic airway inflammation, accompanied by chest tightness, episodic wheezing, breathlessness, and cough. Asthma is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide, ranking among the top 20 conditions leading to disability globally.
Apart from affecting the quality of life, asthma can lead to severe disability and even bring a heavy financial burden to patients, their families, and society. While pharmacotherapies like long-acting beta-agonists and daily inhaled corticosteroids are widely recommended to prevent any serious exacerbation and keep the symptoms under control, long-term pharmacological treatment can inevitably cause potential side effects, like adrenal suppression, liver toxicity, reduced bone mineral density, and increased risk of death.
In such a scenario, effective and safe alternative therapies like acupuncture can make a real difference. Recent studies have shown that acupuncture therapy can provide relief from asthma-related symptoms and make a difference in the inflammatory cell counts of the affected patients.
How Acupuncture Works
In acupuncture, thin needles are inserted at different points (acupoints) in the body to stimulate those areas. A review published by the journal ‘Pain Medicine’ in 2015, looking at present evidence and research on the definition and function of acupoints, revealed that these acupoints might sustain certain changes or release certain substances in ways that adjust the functioning of certain organs, affect symptoms of various diseases or maintain homeostasis in the body.
When the pressure points (acupoints) are activated in acupuncture with the needles, it stimulates the central nervous system to release certain chemicals into the brain, spinal cord and muscles, which regenerates the body’s self-healing capacity.
What Do Studies Suggest
According to a study published by the ‘Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine’ in 2017, allergic asthma patients who had 15 acupuncture sessions as well as routine care over the course of 3 months had considerable improvements in health-related and disease-specific quality of life compared to patients who had only routine care.
Additionally, a meta-analysis and review published by the Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2019 found that acupuncture combined with conventional asthma treatments can lead to a significant improvement in symptom-response rates and lower levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6). IL-6 is a protein that the body produces in response to injuries and infections.
In another randomised controlled trial of 1,445 patients, it was found that patients who received acupuncture therapy had significantly reduced allergic asthma during work and social activities, strenuous and moderate exercise, and during sleep.
The best part about acupuncture therapy is that there are very few safety concerns attached to its practice. While acupuncture therapy certainly helps with asthma management, it is always a good idea to ask your physician about adding this new complementary therapy to your care. If you’ve already spoken to your doctor and got the go-ahead, always go for an experienced acupuncturist, since getting the treatment from an unqualified professional may cause complications in the future.
(Dr. G Prakash, Deputy Chief medical officer, Jindal Naturecure Institute)