Acupuncture May Improve Breathing in COPD Patients
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is one of the most common lung diseases and the third leading cause of death in the United States, according to the American Lung Association. The condition makes it difficult to breathe, particularly upon exertion. A small clinical trial from researchers in Japan has found that acupuncture may improve labored breathing in COPD patients.
There are two main forms of COPD: chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Most patients have a combination of both with symptoms that include cough (with or without mucus), dyspnea (shortness of breath), wheezing, fatigue, and frequent respiratory infections. COPD is most common in smokers but in rare cases, genetic abnormalities can lead to patients having the disease.
Masao Suzuki LAc PhD of Kyoto University and Meiji University of Integrative Medicine and colleagues randomized 68 patients diagnosed with COPD into one of two groups. The first group received a real acupuncture regimen for 12 weeks plus daily medication. The participants in the second group were assigned to receive placebo acupuncture where the needles were blunted and did not actually enter the skin. Dyspnea on exertion (DOE) was measured after a six-minute walk test using the Borg scale where 0 meant “breathing very well, barely breathless” and 10 signified “severely breathless.”
After the three-month treatment, the Borg scale score improved from 5.5 to 1.9 in the acupuncture group, versus no improvement in those receiving the dummy treatment. In addition, the authors note clinically relative improvements in “nutrition status (including BMI), airflow obstruction, exercise capacity, and health-related quality of life.”
Acupuncture is a system of traditional medicine used in China and other eastern cultures for thousands of years to restore, promote, and maintain good health. Traditional acupuncture takes a holistic approach which may also include dietary or lifestyle changes.
According to the British Acupuncture Council, acupuncture may help relieve COPD by reducing bronchial immune-mediated inflammation and reducing inflammation in general by promoting the release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors. The practice may also improve both airway mucociliary clearance and the airway surface liquid, as well as regulate cytokine production.
The authors acknowledge that larger studies are needed, but that this points to an important potential role for acupuncture in COPD management.
In an invited commentary which accompanies the study findings in the Archives of Internal Medicine, George T. Lewith, MA MD FRCP MRCGP and Mike Thomas PhD FRCP, of the University of Southampton, Hampshire, England, write: "Evaluating traditional interventions, such as acupuncture, that are widely available has many implications, including the fact that best practice and dose response have rarely been evaluated scientifically as would be the case for a new pharmaceutical agent."
Suzuki M, et al "A randomized, placebo-controlled trial of acupuncture in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): the COPD-acupuncture trial (CAT)" Arch Intern Med 2012; DOI: 10.1001/archinternmed.2012.1233.
Lewith GT, Thomas M. "Reevaluating acupuncture research methods" Arch Intern Med 2012; DOI: 10.1001/archinternmed.2012.1674.