Osteoporosis is an growing problem, that can lead to increased pain and suffering, debility and bone fractures. There is evidence that acupuncture for osteoporosis can be an effective treatment. Unfortunately, there is little funding for acupuncture research at this time which means that no large-scale studies have been conducted.
In animal studies, research done at Chengdu University has proven that acupuncture increases bone metabolism in rats. This experiment had been carried out on female rats with lower estrogen levels that suffered from osteoporosis.
There have been several human studies on acupuncture for osteoporosis, and a 2010 meta-analysis indicates overall positive evidence that acupuncture increases bone formation in people with osteoporosis. Of course, more large-scale studies are needed.
Research published in the Journal of Clinical Acupuncture and Moxibustion demonstrates that acupuncture and herbs reduce pain, numbness, and dizziness while improving walking for patients with osteoporosis. Compared with a control group receiving only standard medical care, a group receiving standard care plus acupuncture and herbal medicine achieved significantly greater positive patient outcomes. There were also a greater increase in bone density in the group that received acupuncture and herbal medicine.
In another study conducted at First Affiliated Hospital of Chengdu Medical College, researchers compared acupuncture for osteoporosis with calcium supplementation, a common medical recommendation for the condition. The researchers measure osteocalcin levels, performed DEXA scans for bone mineral density and used VAS scale to measure patient pain levels. The acupuncture group outperformed the calcium supplementation group.
In the acupuncture group, there was a total effective rate of 90.10%. Mean bone mineral density increased from -2.50SD to 0.83SD, mean serum osteocalcin increased from 3.5mg/L to 6.2mg/L, and mean VAS scores dropped from 4.50 to 2.70 following treatment. The drop in VAS scores indicates reduced pain levels. Calcium supplements also produced beneficial results. In the calcium supplementation group, there was a total effective rate of 80.22%. Mean bone mineral density increased from -2.80SD to 0.63SD following treatment, mean serum osteocalcin increased from 4.0mg/L to 5.2mg/L and mean VAS scores dropped from 4.23 to 3.41 following treatment. Combining calcium supplementation with acupuncture treatment may produce increased benefits for those with osteoporosis.
In practice, acupuncturists will often recommend treatment with dietary therapy and Chinese herbal medicine for patients with osteoporosis. Our experience is that this produces even better outcomes. The herbal treatment will be targeted toward supporting bone formation by supporting the kidney function. Emerging scientific evidence has confirmed the validity and identified the molecular mechanisms of many ancient TCM theories. One example is the concept of “Kidneys Govern Bone Formation.” Discoveries since 2000 have identified a new bone-kidney endocrine axis. Based on the bone-secreted FGF23 and kidney-expressed Klotho, it plays a crucial role in calcium-phosphate metabolism and vitamin D regulation. To read more on this fascinating discussion of the bone-kidney endocrine axis, click here.
Overall, osteoporosis patients can expect that acupuncture will help improve function; decrease pain levels; and perhaps–as these studies indicate–improve bone mineral density. Patients should also consider Chinese dietary therapy and Chinese herbal medicine as a way to improve outcomes.
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