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Acupressure for Smoking Cessation
October 5, 2009
Acupuncture, the ancient Chinese practice of inserting needles at certain points in the body, had been in practice since the early 1300’s. These extremely thin needles target areas on the body that are concerned with the Chinese idea chi or qi. If a body has good chi, then energy in the body is balanced and healthy. Each point, called an acupuncture meridian, is connected to the body’s internal organs. By introducing a needle into the acupuncture meridian, one is able to alter both mental and physical functioning, thereby allowing one to accomplish tasks that would otherwise seem impossible (http://www.altmd.com/Articles/Acupuncture-to-Quit-Smoking). One of the most common uses of acupuncture in the United States today is for pain management. Since acupuncture is used to treat a variety of issues, it is of no surprise that it would be considered a possible treatment for smoking cessation.
How is it that acupuncture can help not only the cessation of smoking, but also in alleviating symptoms related to withdrawal? Acupuncture treatments “focus on any physical or emotional withdrawal symptoms that may arise, and also aid in relaxation (http://www.edhacupuncture.com/quit.php). The type of acupuncture that is most widely used for smoking cessation is auricular acupuncture. This method of acupuncture focuses on the acupuncture points in the ear: shenmen, sympathetic, lung, and mouth (Wu, 2007). Many believe that the human ear has a similar shape to that a fetus in the womb. Looking at the image below, one can see the position of the fetus and subsequent locations of acupuncture points on the ear. Since smoking is a habit that is performed using the mouth and lungs, the meridians that are activated are those that are supposedly linked to those parts of the body.
There are numerous ideas as to why acupuncture could be effective in helping people quit smoking. For centuries in China, acupuncture was used to alleviate withdrawal symptoms from opium use. The belief is that acupuncture “may act on the nucleus accumbens to inhibit the rise in dopamine which seems to be the common pathway for withdrawal symptoms” (White, 2007). This idea could be linked to the possible connection of acupuncture and its effect on the release of neurotransmitters in the brain. However, the details of the effects are still unclear.
There are several ways to stimulate these acupuncture meridians, but the most common methods are acupuncture needles, indwelling needles, and magnets. For the traditional method of acupuncture, extremely thin needles are inserted into the skin to stimulate the desired meridian and remain there for about thirty minutes, at which time, the patient is allowed to relax. There is an additional manner in which needles are used for auricular acupuncture. In some instances, a small needle called an indwelling needle, can be introduced to one of the acupuncture meridians in the ear. This needle will remain in the patient’s ear for a period of about seven days when it will then be changed out for another in order to insure hygienic conditions. The patient is instructed to apply pressure to the needle when they feel the urge to smoke (Resch, 1999). By applying pressure, the needle stimulates the meridian and the user will feel less of an urge to smoke a cigarette, as well as less severe symptoms of withdrawal.
Numerous studies have been conducted to test the efficacy of acupuncture for smoking cessation.
In 1999, White, Resch, and Ernst performed a meta-analysis of acupuncture techniques for smoking cessation. For this project, researchers examined several previous studies that looked at acupuncture and sham acupuncture and its effect on smoking cessation. As a requirement, previous studies had to have been randomized. This data was synthesized in terms of successes and failures in intervention over the sham groups. It was determined that acupuncture was neither more nor less effective than sham acupuncture in smoking cessation. In fact, neither method proved to have a positive effect on the participants. However, there were methodological boundaries in the studies that were examined, and it was determined that further research was needed.
White, Moody, and Campbell (2006) also sought to the possible effects of acupuncture on smoking cessation. In this 2006 study, acupuncture was examined in tandem with NRT, or nicotine replacement therapy. Researchers separated participants into three randomized groups, all of which were using NRT, but who where being given different methods of acupuncture: 1. Two acupressure beads (similar to indwelling needles), 2. One acupressure bead, and 3. No acupuncture treatment. Participants were monitored for several months and at the end of the study, very little was discovered. Like the previous study, it was determined that further research was needed to conclude the role of acupuncture in smoking cessation because of the influence of NRT and behavioral intervention.
In August 2007, further examination of acupuncture was made. Wu, Chen, Liu, Lin, and Hwang, conducted a clinical trial that examined 131 adults seeking to stop smoking. In this study, participants were either administered real auricular acupuncture or sham acupuncture. Groups were randomized, however, there was no regard to gender, mean age, education level, smoking duration, daily number of cigarettes, and nicotine dependent scores. At the end of this study, the number of cigarettes, consumed by both acupuncture and sham acupuncture groups, declined. However, only the treatment group exhibited a decline in nicotine dependent scores. In total, there was little significant difference in smoking cessation in both treatment and control groups, thus pointing to the need for further studies that better address the treatment in question.
In addition to studies investigated the efficacy of acupuncture and smoking cessation, there was also a study conducted in 2007 that looked at its influence on simply the symptoms associated with nicotine withdrawal. Participants volunteered to take part in a four-week study in which they were randomly selected for real acupuncture or sham acupuncture. This study was also performed with a double-blind basis. After the four-week period, the effect of acupuncture withdrawal symptoms was examined. It was determined that there was no significant difference in relief of withdrawal symptoms between real and sham acupuncture. Furthermore, it was determined that protocol was not fully observed. Therefore, it is recommended that further studies be conducted with more attention to protocol (Hyun, 2007).
Hyun, M-K., Myeong, S. L., Kang, K., Choi, S-M. (2007). Body Acpuncture for Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms: A Randomized Placebo-controlled Trial. eCAM, 10(1093), 1-6.
Resch, K-L., White, A.R., Ernst, E., (1999). A Meta-analysis of acupuncture techniques for smoking cessation. Tobacco Control, 8(4), 393-397.
White, A.R., Moody, R.C., Campbell, J.L. (2007). Acupressure for smoking cessation—a pilot study. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 7(8), 1-9.
Wu, T-P., Chen, F-P., Liu, J-Y., Lin, M_H., Hwang, S-J. (2007). A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial of Auricular Acupuncture in Smoking Cessation. J Chin med Association, 70(8), 331-336.
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