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Acupuncture, Macular Degeneration and Osteoporosis Updates

June 19, 2009 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

When it comes to health care, most of us would prefer to have plenty of options. I don’t just mean a choice of which physicians to see, but also what forms of treatment we can access. I believe an important step to increasing the availability of treatment options is to spread the word about alternative/complementary therapies that are scientifically validated but relatively unpublicized. Greater awareness opens doors and minds.

In April 2009, I wrote a column about the importance of vitamin C in maintaining bone strength. Since then, additional research has furthered the theory that vitamin C and other antioxidants may play an important role in preserving bone density in the aging population. The most prominent of the new studies will be published in the July issue of the journal Osteoporosis International. Here’s a brief overview of the design and results of that trial.

  • 34 postmenopausal women with an average age of 66 were divided into 4 groups: a) received only a placebo; b) received 1,000 mg of vitamin c and 600 mg of vitamin E; c) received the placebo and engaged in resistance exercise; and d) received the antioxidants and exercised.
  • Bone density measurements were directed at two key skeletal points, the femoral neck and the lumbar spine before and after the 6 month trial.

The results indicate that both antioxidant therapy and resistance exercise helped to preserve bone density. The portion of the group that received only the placebo demonstrated bone loss in the lumbar spine. The authors summarized their findings by saying that, “Antioxidant vitamins may offer some protection against bone loss in the same extent as resistance exercise although combining both does not seem to produce additional effects”. I would add that this type of information could prove invaluable for those who are unable to engage in regular bouts of resistance training. (1)

Two other newly released trials also provide support for the view that antioxidants may be a valuable player in supporting skeletal integrity. The first study looked at the levels of antioxidant enzymes and oxidative stress levels in 45 women diagnosed with osteoporosis as compared to 42 non-osteoporotic women. The women with osteoporosis evidenced greater levels of oxidative stress and a smaller quantity of key antioxidant enzyme activity. The researchers involved determined that this environment may contribute to bone loss and “might be considered when pathogenesis of postmenopausal osteoporosis” is being investigated. (2) A second study recently found that a Ginkgo biloba extract, which is rich in plant-based antioxidants, such as kaempferol and quercetin, helped to “restore bone mass” in rats without ovaries. This animal model is used to mimic the effect of a postmenopausal environment on bone parameters. (3)

In the past few months, I’ve discussed the importance of diet and supplementation for those suffering from and at risk for age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Those recommendations are strengthened by three new articles that are important to note.

  • 400 volunteers with early stage AMD recently participated in a trial that set out to determine whether a combination of concentrated carotenoids (antioxidant pigments found in fruits and vegetables) could slow the progression of this incurable eye disease. The experimental supplement used also contained vitamins C, E and the mineral zinc. The results of the trial indicate that the supplement did, in fact, slow AMD progression. It seemed to do so by preserving the the levels of antioxidant pigments in the macula. The portion of the test subjects that received a placebo demonstrated a significant decline in macular pigment levels and an expected advancement in disease severity. (4)
  • Earlier this month, a study was presented in the British Journal of Opthamology that offered some specific dietary suggestions about how to counter the effects of AMD. The recommendations were based on food questionnaires and diagnostic eye exams performed on almost 3,000 AMD patients who were followed for 8 years. The use of an antioxidant and nutrient rich supplement (AREDS) and the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish (DHA and EPA) showed benefits in terms of reduced AMD progression. Eating a low-glycemic diet, which helps to keep blood sugar levels stable, was also strongly endorsed. (5) Other newly uncovered evidence indicates that oxidative damage caused by excessive iron in the body may also cause ocular damage. Consuming additional antioxidants is believed to help counter this risk factor. (6)

Late in 2008, I highlighted the role that acupuncture could play in taming persistent headaches and supporting women’s health during pregnancy. But there’s a lot more to this type of needlework than that. Let’s take a quick look at a few encouraging studies that show the range of acupunctures potential.

  • In August 2009, a study will be published in the journal Neuroscience Letters. In it, stimulation of the acupuncture point PC6 led to a reduction in anxiety and stress levels in a group of mice over the course of an 8 week trial. The same treatment appeared to discourage sugar intake in this group of mice. This phenomenon may translate to a decrease in “comfort food” eating during times of stress. The authors of this experiment concluded that “acupuncture has a therapeutic effect on chronic stress and related diseases such as depression and anxiety”. (7)
  • One of the most promising areas of acupuncture research is its use in improving symptom management in very severe conditions. An example is found in the July issue of Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. There they describe a decrease in Tamoxifen related hot flashes of nearly 60% in a group of women receiving Chinese acupuncture. It’s interesting to note that the benefits continued on and actually increased in the subsequent 12 weeks following acupuncture treatment. (8)
  • Another instance of acupuncture improving a very serious medical condition can be found in the July edition of the journal Clinical Rehabilitation. A group of 60 patients with diagnosed schizophrenia were administered either real electro-acupuncture (pictured above) or “sham electro-acupuncture” over the course of 6 weeks – consisting of five 30 minute sessions each week. No side effects were noted in either group, but a big difference was found in response rate. The degree of auditory hallucinations, as measured by a test called the Psychotic Symptom Rating Scale Auditory Hallucination Subscale and the Negative Syndrome Scale, reduced by 43% in the 30 patients receiving the authentic electro-acupuncture. The authors of this groundbreaking research concluded that, “Electro-acupuncture might provide improvement in auditory hallucinations and positive symptoms for patients with schizophrenia partially responsive or non-responsive to risperidone monotherapy.” (9)

It’s unlikely that most conventional doctors will advise you to use antioxidants to support bone health and/or to protect against AMD progression. It’s even less likely that your psychiatrist will suggest electro-acupuncture to help reduce anxiety or auditory hallucinations. But you can bring these issues up. Don’t ever be afraid to discuss alternative treatments with your physicians. Inform yourself first and then present your case thoughtfully. By doing so you may just discover that your doctor is more open minded than you’ve assumed. Even if that’s not the case, at least you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you tried. Finally, keep in mind that a seed you plant today may take root in your doctor’s mind down the road. Keeping the lines of communication between patient and physician open will generally help to improve health care for us all.

Be well!


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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Bone and Joint Health, Nutritional Supplements

6 Comments & Updates to “Acupuncture, Macular Degeneration and Osteoporosis Updates”

  1. Oct Says:

    Very good information, JP. Interesting article.

  2. JP Says:

    Thanks, Oct!

    Be well!


  3. Iggy Dalrymple Says:

    “Don’t ever be afraid to discuss alternative treatments with your physicians.”

    I disagree. My mom was blackballed and kicked out of her town’s preferred medical practice when the doc learned that she did IV chelation. My ex feels that she must keep quiet about anti-cancer supplementation, in order to benefit from her doc’s conventional expertise. My doc got angry when I suggested that she send her severely asthmatic daughter to an acupuncturist. It’s generally not a good idea to discuss altmed with lay people. Most would much prefer to die at the altar of BigMed.

  4. JP Says:


    It sounds like you have good reason to disagree based on your experiences. Sadly, there are some doctors out there like that. But most people have some degree of choice as to where they choose to spend their health care dollars. If a physician treated me or my family in such a way, they wouldn’t be our physician for very long.

    It’s not a perfect system out there but the only way we can “vote” in instances like these is with our dollars and by voicing our disapproval when we’re mistreated.

    Be well!


  5. JP Says:

    Update 05/12/15:


    Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:143858.

    Acupuncture therapy is more effective than artificial tears for dry eye syndrome: evidence based on a meta-analysis.

    Background. The efficacy of acupuncture in dry eye syndrome patients remains controversial. Methods. Pubmed, Ovid, Cochrane libraries, CNKI, Wanfang, and CQVIP databases were electronically searched until October 1, 2014. Outcomes including tear break-up time (BUT), Schirmer I test (SIT), and cornea fluorescein staining (CFS) were analyzed. A meta-analysis was performed using both fixed- and random-effects models based on heterogeneity across studies. Results. Seven studies were included in this study; 198 and 185 patients were randomly treated with acupuncture and artificial tears, respectively. The overall BUT of patients in acupuncture group was significantly longer than that of the artificial tears group after treatment (P < 0.00001). The SIT was significantly higher in the acupuncture group than that in the artificial tears group after treatment (P = 0.001). The CFS of patients in acupuncture group was significantly improved compared to that in artificial group (P < 0.0001). Conclusions. Acupuncture therapy is effective for the dry eye patients, partly better than artificial tear treatment. Be well! JP

  6. JP Says:

    Updated 11/06/15:


    JAMA Ophthalmol. 2015 Oct 8:1-10.

    Intakes of Lutein, Zeaxanthin, and Other Carotenoids and Age-Related Macular Degeneration During 2 Decades of Prospective Follow-up.

    Importance: Despite strong biological plausibility, evidence from epidemiologic studies and clinical trials on the relations between intakes of lutein and zeaxanthin and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) has been inconsistent. The roles of other carotenoids are less thoroughly investigated.

    Objective: To investigate the associations between intakes of carotenoids and AMD.

    Design, Setting, and Participants: Prospective cohort study, with cohorts from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study in the United States. A total of 63 443 women and 38 603 men were followed up, from 1984 until May 31, 2010, in the Nurses’ Health Study and from 1986 until January 31, 2010, in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. All participants were aged 50 years or older and were free of diagnosed AMD, diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, and cancer at baseline.

    Main Outcomes and Measures: Predicted plasma carotenoid scores were computed directly from food intake, assessed by repeated food frequency questionnaires at baseline and follow-up, using validated regression models to account for bioavailability and reporting validity of different foods, and associations between predicted plasma carotenoid scores and AMD were determined.

    Results: We confirmed 1361 incident intermediate and 1118 advanced AMD cases (primarily neovascular AMD) with a visual acuity of 20/30 or worse by medical record review. Comparing extreme quintiles of predicted plasma lutein/zeaxanthin score, we found a risk reduction for advanced AMD of about 40% in both women and men (pooled relative risk comparing extreme quintiles = 0.59; 95% CI, 0.48-0.73; P for trend < .001). Predicted plasma carotenoid scores for other carotenoids, including β-cryptoxanthin, α-carotene, and β-carotene, were associated with a 25% to 35% lower risk of advanced AMD when comparing extreme quintiles. The relative risk comparing extreme quintiles for the predicted plasma total carotenoid index was 0.65 (95% CI, 0.53-0.80; P for trend < .001). We did not identify any associations of carotenoids, either as predicted plasma score or calculated intake, with intermediate AMD. Conclusions and Relevance: Higher intake of bioavailable lutein/zeaxanthin is associated with a long-term reduced risk of advanced AMD. Given that some other carotenoids are also associated with a lower risk, a public health strategy aimed at increasing dietary consumption of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids may reduce the incidence of advanced AMD. Be well! JP

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