- Question from JS: Is there evidence that these therapies actually make changes in the physical body - or is what happens to you just a placebo effect from feeling like people are taking care of you?
- Answers - Beth Baughman DuPree, M.D., F.A.C.S. Although I do not have a prospective randomized double blinded trial to support my knowledge in this field, I have 20 years experience as a surgeon to know that these changes are taking place in the physical body. The term, "placebo effect," is one that I often think may be synonymous with the body's own ability to heal. When the human body is so totally connected with one's mind and spirit, the healing process can and is accelerated. The exact cause of why this happens to me is not as great a concern as the fact that this is actually happening. When my patients receive chemotherapy and radiation and simultaneously are receiving some form of complementary therapy such as Reiki or acupuncture, I do not know that it is important to give one credit over the other. I feel the effects of both are so profound that I am just in awe of their abilities to be able to work in concert with one another.
The way to establish the role of the placebo effect vs. the effect of the complementary therapies is to do good rigorous study. The gold standard of that is the randomized controlled clinical trial.
In massage therapy, we are seeing a growth in interest in these kinds of studies. Specifically, one study looked at 230 patients and compared effects of massage, Healing Touch, caring presence, and just standard care, and found that massage reduced the pain and use of analgesics (pain killers) as well as anxiety. In addition, a meta-analysis which collects groups of studies together suggested that there was at least some short-term psychological benefit of massage for people with cancer. So we're on our way in establishing these things even more firmly.
Mary Ellen Scheckenbach
In acupuncture research, there is a significant body of study on physical changes in blood chemistry and changes on MRI resulting from acupuncture treatment. The issue of placebo with acupuncture has mostly been discounted due to the phenomenon of veterinary acupuncture. The placebo effect is obviously very complicated.
The documentation for physical changes from "being taken care of" exists. There is some preliminary evidence that endorphins, (natural painkillers produced by the brain), which are somewhat released during well-being experiences, have some cancer cell-killing effects. It's probably wise for us to consider care-taking from a loved one or a healthcare practitioner as integral for healing. The relationship with a complementary medicine practitioner is often very significant and important, and probably carries some effects into overall healing.
- Beth Baughman DuPree, M.D., F.A.C.S. My favorite quote to my patients is, "The energy that I share with you in our relationship is equally, if not more, important than the scalpel I will use to physically remove the cancer from your body."
- Mary Ellen Scheckenbach The word "energy" has now come up. What we learned in about sixth grade is that the atom is 99 percent space. We are made of atoms, which means that the physical reality of our being is space. In that space, there exists energy. Probably, that energy is organized in ways we don't understand yet. Probably, it becomes disorganized in some way in disease. Many of these modalities are not treating the body at the level of the biochemistry. They are probably treating at the physics level of the body. Again, we don't know exactly how, and we're in a very large process of learning how to make these interventions significant in the direction of health and well-being.
- Tracy Walton Could you distinguish further between the physics level and the biochemistry level?
- Mary Ellen Scheckenbach The biochemistry level is the level of matter, material—cells, tissue, organ systems. The physics level is the 99 percent space that we, in fact, are. It's hard to speak of it because it is not our everyday reality, but thanks to Einstein, we know.
The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Acupuncture and Touch Therapies featured Mary-Ellen Scheckenbach, M.Ac., Tracy Walton, L.M.T., M.S., and moderator Beth Baughman Dupree, M.D., F.A.C.S. answering your questions about acupuncture and touch therapies.
Editor's Note: This conference took place in March 2005.
The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.
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