Can Acupuncture help psoriasis?
Acupuncture as Alternative Medicine for Psoriasis
Scientific evidence about the effectiveness of acupuncture as a treatment for psoriasis is mixed. One frequently cited study from UCLA found that it cleared flares completely in half the people who tried it and significantly improved symptoms in an additional 25 percent of patients. Another study from Sweden, however, found that people who received active (intramuscular) acupuncture fared no better than people who received a placebo. But that study is 15 years old, and its results don’t automatically mean that acupuncture has no merit.
"The problem is that a 3, 000-year-old Chinese medical practice does not fit well into the Western clinical trial model, " says Jamie Starkey, LAc, the lead acupuncturist at the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Institute. Controlled trials — which generally use “sham” acupuncture (random needle placement) as the so-called placebo — are difficult to carry out and somewhat controversial, as some experts think limited funds are better spent elsewhere.
Still, many patients say it’s worth a shot. Psoriasis discussion forums and blog posts are crowded with comments from people who claim they’ve tried it and seen significant improvements — or, in some cases, complete psoriasis remission. And even some doctors and specialists say it may help. "We know that psoriasis is caused by an autoimmune disease, but we also know that it is triggered by stress, ” says Dr. Tung. “Acupuncture may work quite well to reduce stress. I have seen it work well for many chronic diseases, and I would have no objection to trying it along with other psoriasis treatments."
The key, Starkey explains, is redirecting the flow of energy in your body, known as chi. "I could use acupuncture needles to surround a psoriasis flare on the skin in an attempt to promote the flow of chi to the area to balance the immune response, " she says. Using acupuncture needles around a psoriasis flare is called "surrounding the dragon."
Reasons to Consider Acupuncture
"I don't treat many patients specifically for psoriasis, " Starkey admits, "but psoriasis affects the whole body, and Chinese medicine is a whole-person treatment, so there is no reason it would not be a good fit." Here are some other reasons to consider trying it:
- Acupuncture is a very safe alternative medicine treatment. "The risk/reward balance is in your favor, " Starkey says.
- Acupuncture is not likely to interfere with any of your existing psoriasis treatments. Unlike with certain herbal remedies or supplements, there’s no risk of drug interaction, so "acupuncture can be used along with other treatments as part of a treatment plan that includes stress reduction, " Tung says.
Bottom line? When it comes to a 3, 000-year-old alternative medicine treatment like acupuncture, you may have to use your own judgment to decide whether it’s right for you. More research is needed to confirm its benefits, but double-blind controlled studies are difficult to come by, so you may have to rely on other patients’ testimonies or expert opinion. A little extra chi may be just what you need — but talk with your doctor first so that he or she remains aware of all facets of your treatment plan.