richardhod wrote:this is most interesting. as one familiar with good quantitative research, i'm sad that much tcm isn't valid, as i do hope for softer alternatives to some procedures. Given most brain-body causal processes are not well detailed in science as yet, there could still be explanations in there for any TCM or similar practices which turn out statistically (ie empirically) to have value, and to be therefore explainable in the long run by science. Some of the herbs, and some manipulations may yet be in this category.
ps. placebo effect is very useful and quite strong. IMHO, feel free to go ahead and believe, just in case!
Worry not. I should have been clearer. I didn't mean that TCM doesn't work because there is simply no practical way to test out every technique and every herb. I'm sure many of the herbs do have medicinal effects. My problems is that the foundation is flimsy to non-existent. Whenever I challenge my mother to a simple placebo-controlled trial, she gets indignant. And that was the attitude I found throughout NYC's Chinatown. ASking how something works is a no-no, as is contradicting the practitioner. As such, my guess is that most of the herbs don't work as prescribed. Indeed, my personal experience is that the symptoms mostly heal themselves.
As for acupuncture, the most intriguing study was done on animals. Apparently, they too show physiological effects. The kicker is that you can't blame it on the placebo affect or psychology since animals aren't susceptible. I haven't read the study but I should point out that just because an animal's body has a non-local reaction to a needle, it doesn't mean that acupuncture works. The nervous system is a complex network and stimulating one area may indeed evoke a reaction elsewhere. But that doesn't imply anything curative, or energy-related, which TCM claims. The silliest examples are acupressure of the soles, where every organ is mapped to an area of the foot.
As for the placebo effect, it may become my next research area (I went from human sexuality to HIV to HIV neurophysiology and am now looking for something different). The big ethical questions are:
If placebos work...
1) Should doctors knowingly prescribe a placebo or sham treatment?
2) Should insurance pay for it?
If the answers are yes, you're basically saying to allow snake oil. And to decriminalize some types of medical fraud.
Researchers studied asthmatic patients treated with a bronchodilator drug (albuterol), a placebo inhaler, sham acupuncture using a retractable needle, or no intervention.
Albuterol increased lung function by 20% compared to just 7% for the other three interventions. Yet patients reported that improvement were the same for the albuterol, the placebo and the sham acupuncture, and significantly lower in the no-intervention group.
Wechsler ME, Kelley JM, Boyd IO, et al. Active albuterol or placebo, sham acupuncture, or no intervention in asthma. N Engl J Med. 2011 Jul 14;365(2):119-26.