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How Acupuncture May Help Treat COVID-19

July 28, 2021 by Alexa Hornbeck

A study by Chinese researchers examines the ability of acupuncture treatment to suppress inflammatory stress, improve immunity, and regulate nervous system function to help patients with COVID-19. 

“Acupuncture is widely used in the treatment of inflammatory diseases, such as osteoarthritis, pancreatitis, obstructive emphysema, but in China, it is also used in the treatment of COVID-19,” said researcher Kai Zhang from the Tianjin Gong An Hospital in China.

To conduct the study, Zhang and other researchers used a bioinformatics research method, which is rarely used in acupuncture, and mainly used in drugs.

Bioinformatics is an interdisciplinary field that utilizes software to better understand biological data, in particular when the data sets collected are large and complex.

“We tried to mine the mechanism of acupuncture with it and achieved initial success,” said Zhang. 

The study findings show that dopamine and endorphins are active compounds released after acupuncture treatment that may be effective for suppressing the inflammatory and immune stress responses caused by COVID-19 infection.

They also found that acupuncture may provide additional benefits, especially for patients with cancer, obesity and cardiovascular disease. 

In many Chinese hospitals, the acupuncturist is also a Doctor of Integrated Traditional Chinese and Western medicine, which is supported by law.

Zhang said that during the COVID-19 pandemic acupuncture was widely used in China to treat COVID-19 patients, relieve breathing difficulties, anxiety, gastrointestinal tract issues, headache and other symptoms, and improve the quality of life of patients.

“The difficulty of acupuncture in treating COVID-19 is that doctors need to take good protection, and the operation is a little difficult,” said Zhang. 

In the U.S. acupuncture holds the possibility of treating COVID-19 patients, but Elaine Wolf Komarow, president of the Acupuncture Society of Virginia, said she’s also experienced difficulties. 

“I think acupuncture is already serving as a treatment for long COVID and could serve as a treatment for active COVID, there’s just problems with the logistics of how to provide it,” said Wolf Komarow. 

Wolf Komarow is a licensed acupuncturist who came into contact with a patient who unknowingly contracted COVID-19. She works alone in her practice, and only the infected patient was in the treatment space at the time. She received a positive test and resumed seeing clients once the Virginia Department of Health gave her an all clear.

“I was following CDC guidelines at the time, and even now, I would not be confident enough to say, based on my knowledge of acupuncture, that the likelihood of benefit to the client would outweigh the risk of that person being out in the community,” said Wolf Komarow.

Another issue Wolf Komarow said is that there have been acupuncturists leaving the field because of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in Virginia, which has about 500 acupuncturists, a large number when compared to other states. 

“The people I know who are leaving were solo practitioners, and all of a sudden it’s six weeks and no benefits or sick leave, and you have to pay rent, and have to see clients, and don’t know when you will again,” said Wolf Komarow.

“If people are sick with a new and scary illness, I don’t think they will try acupuncture, but in China it’s part of what people do,” she continued. 

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