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Morning Sun
  • Acupuncture: Tremor relief for some Parkinson’s patients

  • In Eastern philosophy, yin and yang balance in the body, resulting in good health. When disease encroaches, it is a result of an imbalance between these two energies.

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  • In Eastern philosophy, yin and yang balance in the body, resulting in good health. When disease encroaches, it is a result of an imbalance between these two energies.
    One effective treatment for restoring health seems to be acupuncture. While there is no scientific evidence for yin and yang, the Western medical community is trying to put the philosophy to the test. Among the test subjects are people with Parkinson’s disease, and among the methodologies is acupuncture — the practice of sticking needles into certain locations on the body at varying depths. The sensation of needle insertion is said to resemble a mosquito bite. Acupuncture is generally divided into a series of sessions of about 30 minutes each.
    In China, acupuncture is common. For Overland Park resident Loree Gross, acupuncture provided relief from the tremors of Parkinson’s disease. Gross and her husband began noticing that something was amiss while she was teaching English at a university in Tianjin, China, where she enjoyed creating new and stimulating ways to teach English to keep her students enthusiastic.
    One of the first things Gross noticed was that her stride slowed, but she did not think anything of it. She was 73, after all. As time went on, it became more difficult for her to be flexible in her lesson plans because “it was difficult to look at the canned lesson and think of other possibilities for the material,” she said.
    She withdrew socially as the undiagnosed Parkinson’s disease progressed. Her Chinese friends began to take notice. One of these friends often would inquire as to whether she was OK. She felt fine, Gross would respond each time, wondering why her friend kept asking.
    “At times, I felt annoyed,” she admits. “Looking back, I now realize that my friend sensed something had shifted for me.”
    When the hand tremors began, Gross and her husband decided it was time to see a neurologist.
    “There was perhaps a three-week to one-month discussion of whether I was experiencing essential tremor or Parkinson’s,” Gross said. “I was examined by an experienced neurologist, the head of the department of one of the better hospitals.”
    Meanwhile, Gross’ husband began online research about methods of treatment for Parkinson’s disease and stumbled across people discussing their relief from tremors through acupuncture.
    “From my stoic German background, I didn’t want anyone to see my tremors and pity me or give me extra attention,” Gross said. “No one should think there was anything wrong with me. At last, accompanied by friends and husband, I went to a doctor recommended by a Chinese medical student.
    “I thought we were going there to explore the possibilities, but that took only a few minutes, and I had my first treatment. The physician promised he could help me through a series of 24 treatments.”
    Page 2 of 2 - For Gross, the tremors disappeared quickly, and after almost two years they have not returned. However, her other symptoms were still present. The couple knew they needed to connect with a good health plan and physician after losing their health insurance. (In China, health insurance is not offered to people over 65 years old.) Gross and her husband returned to the United States.
    “When I would tell people I had Parkinson’s, they would glance at my hands and wonder where the tremors were,” Gross said. “I would explain that acupuncture had taken care of them, and they would be amazed. When I explained this to my doctor, his reply was, ‘Whatever works.’”
    In the West, acupuncture is explained in terms of neurology. Those who practice acupuncture cite increased blood flow while simultaneously activating the body’s naturally occurring pain-killers as reasons why acupuncture works, according to an article in the July 2009 Medical News Today. However, much of the Western medical community is still skeptical about the effects of acupuncture, as the results listed in the article sometimes can be achieved with a placebo effect.
    An article titled “Is Placebo Acupuncture What It Is Intended To Be?,” published in the Oxford Journals in 2009, points to a high level of placebo effect with invasive procedures or advanced disease, including Parkinson’s disease. The same article suggests that from a psychological viewpoint, acupuncture is based on emotional therapy. The expectations of someone being treated with acupuncture make them emotionally more susceptible to seeing the desired results even if it is a placebo.
    So, is acupuncture effective for people with Parkinson’s disease? Placebo effect or not, Gross’ tremors have not resurfaced — though some in the medical field might disagree about why. If people wish to pursue acupuncture, it is encouraged that they continue taking their medications and consult a physician before beginning any new treatments.
    For more information about Parkinson’s disease and for resources and support, contact the Parkinson Foundation of the Heartland, 8900 State Line Road, Suite 320, Leawood, KS 66206; 913-341-8828; www.parkinsonheartland.org.
    Sara Lovelace is an intern with the Parkinson Foundation of the Heartland.

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