Acupuncture Unpacked – Lord Ward-Atherton

Acupuncture Unpacked

The first use of acupuncture dates back to Ancient China, but since the 1970s it has been developed in Western medicine to treat a variety of problems. Complementary and integrated medicine is often viewed with scepticism in the modern world, but recent studies have shown that acupuncture is highly effective in treating certain conditions. While not recommended for serious conditions such as cancer, recent studies have shown that for problems such as migraines, acupuncture can be very effective where other treatments have failed.

The original principal of acupuncture was targeting the ‘qi’ points on the body to unblock this flow and prevent pain. Although no evidence has been found for the presence of qi energy in the body, practitioners state that the relaxation and endorphins released by acupuncture have positive healing properties.

Lord Ken Ward-Atherton, a specialist in integrated medicine at Pall Mall Medical, takes us through the benefits of acupuncture in treating different conditions.


In the West, interest in the possible effect of acupuncture on stroke has been increasing over the last five years. Much of the recent research has been carried out in the Scandinavian countries and the USA. Traditional Chinese medicine claims that the symptoms of stroke and its sequelae (a medical problem which has been caused by a previous illness or injury) respond well to acupuncture treatment. Known as ‘wind-stroke’, such treatment involves either the use body points alone, with or without electrical stimulation, or the combination of body points with scalp acupuncture (Chen 1993). In China, many studies have compared different techniques and point combinations. Often very large numbers of patients are involved, for instance, Ge (1992) treated and assessed 684 patients with sequelae of a stroke at the Air Force Hospital in Shengyang.


Uncontrolled trials of Acupuncture demonstrated that it is highly effective in treating migraines, often helping over 80% of patients. This is considerably more effective than a likely placebo response which has been estimated to be from around 30% to as high as 50% (Tavola et al 1992).

In all the controlled studies, treatment was shown to be more effective in at least one measure (i.e. pain intensity or frequency of attacks), with statistical significance reached in two studies (Vincent 1989, Tavola et al 1992). In the comparative study (Hesse et al 1994), acupuncture performed as well as the standard therapy with the added benefit of a lower incidence of side effects. Overall the evidence supports the hypothesis that acupuncture is effective in the treatment of migraine.

NICE (National Institute of Health and Care Excellence) also suggested acupuncture alongside standard treatment for headaches in a recent study.

Food Intolerance

Food allergy and food intolerance are commonly confused as symptoms of food intolerance occasionally resemble those of food allergy. However, the following difference should be noted: food intolerance does not involve the immune system and does not cause severe allergic reactions (known as anaphylaxis). Food intolerance does not show on allergy testing.

Food intolerance can be a difficult concept to understand and is poorly understood by doctors as well. Sometimes substances within foods can increase the frequency and severity of migraine headaches, rashes or the stomach upset of irritable bowel. Coincidence can often confuse the issue, as we spend many of our waking hours eating or drinking.

IBS Clinical Trial

A clinical trial, published in GUT, a medical journal, focused on diagnosed sufferers of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). This study was designed and carried out by the University Hospital of South Manchester and 150 outpatients with IBS participated in the trial. The patients took food Intolerance IgG antibody test and then undertook an elimination diet based on the results of the test.

Patients were split into two groups at random. The first group received a diet based on their blood test results – eliminating the foods that caused them a problem. The second group received a dummy diet, eliminating foods to which they were not sensitive. The trial followed patients for three months and the severity of symptoms was recorded.

The trial showed that the elimination diet based on the true results was ‘significantly more effective’ and those patients saw a ‘clinically significant improvement’ in their IBS.

Management of food intolerance may involve elimination diets

Once a diagnosis is made (e.g. migraines, hives, eczema, irritable bowel, recurrent mouth ulcers), the history may help identify the role of dietary or other factors in making symptoms worse. The only reliable way to determine if diet is playing a role is by people being placed on a temporary elimination diet under the supervision of a dietitian and medical practitioner. If removing the food from the diet helps, this is followed by challenges under controlled conditions to identify dietary triggers which may need to be avoided in the future. It is important to emphasise that elimination diets must only be undertaken for a short term, under strict medical supervision. Prolonged restricted diets can lead to problems with adequate nutrition, particularly in children.

Further Information

For further reading, Ken Ward-Atherton took part in a study at York University on the effectiveness of acupuncture in 2011, which can be read following the link.

To find out more about Ken Ward-Atherton, visit his consultant page. If you are interested in booking an appointment for the integrated medical treatments available at Pall Mall Medical, book your appointment with us to guarantee an effective service with no long waiting lists.

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