By Dr. Ricardo Miranda

Smith’s asthma began in 1989, after she nearly died when a deadly fungus invaded her lungs. Last Christmas day, she remained bedridden while friends and family celebrated the holiday in her living room, and on a recent trip to Europe, she was unable to keep up with fellow travelers without stopping constantly to inhale her medication.Asthma sufferers know that depending on an inhaler in order to breathe can be both a frightening and an inconvenient way to live.

Merleen Smith, 59, has found a better way to go. Driving 100 miles round trip, once a week, from Moorpark to West Los Angeles for treatment isn’t easy. The reward, however, far outweighs the effort. For one thing, she’s been able to give up inhalers — completely. For nine years, she used two different types every day, one of them containing steroids. Her new form of treatment? Acupuncture.

Today, she is almost symptom-free after only three months of acupuncture treatments. The use of acupuncture for asthma is not new. An article in the July 18,1996 issue of the Medical Tribune, by medical writer Fran Kritz, reported that Dr. Kim Jobst, M.D., at the request of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, reviewed studies on the effectiveness of acupuncture for asthma. Dr. Jobst, an experienced acupuncturist and research fellow in the department of pharmacology at Oxford University, in England, reviewed 16 published studies and concluded that acupuncture was proven effective in 10 of them.

Of a total of 320 patients in the studies, 91% who used acupuncture were able to reduce the amount of medication they needed. “Patients should not stop taking their asthma medication, but there is evidence that acupuncture can be effective in reducing the severity of the disease and the amount of medication— which can cause severe side effects — that a patient needs,” said Dr. Jobst. The FDA requested the 1996 studies prior to its reclassification of acupuncture that year. Long regarded as a form of “alternative” medicine, acupuncture is gaining wider acceptance these days. Some insurance plans cover it, albeit at a lesser rate than traditional medical care, and many more medical doctors are referring their patients to acupuncturists.

Several months of weekly treatments can produce lasting results, even after a lifetime of suffering. After an initial series of treatments, patients typically make only occasional maintenance visits to their acupuncturist. Alice Naruo, a Los Angeles resident, for instance, was diagnosed with asthma as a child and had been on medication, including steroid inhalers, for most of her life. Following six months of weekly acupuncture treatments, Naruo has been symptom-free for three and a half years.

Acupuncture needles are 25–50 times thinner than a regular hypodermic needle, providing the patient with a virtually painless treatment. In the treatment, sterilized, disposable stainless steel needles are inserted in specific points of the body to correct and balance the flow of energy. The needles stimulate the body’s ability to heal itself. To complement a course of acupuncture treatments, the practitioner may recommend whole-body treatments such as herbal medicine, nutritional counseling and therapeutic massage.

“I no longer take any medication for asthma,” said Naruo. “However, I still use herbal supplements, and I’ve given up dairy products as part of my treatment. Though I’m only 27 now, I felt hopeless and old at 24, when I first started the acupuncture treatments. It’s wonderful to feel normal,” she said. In addition to the treatment of asthma, acupuncture has been successful in the treatment of sports injuries, as well as for anti-aging, face lifts, migraine, arthritis, digestive disturbances, weight loss, smoking cessation and emotional problems.

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