Researchers form California report that acupuncture may help some cancer patients who have severe dry mouth as a side effect of treatment.Their study, included mainly patients with head and neck cancers treated with radiation, showed that acupuncture to the ear and index finger recuperated dry mouth in most of the patients.
An ancient therapy introduced in China more than 2,000 years ago, acupuncture involves placing fine needles in specific points on the body's surface. Traditional theory holds that these points connect with energy pathways that run through the body, and acupuncture helps keep this natural energy flow running smoothly.
Modern science as well has suggested that acupuncture can help ease a range of conditions, from arthritis pain and migraine to morning sickness. But researchers are still trying to apprehend it works. "When we try to explain the relief of (dry mouth) using ear acupuncture, we presume it is a function of a subtle activation of the autonomous nervous system," the new study's lead author, Dr. Peter A. S. Johnstone of the Naval Medical Center in San Diego.
In the study, Johnstone's team followed 75 patients undergoing acupuncture. Most had received radiation for head and neck cancers and had dry mouth that did not respond to treatment with the saliva-inducing compound pilocarpine. The researchers found that 70 percent of the patients improved with acupuncture, although the length of their responses varied. Most patients, they note, have required monthly or bimonthly treatments to sustain the benefit.
"Different patients will require different maintenance," Johnstone explained, noting that most appear to need periodic "booster" treatments.During the acupuncture treatments, which involve three needles placed on the ear and one on the index finger, patients also get sugar-free candy to help stimulate salivation. According to the researchers, "frothy salivation" usually gets started within 15 to 20 minutes.