It is looking to be a bad flu season that has, as I write this on the last day of 2014, killed 15 children and more adults. We have had one death in my hospital system from influenza this year. So what is to be done for the prevention and treatment of influenza? University Hospitals in Cleveland suggests a worthless pseudo-medicine: Acupuncture for Cold and Flu Season.

As an Infectious Disease doctor when I think of treating or preventing potentially fatal illnesses, somehow magic doesn’t jump to the top of the list.


They suggest that acupuncture

could also help you avoid colds and flu this winter – or at least send them packing sooner.

Weasel word, could. A search of PubMed for 'influenza' and 'acupuncture' yields nothing of note; less searching for 'cold' and 'acupuncture'. As far as the Pubmeds goes, there are no clinical trials to suggest that acupuncture helps influenza or cold prevention or treatment.

Well not clinical trials but philosophy is the basis of treatment. Yes. Philosophy.

Eastern medical philosophy, acupuncture works by balancing and harmonizing qi (pronounced “chee”), or vital, life-force energy.

At one time Western philosophy thought illness was due to an imbalance of humors. That was superseded by treating illness not based on philosophy but rather on the reality of the sciences.  Eastern medical philosophy evidently prefers the philosophical fantasy of unblocking and revitalizing a mythical qi. Why a University is treating diseases based on philosophy instead of reality eludes me. I mean, besides the whole getting money for nothing thing.

Western medicine views acupuncture as a form of therapy that releases hormones into the bloodstream, sending signals to the nervous system.

No. Western medicine (and I hate the terms Western and Eastern, that seem slightly racist and suggests there are two versions of reality when there is one) sees acupuncture as an elaborate placebo that has never been shown to have efficacy in well controlled clinical trials for any objective endpoint. They continue

Q: How can acupuncture help during the cold and flu system?

A: Studies have shown that patients receiving acupuncture have elevated immune-enhancing hormones and blood counts for up to three days after treatment. If you begin to feel the symptoms of the cold or flu coming on, it is important to visit your acupuncturist right away to get the most benefit from your treatment. Acupuncture can:

• Prevent colds and flu by boosting the immune system • Help you get over the cold or flu faster if you already have it • Reduce chills, fever and body aches • Relieve sore throat and congestion

Absolut nonsense unsupported by known biology or clinical trials. As I have said before, you cannot boost the immune system in general, much less with the fantastical, for influenza.  Having your immune system boosted may be part of the reason for worse outcomes in the obese and pregnant.

Still, this advice is a offered by a University Integrative Medicine program that offers multiple therapies divorced from known reality: Acupuncture, Ayurveda, Reflexology and Reiki.  It would probably be unreasonable to expect them to offer actual useful therapies.

That a University hospital’s website suggests nonsense for a serious illness confirms the choice of Sisyphus for the logo of the Society.