Growing interest in alternative therapies reaping success
The American Lung Association has reported that cigarette smoking is responsible for one in five deaths in the U.S. And while some estimates indicate that 70 percent of smokers want to kick the habit and 34 percent try to stop each year, just 2.5 percent succeed in quitting smoking.
Although new products have emerged over the years to help smokers quit— think nicotine patches, gum and some antidepressants — limited success rates have led to a growing interest in using alternative therapies such as acupuncture to help with smoking cessation.
Studies performed in recent years have offered mixed results as to the effectiveness of acupuncture in smoking cessation. For instance, Canadian researchers, whose findings appeared in the American Journal of Medicine in 2012, looked at 14 international studies that used drug-free methods to help quit smoking.
While the findings questioned the effectiveness of alternative therapies, they also showed that treatments such as acupuncture should serve as options for smokers who first try standard methods such as nicotine-replacement, medications and behavioral counseling.
Some studies showed that smokers who used acupuncture to quit were more than three times as likely to be tobacco-free six months to a year down the road.
Nicole Murray, owner of Beach Community Acupuncture, a San Diego clinic that offers more than 10,000 treatments per year, said her staff has had success with acupuncture for smoking cessation.
She said her community acupuncture clinic uses the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association protocol, which was not developed for smoking. Rather, it was found effective for treating narcotic drug dependency and has since been found helpful for quitting smoking as well as alcohol dependency, weight loss, insomnia and anxiety.
The NADA protocol consists of five acupuncture points in each ear that reduce anxiety, release endorphins and calm the nervous system, she said. The recommendation for quitting smoking is receiving acupuncture daily for 10 days.
“Patients frequently report that cigarettes taste bad when they try to smoke after acupuncture,” she said. “People come to acupuncture until they feel their cravings reduce to the point that they no longer need treatment. We have had patients quit after two treatments, and others take 10 or even more.”
Over time, nicotine has become known as an addiction that’s hard to quit. It raises the levels of a neurotransmitter called dopamine in parts of the brain that produce feelings of pleasure and reward, Murray said, and it’s the same neurotransmitter involved in addictions to drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
She said the NADA protocol can be effective for smokers because it counteracts the drop in dopamine levels when smokers begin to detoxify. She said this helps reduce anxiety and boosts the mood. She also said that acupuncture lacks side-effects that can come with antidepressants, nicotine patches and gum.
Following acupuncture treatment for smoking cessation, exercise is encouraged, Murray said, while acid-forming foods such as sugar and coffee should be avoided. Anything that helps reduce acid in the body is helpful and encouraged such as green juices, lemon water, carrots and celery. Staying hydrated also helps.
Murray added that the frequency of treatment is key to the success of acupuncture for quitting smoking.
She said her clinic is a community clinic that charges $20 fees for treatments, making it more possible for people to come as frequently if needed. She said a list of affordable community clinics throughout the country can be found online at pocacoop.com.