Chronic Kidney Disease
Chronic Kidney Disease is a dreaded condition where the patient’s kidneys are no longer functioning as they should. Given that the kidneys are needed to filter the blood of waste, form urine, help form blood, and regulate electrolyte metabolism, among others, we see how important they are. In fact, in Chinese Medicine they are elevated to a function level arguably rivaling the Heart itself.
The problem with treating patients with CKD is that pharmacologic therapy may strain the kidneys more. Imagine that giving any medicine or supplement can give an unnecessary added workload to the kidneys. This is why a non-pharmacologic treatment method such as acupuncture may be helpful for Chronic Kidney Disease.
But is the benefit of acupuncture only to help keep medicines from straining the kidneys further? Research seems to show added benefits.
Lowering Creatinine Levels
Creatinine levels are an indicator of kidney function. If the creatinine levels get too high, it may be a sign that dialysis needs to be started in order for machines to take over some of the functions of the kidney – particularly the waste clearing function. For patients with CKD, this is a major problem with compliance and finances.
Once CKD is diagnosed, this is incurable and treatment should be on keeping whatever function left from deteriorating further.
In this study (link) by Yu, et al. We see the possibility that acupuncture may be used to improve renal function in Chronic Kidney Disease.
This is what the scientists did:
In total, 59 patients with CKD were randomized into acupuncture (AG; n = 30) and sham acupuncture (CG; n = 29) treatment groups. In the AG, acupuncture was applied to bilateral Hegu (LI4), Zusanli (ST36), and Taixi (KI3) to obtain qi, and electroacupuncture (2 Hz) was applied to two acupoint pairs (right Zusanli and Taixi and left Zusanli and Taixi) once per week for 12 weeks. In the CG, the acupuncture methods were identical to in the AG, and the acupuncture needle was applied to the subcutaneous layer at 1.5 cm lateral to the aforementioned acupoints, without electrical discharge. The levels of serum creatinine and estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) were measured at 3 months (observation period; O), immediately before the acupuncture treatment (baseline; B), at 12 weeks (after treatment completion; T12), and at the 3-month follow-up (postacupuncture treatment; P).
What does this mean?
What this means is that they took 59 patients with Chronic Kidney Disease and divided them into two groups. The first group had real acupuncture and the other group had “fake” acupuncture. For the fake acupuncture, needles were inserted at a shallow level and at an area 1.5 cm to the side of the real acupuncture point. In other words, needles were also inserted in the “fake” group but not at the real acupuncture point.
Note also that this is a single blinded study. It means the patient doesn’t know if he’s getting the real thing or the fake. The practitioner though, obviously does. While this is not the best form of research for medicines, this is acceptable for cases such as acupuncture, as elaborated on by the World Health Organization.
While needling the body anywhere can produce therapeutic effects there is proof that sham isn’t the same as the real thing. I’ve previously blogged though, that needling real acupuncture points causes different physiologic effects than fake points. (link) Is this case different?
In total, 53 patients (AG, n = 28; CG, n = 25) with CKD completed the trial. The serum creatinine levels at baseline (B) were 1.45 mg/dL in the AG and 1.67 mg/dL in the CG (p = 0.1298). Furthermore, the change in serum creatinine levels after the acupuncture treatment (T12) was 1.41 mg/dL in the AG and 1.65 mg/dL in the CG (p = 0.0489). The eGFR at baseline was 51.85 mL/min/1.73 m2 in the AG and 42.50 mL/min/1.73 m2 in the CG (p = 0.0855). The change in the eGFR after the acupuncture treatment was 54.50 mL/min/1.73 m2 in the AG and 43.60 mL/min/1.73 m2 in the CG (p = 0.0470).
Acupuncture at bilateral Hegu, Zusanli, and Taixi for 12 weeks reduced creatinine levels and increased eGFR levels. The study only provided a feasibility method for the treatment of patients with CKD. However, the results of this preliminary study warrant further investigation.
It is indeed merely a small study, but the results showed that creatinine levels were decreased and kidney function as measured by eGFR is increased. This gives hope to Chronic Kidney Disease patients that they have another option with which to manage their condition.