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Research Conducted at Pathways

Clinical trial on managing digestive side effects of HIV-medication

Acupuncture has demonstrated efficacy in managing digestive side-effects of medications used in cancer chemotherapy and following anesthesia. This clinical trial examines the role of acupuncture in controlling side-effects related to the use of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), which is the current treatment of choice for individuals living with HIV/AIDS. HAART therapy results in a high prevalence of digestive side-effects such as nausea, vomiting, bowel upsets, and loss of appetite and weight. These symptoms, in turn, can negatively impact adherence to medication protocols, which may result in serious health consequences due to increased viral resistance and mutation.


Researchers at Pathways/AIDS Care Project designed a 6-week cross-over clinical trial to examine whether a set of 4 symptom-specific points can be more effective in controlling digestive symptoms associated with use of HAART than a set of 4 nearby comparison points. Actual needling was done for each set of points. Treatment in each arm of the study was done for 3 weeks; the order of treatment assignment was determined by randomization and each participant served at this or her won control. Although the acupuncturists providing treatment could not be blind to treatment type, participant and data entry personnel were masked to treatment assignment Demographic information as well as data on medical history, current levels of side-effects and adherence were collected at intake. Study participants used daily diaries throughout the study to record compliance with medication protocols and symptoms experienced.


Fifty-two individuals participated in the trial. Although both arms of the study resulted in symptom improvement, the symptom specific set of points showed increased benefit for a number of symptoms, including loss of appetite, bloating, and gas. Among the participants whose adherence was less than optimal, 50% reported improvement at the completion of the study.

Preliminary results suggest that symptom-specific treatment can be more effective than non-specific treatment for controlling certain digestive side-effects related to HAART use. Acupuncture treatment also seems to be related to improved ability to adhere to medication protocols. Both of these areas have clinical importance and relevance. Acupuncture procedures appear to be well-tolerated and safe; no adverse complications related to treatment were reported.

Results of this study can also be accessed at the following sites:


1. Vickers AJ. (1996) A systematic review of acupuncture antiemesis trials, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. June 89(6): 303-311.
2. Ghaly RG, Fitzpatrick KJT, Dundee JW. (1987) Antiemetic studies with traditional Chinese acupuncture, Anaesthesia. 42(10): 1108-1110.
3. Mehta S, Moore RD, Graham NMH. (1997) Potential factors affecting adherence with HIV therapy, AIDS. Now. 11(4): 1665-1670Agouron Pharmaceuticals provided partial funding for this study.


Clinical trial on using relaxation techniques can enhance health and quality of life for people living with HIV/AIDS who use acupuncture

Working with colleagues from Boston University School of Public Health, Pathways examined the effects of relaxation techniques in promoting health and well-being among individuals using acupuncture for managing symptoms related to HIV/AIDS. Funded by the federal National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the study has been completed and results are being compiled.

Observational assessment of risk factors that affect HIV-progression

In collaboration with the AIDS Bureau of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, we examined the health outcomes of 234 individuals diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Cigarette smoking had a clinically significant impact on disease progression, with the length of time from initial HIV-positive diagnosis to AIDS diagnosis being accelerated by 1 year for smokers, as compared with non-smokers.

Examining the therapeutic effects of acupuncture for women living with HIV/AIDS

An observational assessment was conducted among 115 women receiving acupuncture for conditions related to HIV/AIDS. Following treatment of a minimum of 3 months, 69% of 39 women reporting gynecological symptoms (such as yeast infection, menstrual irregularities and cramps) reported improvement.

Evaluating the use of acupuncture to manage stress following the tragic events of 9/11/2001

Acupuncturists, reiki practitioners, shiatsu therapists, and massage therapists volunteered to provide treatment to 47 individuals who were experiencing symptoms of stress following events in New York and Washington DC. 91% of these individuals had never received any form complementary treatment. Symptoms related to stress such as anxiety and fear were reported by 79% of this group. Muscular aches and pains were reported by 55%.

In Boston as well as in New York and Washington DC, complementary health treatments played a role in treatment of post-traumatic stress and crisis support. The complete report of this study can be read in:

Sommers E., Porter K, DeGurski S. Providers of Complementary and Alternative Health Services in Boston Respond to September 11. American Journal of Public Health. 10/02, Vol 92, No. 10:1597-1598 (sorry, this journal doesn’t have free links)

Determining consumer response to price increase of complementary health services

Researchers at Pathways have also investigated issues related to health economics of acupuncture and other types of complementary care. A study is in press (Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine) on consumer response to increase in the price of acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and shiatsu treatment. Results of this observational study suggested that consumers value treatment with acupuncture even when costs are moderately increased.
















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