Energy Medicine Involving Putative Energy Fields
The concept that sickness and disease arise from imbalances in the vital energy field of the body has led to many forms of therapy. In TCM, a series of approaches are taken to rectify the flow of qi, such as herbal medicine, acupuncture (and its various versions), qi gong, diet, and behavior changes. Another example of putative energy fields wei qi gong
Of these approaches, acupuncture is the most prominent therapy to
promote qi flow along the meridians. Acupuncture has been extensively
studied and has been shown to be effective in treating some conditions,
particularly certain forms of pain.1
However, its mechanism of action remains to be elucidated. The main
threads of research on acupuncture have shown regional effects on neurotransmitter expression, but have not validated the existence of an
“energy” per se.
Qi Gong, (qigong chi kung chikung)
Qi gong, another human energy medicine modality that purportedly can restore health, is practiced widely in the clinics and hospitals of China. Most of the reports were published as abstracts in Chinese, which makes accessing the information difficult. But Sancier has collected more than 2,000 records in his qi gong database which indicates that qi gong has extensive health benefits on conditions ranging from blood pressure to asthma.15
The reported studies, however, are largely anecdotal case series and not randomized controlled trials. Few studies have been conducted outside China and reported in peer-reviewed journals in English. There have been no large clinical trials.
Whole Medical Systems and Energy Medicine
Although modalities such as acupuncture and qi gong have been studied separately, TCM uses combinations of treatments (e.g., herbs, acupuncture, and qi gong) in practice. Similarly, Ayurvedic medicine uses combinations of herbal medicine, yoga, meditation, and other approaches to restore vital energy, particularly at the chakra energy centers.
One Western approach with implications for human energy medicine is homeopathy. Homeopaths believe that their remedies mobilize the body’s vital force to orchestrate coordinated healing responses throughout the organism. The body translates the information on the vital force into local physical changes that lead to recovery from acute and chronic diseases.16
Homeopaths use their assessment of the deficits in vital force to guide dose (potency) selection and treatment pace, and to judge the likely clinical course and prognosis. Homeopathic medicine is based on the principle of similars, and remedies are often prescribed in high dilutions. In most cases, the dilution may not contain any molecules of the original agents at all. As a consequence, homoeopathic remedies, at least when applied in high dilutions, cannot act by pharmacological means. Theories for a potential mechanism of action invoke the homeopathic solution, therefore, postulating that information is stored in the dilution process by physical means. Other than a study reported by the Benveniste laboratory17 and other smaller studies, this hypothesis has not been supported by scientific research. There have been numerous clinical studies of homeopathic approaches, but systematic reviews point out the overall poor quality and inconsistency of these studies.18
Therapeutic Touch and Related Practices
Numerous other practices have evolved over the years to promote or maintain the balance of vital energy fields in the body. Examples of these modalities include Therapeutic Touch, healing touch, Reiki, Johrei, vortex healing, and polarity therapy.3
All these modalities involve movement of the practitioner’s hands over the patient’s body to become attuned to the condition of the patient, with the idea that by so doing, the practitioner is able to strengthen and reorient the patient’s energies.
Many small studies of Therapeutic Touch have suggested its effectiveness in a wide variety of conditions, including wound healing, osteoarthritis, migraine headaches, and anxiety in burn patients. In a recent meta-analysis of 11 controlled Therapeutic Touch studies, 7 controlled studies had positive outcomes, and 3 showed no effect; in one study, the control group healed faster than the Therapeutic Touch group.19
Similarly, Reiki and Johrei practitioners claim that the therapies boost the body’s immune system, enhance the body’s ability to heal itself, and are beneficial for a wide range of problems, such as stress-related conditions, allergies, heart conditions, high blood pressure, and chronic pain.20
However, there has been little rigorous scientific research. Overall, these therapies have impressive anecdotal evidence, but none has been proven scientifically to be effective.
Proponents of energy field therapies also claim that some of these therapies can act across long distances. For example, the long-distance effects of external qi gong have been studied in China and summarized in the book Scientific Qigong Exploration, which has been translated into English.21
The studies reported various healing cases and described the nature of qi as bidirectional, multifunctional, adaptable to targets, and capable of effects over long distances. But none of these claims has been independently verified. Another form of distant healing is intercessory prayer, in which a person prays for the healing of another person who is a great distance away, with or without that person’s knowledge. Review of eight nonrandomized and nine randomized clinical trials published between 2000 and 2002 showed that the majority of the more rigorous trials do not support the hypothesis that distant intercessory prayer has specific therapeutic effects.22
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