DEEPER LOOK: The New England School of Acupuncture’s Lisa Conboy will head up a study on Gulf War illness. -Photo by Christopher Evans
(Boston, Mass. – Boston Herald) - At first glance, it seems like the oddest of couplings: The New England School of Acupuncture and the U.S. Department of Defense, working on a project together?
But the collaboration has been great, said the school’s chief researcher, Lisa Conboy, who is heading up a six-month study of acupuncture’s impact on Gulf War illness.
“Within the scientific community, there’s a range of belief in acupuncture,” said Conboy last week.
But with the military, she added, “our conversations have been about, ‘Let’s, together, find something that works.’ ”
Public opinion about the centuries-old Eastern treatment - which involves manipulating thin needles into specific body parts to alleviate certain conditions - has come a long way since the nation’s first acupuncture clinic opened in Washington, D.C., in 1972.
Today, hospitals offer acupuncture, and some insurers pay for treatments.
Still, the acupuncture school’s $1.2 million Department of Defense grant marks the first time that the military has earmarked funds to study the still mysterious therapy’s impact on people with Gulf War illness.
The complex diagnosis impacts the lives of about some 100,000 Gulf War veterans, and sufferers say the symptoms can linger for years.
Symptoms include fatigue, joint pain, headaches, dizziness, memory problems, indigestion, skin problems, shortness of breath and mood disorders, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The list is familiar to U.S. Army National Guard Lt. Col. Thomas Devine, a 43-year-old from Sutton who served in Iraq and Saudi Arabia in 1990. Later, in 2007, he served in Afghanistan.
Devine is not sure if his ailments are from Gulf War illness, or just 20 years of military service. He first turned to acupuncture last year, after seeing a veteran friend looking particularly fit.
“I told him, ‘You look good. What’s going on?’ ” Devine recalled. Days later, Devine was lying on a table in Newton, needles sticking out of his skin.
Devine now credits the weekly treatments with lowering his blood pressure, relieving chronic leg and knee pain, and ridding him of annoying allergies.
Like most people, he doesn’t know exactly how acupuncture works. Some say it releases chemicals, while others think it has something to do with nerves. Practitioners tend to say that the needles shake up blocked energy, a condition that can put the human body out of balance.
Conboy is hoping the study offers more insight into this mystery. To start, though, she needs to find 120 Gulf War veterans from the New England area who suffer from at least two of the illness’ symptoms.
The vets must be able to attend two sessions a week for six months. The sessions are free and offered at clinics throughout the state. Participants will receive a small stipend to cover transportation costs.
Asked whether this is how the military should be spending its money, Devine, who won’t be participating in the study, says, “Absolutely. It’s money very well spent.”
- CONTACT THE NEW ENGLAND SCHOOL OF ACUPUNCTURE BY CLICKING HERE
- Or, Contact the New England School of Acupuncture at 150 California Street, 3rd Floor, Newton, MA 02458, Phone: (617) 558-1788