Golden acupuncture

Upon opening Facebook or other forms of social media this morning, you may or may not have seen the X-Ray showing a woman with hundreds of tiny gold acupuncture needles in her legs. I’ve written about acupuncture before, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen this type of treatment. So what’s wrong with it?

Well, like most acupuncture this specific therapy is mainly used in Asia with the intent to treat osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. And, again like most acupuncture, there is no credible scientific evidence to prove that this treatment works. I would think it was common sense, but apparently some people believe that leaving hundreds of tiny metallic objects under the skin and inside the tissue is a legitimate and safe procedure.

But while this only hasn’t been proven to be effective, it poses some pretty astounding dangers in itself. The body could well identify these as the foreign objects they are and go into a process of rejecting them. This causes all sorts of complications, with the possibility for the objects to migrate to other areas, infections to arise and your body generally having a bad reaction to them being there. It doesn’t matter if they are sterile, all this can still occur.

The closest thing I’ve found to this case in the West is a technique called Gold Bead Implantation (GBI). It seems to be vet-centric, especially in Australia – focusing on arthritis and joint problems for medium to large pets. I tried looking up the cited studies from an article called Gold Beads Implantation (BGI) – The Scientific Basis. A few had disappeared from the journal or repository they were hosted on, and the rest are behind a paywall.

A lot of theory bases itself on the idea that:

  1. The gold implants stimulate an electrical charge of some sort to the arthritic joint, relieving pain and inflammation
  2. Gold ions from the implants are discharged from the metal and cover the surrounding tissue, mimicking the effect of drugs that contain gold, that are used for treating arthritic conditions

But this poses two problems: the first being that if electrical stimulation to affected areas reduces the pain and discomfort from arthritic conditions and improves mobility, there are ways of supplying electrical stimulus from outside the body. We’ve all seen those muscle builders with the pads delivering an electrical current causing the muscles to contract, right? I guess that could be adapted for animals.

The other problem being that the possible mechanism could just be a mimicking of what already exists – the gold containing drugs. And the alternative doesn’t leave the pet with potentially infection prone foreign objects in their bodies which could lead to unnecessary complications. And lets not forget that both of these, and the others in the article, are just “possible” mechanisms for how it could work. In other words, “We don’t have a clue how it works, we can’t prove it does and we’re clutching at straws”.

I’m yet to find any Western instances of gold implants in humans and I will update if I do. But in conclusion, the whole idea is silly and unproven. And what’s more is that the procedure is being performed on animals that have no say in it. We should really just stick to treating animals in ways that have been proven to be safe and effective, rather turning a large number of them into a pseudo-clinical experiment by filling them full of precious metals.

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About Brad Smith
Freelance writer, blogger and secular humanist. I run "The Atom Stew" blog and I'm the self-appointed editor of Skeptical World.

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