Persecuted Life

9_Acupuncture, Acupressure, Shiatsu, Reflexology



A Catholic Minstry for exposing the truth about alternate medicine, the occult in reiki & pranic healing
and oriental spiritual exercises of the New Age Movement.

For Queries and detailed information please call on, Michael Prabhu,
Michael Prabhu, #12 Dawn Apartments, 22, Leith Castle South Street, Chennai 600028. India
Phone: +91 (44) 24 611 606



Acupuncture, Acupressure, Shiatsu, Reflexology

By Susan Brinkmann, from the Women of Grace blog, 2007-2015


Ms. Brinkmann differentiates between “Western” and “Traditional Chinese” acupuncture.

See the information on page 13.

Is Acupuncture acceptable for Catholics?

By Susan Brinkmann, Special to the Herald, September 7, 2007,

In July 1971, while accompanying Henry Kissinger to China, The New York Times columnist James Reston had an emergency appendectomy. Afterward at the Anti-Imperialist Hospital in Peking, doctors treated his pain with a traditional form of Chinese medicine known as acupuncture.

“I was in considerable discomfort if not pain during the second night after the operation,” Reston wrote shortly after his return to the United States. “Li Chang-yuan, doctor of acupuncture at the hospital, with my approval, inserted three long, thin needles into the outer part of my right elbow and below my knees, and manipulated them in order to stimulate the intestine and relieve the pressure and distension of the stomach.

“Meanwhile, Doctor Li lit two pieces of an herb called ai, which looked like the burning stumps of a broken, cheap cigar, and held them close to my abdomen while occasionally twirling the needles into action. All this took about 20 minutes, during which I remember thinking that it was a rather complicated way to get rid of gas in the stomach. But there was noticeable relaxation of the pressure and distension within an hour and no recurrence of the problem thereafter.”

Many people in the medical field, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), believe that event is what precipitated what is now a 20-year surge of interest in acupuncture in the United States.

A report from a Consensus Development Conference on Acupuncture held at the NIH in 1997 stated that acupuncture is being widely practiced by thousands of physicians, dentists, acupuncturists and other practitioners in the U.S.

According to the largest and most comprehensive survey of complementary and alternative medicine in use by American adults, the 2002 National Health Institute Survey, “an estimated 8.2 million U.S. adults had . . . used acupuncture [at some time] and an estimated 2.1 million U.S. adults had used acupuncture in the previous year.”


How Does Acupuncture Work?

The Chinese theory behind acupuncture as a medical treatment is very different from the kind of acupuncture used in Western medicine.

“Traditional Chinese acupuncture is based on the theory that the body is a delicate balance of two opposing and inseparable forces: yin and yang,” says the NIH Web site for Complementary and Alternative Medicines. “Yin represents the cold, slow or passive principle, while yang represents the hot, excited or active principle.”

It goes on to explain that the Chinese believe health is achieved by maintaining the body in a balanced state, and that the disease is caused by an internal imbalance of yin and yang.

“This imbalance leads to blockage in the flow of qi (energy) along pathways know as meridians,” according to the NIH site. “It is believed that there are 12 main meridians and eight secondary meridians, and that there are more than 2,000 acupuncture points on the human body that connect with them.”

Chinese practitioners believe that by inserting extremely fine needles into those points in various combinations, a person’s energy flow may be re-balanced, thus allowing the body’s natural healing mechanisms to take over.

Because there is no anatomical or other physically verifiable basis for the existence of acupuncture points, qi or meridians, the Western version of acupuncture is not based on the concept of yin and yang, but on neuroscience. Today, science believes acupuncture may work in three ways: by releasing endorphins, which are part of the body’s natural pain-control system; by stimulating nerves in the spinal cord that release pain-suppressing neurotransmitters; or by the naturally occurring increase in blood flow in the needle-puncture area, which removes toxic substances.




Origin of Acupuncture

The word “acupuncture” is derived from the Latin acus meaning “needle” and pungere meaning “prick.” The origins of Chinese acupuncture are uncertain. There is some archeological evidence of its practice during the Han dynasty (202 B.C. to 220 A.D.) with the first mention of it a century earlier in the Yellow Emperor’s “Classic of Internal Medicine,” a history of acupuncture that was completed around 305 B.C.

However, hieroglyphics dating back to 1000 B.C. have been found what may be an indication that acupuncture was in use much earlier. There is also some speculation surrounding the discovery of Otzi, a 5,000-year-old mummy with over 50 tattoos on his body, some indicated on established acupuncture points.

Other scientists believe there is evidence to support the practice of acupuncture in Eurasia during the early Bronze Age. In an article that appeared in the British medical journal, The Lancet, researches said, “We hypothesized that there might have been a medical system similar to acupuncture (Chinese Zhensiu: needling and burning) that was practices in Central Europe 5,200 years ago. . . . This raises the possibility of acupuncture having originated in the Eurasian continent at least 2,000 years earlier than previously recognized.”


Can Catholics Use It?

The Western form of acupuncture, which is based on science and not Taoism, is acceptable for use by Christians. However, the traditional Chinese acupuncture belief system is not compatible with Christianity.

“The philosophical thinking behind acupuncture comes from Taoism and the concept of the yin and yang, and of being at one with the forces in the universe through meditation,” the Irish Theological Commission wrote in 1994 in its document, “A Catholic Response to the New Age Phenomenon.”

Christians believe man is a union of body and soul, and that the soul is an essential form — not an energy force. The belief that one can meditate and be at one with the forces of the universe is based in pantheism, the belief that the universe, God and nature are all equivalent.

At present, there are many unlicensed practitioners who may be practicing a blended version of Western and Chinese acupuncture.

“The New Age movement has no difficulty with acupuncture because it accepts the Eastern philosophy behind it,” the theological commission said. “But what about Christians? Can they accept the help and not be affected by its religious content? Many believe they can. The general principle in this matter is that these practices are not bad in themselves, and dissociated from their original context, can be practiced by Catholics with due discretion.”

Father Lawrence J. Gesy, the cult consultant for the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the lead author of “Today’s Destructive Cults and Movements,” says those seeking an acupuncturist should “make sure the person who is doing the acupuncture is medically licensed.”

According to the Mayo Clinic Web site, there are about 3,000 medical doctors in the U.S. who use acupuncture as part of their clinical practice. No individual needs to resort to a New Age practitioner in order to enjoy the benefits of acupuncture.

“Those who are into the Chinese-god concept of acupuncture usually have charts up, or will talk about gods and energy levels,” Father Gesy said. “These people are ‘channeling’. The needle becomes their channel from the source of the energy of the gods into that person.”

Acupuncture works without the religious component, and is a much better bargain for Christians because it comes with all the benefits, but none of the spiritual risks.

This article originally appeared in The Catholic Standard and Times, the Philadelphia archdiocesan newspaper.



Bowen Therapy

By Susan Brinkmann, May 20, 2010

This is the first of a two-part question from AR: “I have been helping out an elderly woman that mentioned that she has used, and would like to use again, something called Bowen Therapy. I looked it up and on one of the sites, I did see some link to meridian/acupuncture and it had a yin/yang symbol, but it really seems like simple stimulations and trying to move toxins out of the body… like what would happen if one simply had a massage. Anyway, do you have any info on this therapy and any concerns?  Some of this new age stuff is obviously problematic, but I can’t help but think that some “alternative” medicine is much better than the ‘treat the symptom’ form of western medicine.”


Bowen Therapy (BT) is an alternative medicine technique that falls into the category of “vibrational healing“. It was developed by an Australian engineer with no medical training named Tom Bowen (1916-1982) and was introduced into the U.S. in 1990.

BT is based on the belief that the underlying cause or source of many musculoskeletal, neurological, neuromuscular and other health or pain problems can be found in the soft tissue or fascia of the body. Fascia is a specific type of connective tissue that forms a kind of web around every tissue in the body. Practitioners describe fascia as the “body organizer” that embraces all nerves, bones, arteries, veins and muscles, which is why treating fascial dysfunction can be so effective.

During a typical treatment, which lasts about 30-45 minutes, the practitioner uses his/her fingers to make a gentle rolling type of motion on different muscles in the body. The practitioner then pauses, sometimes even leaving the room for a few minutes, to allow the body to “make its own adjustments” or, in a sense, to heal itself.



The Bowen Therapists Federation of Australia says that the actual origins of this type of treatment are unknown but admits “there do appear to be links with traditional Chinese medicine.” Traditional Chinese medicine is based on the alleged existence of a universal life force energy (a pantheistic belief not compatible with Christianity), which could be why so many of the practitioners display the yin-yang symbol on their sites.

However, many of them are typically vague about the type of energy involved, which can lead unsuspecting consumers to believe practitioners will be working with the legitimate natural energy systems of the body rather than a universal life force energy that science says does not exist (see

For instance, here’s how one practitioner explains it: “The Bowen Technique stimulates circulation of energy and clears energetic blocks. Coincidentally, several of the moves are located along acupuncture meridians or on specific acupuncture points which are known to stimulate and balance the body’s energy.” (

Notice how the practitioner makes it appear to be only a coincidence that several of the spots on the body targeted during a Bowen treatment correspond to acupuncture meridians.

Another rather serious problem is that independent scientific testing of BT has been largely inconclusive and there is no regulation in this field, which means it is open to just about anyone who wants to hang out a shingle.

AR is correct in saying that some “alternative” medicine techniques are much better than the “‘treat the symptom’ form of western medicine” but those that have any association with the false god known as a “universal life force” should be strictly avoided by Christians.




By Susan Brinkmann, July 16, 2010

EB writes: “I have been seeing a certified acupressure therapist. Does this pertain to the New Age category like chiropractors?”


Yes, this is New Age.

Acupressure is known as “acupuncture without needles” and is a form of complementary medicine, meaning it is often combined with conventional medical treatments (see Understanding Complementary & Alternative Medicine)

Practitioner websites describe acupressure as “an ancient healing art that uses the fingers to press key points on the surface of the skin to stimulate the body’s natural self-curative abilities. When these points are pressed, they release muscular tension and promote the circulation of blood and the body’s life force to aid healing. Acupuncture and acupressure use the same points, but acupuncture employs needles, while acupressure uses the gentle but firm pressure of hands (and even feet).” (

An acupressure therapist may apply physical pressure to acupuncture points with the hand, elbow, or other device such as an acuball, energy roller or foot roller. One of the most commonly used acupressure device is the acupressure wristband – called “Sea Bands” – that many use to relieve symptoms of motion sickness.

As you may or may not know, acupuncture/acupressure is based in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and the belief that a universal life force known as chi runs through the body through 14 channels known as meridians. Practitioners believe that sickness can be caused by blockages in the flow of chi, or imbalances in two opposing “energies” known as yin and yang. In order to cure illness and other maladies, a needle or pressure is applied to any one of hundreds of points on the body known as acupoints that are positioned along the meridians and which are thought to correspond to specific organs or body systems.

Even though acupuncture/acupressure has quite a following around the world, there is virtually no scientific evidence to support its efficacy for anything other than nausea and some types of pain (and even these conclusions are not convincing). While it’s true that the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health have come out in favor of acupuncture for some conditions, these statements have been heavily criticized for bias and reliance on poorly designed studies. However, science is studying acupuncture from a neuroscientific point-of-view rather than for its basis in traditional Chinese medicine. It is believed that acupuncture may cause the release of endorphins which are part of the body’s natural pain-control system; by stimulation of nerves in the spinal cord that release pain-suppressing neurotransmitters; or by the naturally occurring increase in blood flow in puncture areas that remove toxic substances. Scientists have arrived at no conclusions, however, and these studies are ongoing.

EB states that her therapist is “certified” but it doesn’t really matter because neither acupressure nor acupuncture work so visiting a practitioner will do little good other than give one a nice big placebo high for a few days. (See Power of Placebo page 17)



Study: Relief from Acupuncture linked to Placebo Effect

By Susan Brinkmann, August 24, 2010

A new study published last week in the Arthritis Care and Research journal found that among 455 patients with painful knee arthritis, acupuncture delivered no more relief than a sham treatment.



The New York Times is reporting that the study, conducted at the prestigious MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston found that among the patients tested, there was no difference in pain relief between those who received acupuncture and those who received a phony version.

Acupuncture involves inserting needles at specific points in the body that traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe to be “energy centers”. However, because the type of “energy” that is allegedly manipulated in this process is scientifically unsubstantiated, scientists believe the principles of neuroscience and the release of pain-suppressing neurotransmitters may be behind its purported efficacy.

Critics say the MD Anderson study used a poorly designed sham in their research, but lead author, Dr. Maria E. Suarez-Almazor, says their sham treatment was developed with the help of trained acupuncturists.

“We really worked with acupuncturists who are trained in the Chinese traditional style and asked them to come up with a sham that could be credible,” Dr. Suarez-Almazor said. “We didn’t plan a study trying to show that acupuncture didn’t work. The results came out with no difference between the groups.” She went on to clarify that in any drug study, an equal response in the treatment and placebo groups proves the drug does not work.

Other recent studies also seem to prove the presence of the “placebo” effect in acupuncture treatment. The Times cites a 2007 study of back-pain sufferers in Germany where half of the patients who participated in both sham and real acupuncture groups had less pain after a treatment compared to those who received physical therapy or other traditional back pain. Researchers also found that patients who received real acupuncture used only half as much pain medication as those who received a sham treatment.

This prompted researchers to speculate that the insertion of a needle in or around an area of pain produces a kind of “super placebo” effect that in turn touches off a series of reactions in the way people experience pain.

Other studies, such as one financed by the National Institutes of Health in 2004, found that acupuncture significantly reduced pain in patients suffering with arthritic knees compared to those who received either a sham treatment or routine care. However, this study was called into question because recipients of the sham treatment may have discovered that they were getting a phony version of acupuncture, which would automatically negate the findings.



Acupuncture Remains Scientifically Unconvincing

By Susan Brinkmann, January 13, 2011

JE writes: “I am seeking advice on acupuncture to help with back pain and depression. I have researched a little on valid health websites and have found some information that acupuncture might work. From a spiritual perspective is it as dangerous as practices reiki, or is there some gray area?” 


Contrary to popular opinion (and the websites you visited), there is no scientific evidence proving that acupuncture works. Although thousands of anecdotal reports can be found through the centuries on this ancient practice, when it comes to evidence based science, there is little or no proof that acupuncture heals anything.

According to the Oxford-based Cochrane Collaboration, which has a global network of 10,000 health experts and a massive data base of medical research studies and clinical trials on just about every treatment you can think of, a systematic review of all the testing done on acupuncture has found no evidence that this treatment works for anything but some types of pain and nausea – and even these are not considered to be very strong conclusions.

Supporters of acupuncture like to argue that the reason acupuncture does so poorly in tests is because there is no acceptable “sham” of the procedure that can be used in blind- and double-blind tests. The problem is that the ideal “sham” must appear to be exactly like real acupuncture only the needles cannot pierce the skin – a difficult standard to reach.

However, Professor Edzard Ernst, who leads the Complementary Medicine Research Group at the University of Exeter and who has had a long history of interest in acupuncture, did indeed develop such a sham that has now been successfully used in trials. Prior to this discovery, Ernst had conducted 10 of his own clinical trials on acupuncture, wrote a book on the subject and currently sits on the editorial board of several acupuncture journals so it’s safe to say this scholar is not biased against acupuncture.

His needling procedure, which he developed with Jongbae Park, a Korean Ph.D. student in his group, uses a telescopic needle that only appears to penetrate the skin and even causes a minor sensation during its supposed insertion.

Although it took several years to develop and test, when the “sham” was used in trials, patients believed they were receiving real acupuncture, making these tests the highest quality acupuncture trials ever conducted.

The results were disappointing for acupuncturists. The tests found no convincing evidence that real acupuncture is more effective than a placebo in the treatment of even the few somewhat positive results found by the Cochrane Collaboration such as the treatment of chronic tension headaches, nausea after chemotherapy, and migraine prevention.

During the same time frame, German researchers were also conducting large and very high quality trials with their own “sham”. The number of patients in these trials ranged from 200 to 1,000 people.

Although the results are still being analyzed, as of 2007, researchers released their initial conclusions from these mega trials which found that acupuncture was no more effective than sham acupuncture in treating the four ailments which were the subject of the tests – migraines, tension headaches, chronic low back pain and knee osteoarthritis.

Having said all this, you might want to reconsider spending your money on acupuncture treatments.




There is definitely a spiritual aspect to acupuncture that is rarely mentioned. Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine which has as its goal the restoration of harmony to each organ system in the body in order to resolve not only physical but emotional and spiritual imbalances as well. A person needs to be very informed about the acupuncturist who is working on them to be sure they are needling for physical health and not attempting to treat what they perceive to be “spiritual” imbalances.

I personally spoke with a former acupuncturist who practiced the Traditional Chinese Medicine form of acupuncture who said the procedure is routinely used to rid the body of bad spirits, much like our rite of exorcism. She even spoke about the special clothing the acupuncturist wears during these procedures to avoid contamination, and how they open a window or door in order to let the spirits out of the room.

In another style of acupuncture, known as Five Element acupuncture, practitioners are trained to use their intuition to read “energy patterns” in their patients. “(A) Five Element Acupuncturist, while working with a patient, might intuitively detect heaviness around the person’s spiritual heart. Since these practitioners are deeply invested in emotional and spiritual well-being, they might decide to needle Stomach 12, an acupuncture point also known as ‘Broken Bowl’. This point addresses a spiritual state of being in which joy drains through the cracks, so that a person is unable to contain the experience of pleasure. Addressing this emotional imbalance will allow the patient to absorb more happiness, and hence, begin to heal physical imbalances as well.” (

Needless to say, there are numerous dangers inherent in allowing New Age and/or Eastern medicine practitioners to exercise control over your spiritual well-being, either directly or indirectly.



Dry Needling and Acupuncture are too closely related for comfort

By Susan Brinkmann, April 13, 2011

CC asks: Can you tell me if ‘dry needling’ is a New Age practice? I have heard a couple of people mention having had it done by their physicians in recent months and had never heard of it.”


Although dry needling, also called biomedical acupuncture, is different from acupuncture, and is not based on the insertion of needles in traditional acupuncture meridian sites, it is said to have been derived from acupuncture.

According to a Blue Cross/Blue Shield policy statement on dry needling, this treatment involves the insertion of a needle at a “trigger point” in the body, such as those that occur in skeletal muscles that produce pain. These trigger points are often associated with tension headaches, tinnitus, and pain in the joints or lower back. Similar to acupuncture, a dry needle is inserted into the trigger point directly instead of into the meridians (alleged energy centers) prescribed by traditional Chinese medical practitioners of acupuncture. Dry needling also uses the same type of acupuncture needle – a solid, round point, small gauge needle.

“Despite the fact that dry needling has been known for years, there have been few published studies measuring the effect on patient outcomes published in the peer reviewed literature. Those studies that are available have design flaws or comprise small study samples so that it is not possible to draw conclusions regarding patient outcomes,” Blue Cross writes.

It is therefore considered to be “experimental/investigational” and does not appear to be covered by this insurance provider.

According to Dr. Yuan-tao Ma, the author of a textbook on dry needling for physical therapists, this modality was first developed in the 1940′s by Janet Travell, M.D., a medical advisor to the White House during JFK’s administration. He and other proponents of the practice claim it is based on modern neurological research that suggests acupuncture treatments may work based on the release of pain-relieving endorphins or through nerve stimulation. While this is an intriguing and very plausible concept, it has yet to be demonstrated to a clinically relevant degree.

I could not recommend dry needling only because most of its proponents are practicing Chinese acupuncturists (and Chinese acupuncture is one of the darlings of New Age medicine) and because it’s not supported by evidence-based science.



Beware of Acupuncturists Who Channel “Energy”

By Susan Brinkmann, November 21, 2011

KB writes: “My son and I received acupuncture therapy.  At one point, the doctor said that energy was being channeled into my son and she needed to respect that energy until it slowed down to continue. I feel uneasy about this, and am concerned that we may have exposed ourselves to something we should not have. Should we go to confession and forget about it? We spoke to our pastor and he felt it was okay. That we did not reject the trinity or the Eucharist, and if we feel it will help, we could pursue it. So, we did not get confession at that time, but I would go to another parish for reconciliation. Do we need to renew our baptism promises?”


You are correct to be concerned about this situation because whenever you hear the word “channel” it means contact with the occult. The concept of acupuncture is based on the belief that bodily functions are regulated by an energy called qi, but the idea of channeling this energy introduces another dimension to the equation.



Acupuncturists normally apply fine needles to the skin’s surface at key points on the body to allow the “chi” to flow through blocked channels or to redirect it into other routes. They don’t typically “channel” it.

Channeling energy is more like what a Reiki master does when he or she actually allows the “energy” to flow through them into the patient under the direction of a “spirit guide” which is a spiritual entity of some kind (aka demons). This acupuncturist may be employing a combination of practices which is not surprising because there is absolutely no regulation or standards in the alternative medicine field. Practitioners can pretty much do whatever they want.

What concerns me is that whenever you get into the area of channeling or mediumship, you are opening yourself up to the occult and to the influence of occult powers. A medium typically serves as a channel for the spirits of the dead, and seeks to facilitate communication between these entities and the material world. This is also known as necromancy and is expressly forbidden by the Church because of the rather obvious dangers involved in consorting with hidden powers.

All practices that attempt to tame occult powers, “so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others – even if this were for the sake of restoring their health – are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion.” (Catechism No. 2117)

In my opinion, you do not need to renew your baptismal promises because you had no intention of consorting with spirits when you visited this doctor. It is also obvious from your e-mail that you are concerned about having done wrong, and even went so far as to speak with your pastor about it. God sees the good will in our hearts and if it’s obvious to me in just your brief e-mail, He certainly sees it too!

Personally speaking, if I were in your shoes, I would definitely go to confession and seek sacramental healing just in case. Better safe than sorry!



Acupuncturists Want Coverage under ObamaCare

By Susan Brinkmann, April 18, 2012

Should the president’s ill-fated health care reform survive scrutiny at the U.S. Supreme Court, acupuncturists and practitioners of “oriental medicine” are attempting to convince the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to classify acupuncture as an “essential health benefit” (EHB) under ObamaCare.

The Heritage Foundation’s blog, known as The Foundry, is reporting that the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (AAAOM), a trade group that represents acupuncturists and practitioners of other forms of oriental medicine, have established a task force to pressure the HHS into listing them as an EHB. “Acupuncture fits all of the criteria for an eligible EHB service,” claims a position paper drafted by the AAAOM, “and has demonstrated meaningful improvement in outcomes over current effective services and treatments for conditions in at least five [of] the [10] often general categories of health care outlined by HHS and IOM.” Meanwhile, opponents are lining up to prevent the move.

The Center for Inquiry, which describes itself as “a national nonprofit organization that advocates for public policy based on science through research, publishing, lobbying, and community outreach,” sent a letter to Sebelius urging her to reject AAAOM’s request. “According to the Institute of Medicine, for a service to be eligible as an EHB, it must: (1) be safe, (2) be medically effective, (3) demonstrate meaningful improvement, (4) be a medical service, and (5) be cost effective. “Acupuncture meets none of these five criteria. Proponents of acupuncture repeatedly claim that acupuncture is a safe, efficacious, and cost effective complement to conventional medicine. However, such claims are unjustified, and rely on dubious and discredited research. In fact, an increasingly robust body of empirical evidence has shown that acupuncture is unproven, unscientific, and has no clinical value beyond a placebo effect. Medical interventions that perform no better than placebos should not be funded by the government. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve drugs as ‘safe and effective’ when they perform no better than placebos. Similarly, HHS should not classify a procedure as an EHB when it provides no benefits beyond what could be expected from a placebo.” Thus far, the HHS has not responded to the AAAOM’s request.



No Evidence Acupuncture Helps With Infertility

By Susan Brinkmann, May 30, 2012

L writes: It was suggested to us that we try acupuncture to get pregnant. The theory is that it relieves stress. What are your thoughts on this and is it okay to do?”


There was a time about a decade ago when researchers believed women undergoing IVF treatments had a better chance of conceiving if they underwent acupuncture treatments at the same time.

According to WebMed, a German study of 160 women, published April 2002 in the reproductive journal Fertility and Sterility, found that adding acupuncture to the traditional IVF treatment protocols substantially increased pregnancy success. In that study, 80 patients received two 25-minute acupuncture treatments – one just before and one directly after fertilized embryos were transferred to their uterus. The second group of 80 patients received no acupuncture during their IVF treatments. The result was that while women in both groups got pregnant, the rate was significantly higher in the acupuncture group — 34 pregnancies, compared with 21 in the women who received IVF alone.



However, this was just one of many trials involving more than 2,670 people that were reviewed in 2010 by the British Fertility Society (BFS). When studying all of the trial results, it was determined that acupuncture had no effect on the pregnancy rates of the women involved. According to Professor Adam Balen, head of the BFS policy and practice committee, there was “a great deal of discrepancy” in the way in which the trials were designed and the type of acupuncture used.

“Any future randomized controlled trials in this area need to ensure that they use a standardized acupuncture method, have a large sample size and include adequate controls to account for any placebo effects,” Professor Balen said.

He went on to recommend that couples should be made aware of a serious lack of evidence of the effect of acupuncture on women’s fertility before putting out their hard earned dollars for these treatments.

One of the world’s leading experts on the efficacy of complementary medicine, Professor Edzard Ernst of Pensinsula Medical School, agreed.

“Infertile women have been misled for some time now to think that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) can help them getting pregnant. This analysis shows two things very clearly: the totality of the acupuncture trials does not support this notion, and for Chinese herbs, we have no evidence at all.

“This will help infertile women not to waste their money or get disappointed by TCM practitioners who behave less than responsibly when recommending these treatments.”

An article appearing on the ScienceBased Medicine website goes into detail about acupuncture and infertility and the studies that have been done in this area. As you’ll read, there were caveats with every study that purported to show a positive effect in women who used acupuncture for infertility problems.

For example, a Cochrane review of multiple studies that looked into the use of acupuncture during embryo transfer (IVF) and found a “beneficial effect on the live birth rate; however, with the present evidence this could be attributed to placebo effect and the small number of women included in the trials.”

As for acupuncture’s effect on stress, this too is a dubious claim that has no scientific support. It might be a better idea to go on a nice relaxing vacation to relieve stress.

Even though every time I say this I am barraged by practitioners who insist on loading up my e-mail box with a slew of biased studies they believe prove otherwise, there is simply no unbiased, evidence-based scientific proof that acupuncture does anything but make people “think” they feel better.

2 readers disagree with the above report.



A Tale of Acupressure, Toe Rings and Weight Loss

By Susan Brinkmann, July 16, 2012

MB asks: “My friend bought an acupressure ring and swears that it helped her lose weight. Is this possible?”


If people could lose weight simply by sliding a ring on their finger, do you really think we’d have an obesity epidemic in the U.S.?

As you might have guessed by that initial snarky comment, there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support the use of acupressure rings for weight loss. For that matter, there’s no proof that acupressure works for anything.

For those of you who are not familiar with acupressure, it is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine that operates along the same principles as acupuncture, only instead of using needles, it uses the hands to exert pressure on certain points on the body.

In addition to so-called weight loss rings, there is also the Body Slimming Toe Ring (I’m not making this up). It is a silicon band with magnets that fits around the big toes and supposedly exerts pressure on points in the body associated with weight loss. As usual, no clinical trials can be found in support of its claims. The only good thing about it is the price – 3 pair for just $7.39 at Amazon! Your money would be better spent on healthy and more successful weight loss strategies, or simply by eating less and exercising more.



Are Acupressure Mats a Waste of Money?

By Susan Brinkmann, August 14, 2013

JZ writes: “I purchased a Halsa Swedish acupressure mat in a local health store. The box said The Natural Alternative to pain relief medication. The insert said the mat has roots in India, where spike mats were first used about 5000 years ago by fakirs and yogis. The mat has spikes in it to stimulate the body’s acupressure points. I assume this is a New Age product. I lost $40 on the dumb mat. Have you heard of this? What a rip off, I’ll stick to a regular pillow.”


This product is not New-Age based, but is actually based on traditional Chinese medicine. Acupressure mats such as the model you describe is made of a mat which contain small disks containing anywhere from 6-8,000 spikes.

The spikes are meant to apply pressure to key points on the surface of the skin that are said to stimulate the circulation of blood and the body’s “life force” to aid healing. The concept is similar to that of acupuncture except spikes are used in place of needles.



Users are told to lay on the mats, which cost anywhere from $30 to $70, for 15 minutes a day.


In a review of the Halsa mats written by Laura Johannes for the Wall Street Journal, scientific support for the efficacy of these mats is lacking. A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2011 found some benefits to the mats, but it was funded by a manufacturer of the product. It also relied on healthy participants so there was no way to determine any health benefits.

Another study of 36 sufferers of chronic neck and back pain, published in Alternative Medicine Studies, found that nail mats used for 15 minutes a day for three weeks reduced patients’ peak levels of pain but failed to reduce their normal pain levels. It also was found to have no effect on depression, anxiety and sleep. This study was not funded by any company involved in selling mats.

“I tested a Shakti mat several times, with light clothes and on bare skin,” Johannes reports. “At first, I felt a prickly sensation that was annoying, and my stress level went up. Stuffing a pillow under the mat to bring the spikes in contact with my neck felt good. By the third time, I was able to sink into the sensation and experience the spikes as a massage. While some sites suggest using the mats for foot reflexology, I found standing on it to be very uncomfortable.”

Science is studying acupuncture/acupressure from a neuroscientific point-of-view rather than for its basis in traditional Chinese medicine. It is believed that acupuncture may cause the release of endorphins which are part of the body’s natural pain-control system; by stimulation of nerves in the spinal cord that release pain-suppressing neurotransmitters; or by the naturally occurring increase in blood flow in puncture areas that remove toxic substances. Scientists have arrived at no conclusions, however, and these studies are ongoing.

I’m sorry that you were ripped off, JZ, but thanks to you, we’re able to publish this blog and spare others the same fate!



Auricular Medicine: Quackery on Steroids

By Susan Brinkmann, August 30, 2013

VR writes: “I have been getting homeopathy treatment from a chiropractor using Auricular Medicine. It is a bio-energetic medicine testing protocol that enables them to objectively determine which homeopathics are appropriate (and not appropriate) for each patient. Is this New Age medicine?”


                                                   The “little man” in your ear


It sounds like you’re getting a double-dose of quackery from a chiropractor who ought to know better. Not only is homeopathy without a shred of scientific merit (see our blog index for numerous articles on homeopathy) but auricular medicine is even wackier.

For those of you who have never heard of it, auricular medicine is also known as “ear acupuncture” and involves inserting acupuncture needles into certain spots in a person’s ear which supposedly correspond to certain parts of the body. But here’s where it gets really weird.

This therapy is widely believed to be an ancient Chinese remedy but that’s not even close to the truth. It was actually invented by a French homeopath, Dr. Paul Nogier, in 1951 when a patient came to him and claimed he was relieved of sciatica pain by a cauterization of the ear performed by a quack in Marseille, France.

Nogier suddenly had a remarkable “insight” that the ear was actually a homonculus (a little man) in the form of a fetus. Therefore, if one stuck a pin in a certain area on the “little man” in the ear, it would heal the corresponding part of the body. (I’m not making this up – click here for an article containing plenty of citations, including the diagram shown, which document the bizarre history of this treatment.)



Personally, I would not trust my health to anyone who uses such untested and downright ludicrous methods of “medicine” to diagnose an illness, then treat it with homeopathic drugs that have long been proven to be nothing more than plain water (which homeopaths believe have a “memory” of anything that ever touched it). If I were you, I’d find a real doctor and get on with some real healing.



Just because it Sounds Holy Doesn’t Mean it is

By Susan Brinkmann, October 2, 2013

CS writes: “I listen to Catholic Radio and have heard that partaking in acupuncture and other alternative therapies.  I have been to a natural healing center and the practitioner uses muscle testing which she says uses acupuncture ideas about energy flow in my body. That our bodies can let us know what part of our body is being challenged and what it needs to get back into balance. She uses her technique as an assessment tool not as treatment. If what she says is true then it would have to be of our God because it is amazing and miraculous. What is ‘bad’ about this?”


The first sentence in this question is incomplete so I’m going to assume that you meant to write “I listen to Catholic Radio and have heard that partaking in acupuncture and other alternative therapies is okay.”

Many people feel this way; however, there are a few important qualifiers which should always be given along with this kind of blanket statement. First of all, it is never okay with the Catholic Church to use an untested alternative therapy for a life threatening or communicable disease.

This teaching can be found in the Ethical and Religious Directives for Health Care Services (Part V, No. 56) which is based on the Catechism and Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter On the Value and Inviolability of Human Life (Evangelium Vitae).

These Directives state that “A person has a moral obligation to use ordinary or proportionate means of preserving his or her life.”

You can read more about this here.

If you want to use a homeopathic concoction to treat an earache, that’s okay, but it’s not okay to use it to treat diabetes or the mumps; however, the user may want to be fully informed about the origin of some of these practices, such as the muscle testing you describe above, because many are rooted in the occult and a pantheistic belief system that is not compatible with Christianity. In most cases, once a Christian becomes fully informed about an alternative, they’re no longer interested.

Now that I’ve explained this, you can see why making a blanket statement such as “it’s okay to use acupuncture” is really not telling a person what they need to know.

Second of all, what the healer is telling you is not true. There is no such “energy flow” in the body. The energy she is referring to is completely unsubstantiated by science and does not exist; but that doesn’t mean people won’t believe in it. Thanks to the New Age movement and its plethora of “energy workers”, this bogus medicine has become the snake-oil of the 21st century. It’s also why the Pontifical Councils refer to it as “the New Age god” in the document Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life.

Muscle testing is even more problematic. It is based on the notion that every organ dysfunction is accompanied by a specific muscle weakness that can be detected through muscle-testing procedures. Proponents claim diseases can be evaluated through specific patterns of muscle weakness which they can heal by manipulating or unblocking alleged body energies along meridian pathways, or by infusing energy to produce healing in certain organs. For instance, a weak muscle in the chest might indicate a liver problem, and a weak muscle near the groin might indicate “adrenal insufficiency.”

Patients can also be tested while chewing certain substances and if a muscle tests “weaker” after a substance is placed in the patient’s mouth, it supposedly signifies disease in the organ associated with that muscle.

The same test is applied for determining nutrient deficiencies. If a weak muscle becomes stronger after a nutrient (or a food high in the nutrient) is chewed, that supposedly indicates “a deficiency normally associated with that muscle.” Some practitioners contend that muscle-testing can also help diagnose allergies and other adverse reactions to foods.

Muscle testing is regarded by the medical and scientific community to be as goofy as it sounds to the rest of us, but researchers have nevertheless subjected the method to several well-designed and impartial tests to determine if it has any credibility.

Apparently, it does not.

In one test, three practitioners testing eleven subjects all made significantly different assessments on the same patients. Another set of researchers who conducted an elaborate double-blind trial concluded that “muscle response appeared to be a random phenomenon.” Without belaboring the point, no testing to date has turned up any evidence that muscle testing works.

You might also be interested in knowing that muscle testing (aka applied kinesiology) was “discovered” by a Michigan chiropractor named George Goodheart in 1964. By his own admission, the practice combines elements of psychic philosophy, Chinese Taoism, and a belief in what early chiropractors called “Innate Intelligence” a kind of universal energy or “life force.”

The fact that he relied on psychic powers in the development of his new idea was confirmed by Dr. William Jarvis, president of the National Council Against Health Fraud and professor of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Loma Linda University Medical School in California.



But none of this is any secret. Goodheart’s own published materials, along with those of other early proponents of applied kinesiology, openly describe the occult-based theories that have been incorporated into this practice.

“He combined the concept of ‘innate intelligence’ with the Eastern religious concept of energy (chi) and the idea that muscles reflex (reflect back) the condition of each of the various body organs via the chi’s meridians.

‘Innate intelligence’ is described as spiritual intelligence which runs the body and is connected to the universal intelligence though the nervous system. . . .” (Kinesiology, Muscle Response Testing, p. 1])

Even though your practitioner talks a good game, and makes what she does sound so good as to be almost holy, don’t be fooled. These practices are not based on science and should never – under any condition – be used to diagnose illness. If so, the practitioner should be reported to the state medical board.



Not All Acupuncture is Acupuncture

By Susan Brinkmann, December 13, 2013

I came across a very good explanation by a Yale neurologist about why some versions of acupuncture aren’t really acupuncture at all.

In this blog by Steven Novella, he says that many studies of acupuncture employ a kind of bait-and-switch tactic – which means they are studying something that is not really acupuncture but calling it acupuncture and thereby legitimizing “pure pseudoscience”, he writes.

For instance, acupuncture is based in Traditional Chinese Medicine which posits the existence of a life energy that can be controlled by inserting needles into certain locations on the body known as meridians.

“No study has demonstrated that chi exists, or that acupuncture of the meridians has any specific effect,” Novella writes.

In fact, acupuncture literature itself proves that it doesn’t really matter where the needles are placed, or how deeply they are inserted, in order to manipulate this life force energy.

“This means that any effects of sticking acupuncture needles into a patient are non-specific – they are not related to the flow of chi. There may be some small non-specific physiological effects – such as counter-irritation reducing pain or inhibiting nausea – but even these claims remain elusive and controversial.”

This means that “medical acupuncture”, which believes that the results of needling certain points on the body are due to the release of chemicals in the body rather than to the manipulation of chi, is not really acupuncture at all, because it does not rely on (or even believe in) the manipulation of this unsubstantiated life force energy named chi.

Novella then refers to studies of what some refer to as “electrical acupuncture” which is the application of a pulsating electrical current to acupuncture needles as a means of stimulating acupoints (meridians).

“Electrical acupuncture, however, is not acupuncture – it’s transdermal electrical stimulation [TES], which is a scientific practice that has proven efficacy in the treatment of pain. Giving transdermal electrical stimulation through acupuncture needles, calling that ‘electrical acupuncture’ and then using positive results to conclude that acupuncture works – is an elaborate bait and switch.”

In other words, not all acupuncture is really acupuncture. Traditional Chinese acupuncture has not fared well in laboratory tests but TES and techniques that manipulate the release of chemicals in the body do work. Calling them both by the same name, aside from being inaccurate, is very misleading to the average consumer.

This blog provides a much deeper explanation of so-called “medical acupuncture” and what is wrong with the many studies proponents are using to validate their practices.



Aculief & Massaging Trigger Points

By Susan Brinkmann, July 23, 2014

OB writes: Please tell me if the Aculief is okay to use? It’s essentially a clamp placed on the hand that helps alleviate headaches. I ordered it from a catalog. The description however, didn’t say anything about acupressure or energy, etc., unlike the instructions that arrived in the package! The other question: What’s the difference between acupressure and massaging trigger points?  


Aculief is indeed based on beliefs inherent in Traditional Chinese Medicine which assert that there is a universal life force present in the body that can be manipulated via pressure or needles at certain points on the body which are known as meridians.

As the Aculief package insert states: “Aculief uses all natural Traditional Chinese Medicine acupressure to apply pressure to the LI-4 meridian spot located between the thumb and forefinger. The LI-4 (Hegu) meridian spot has been known for centuries to provide tension relief and restore well-being.”




This sounds wonderful but there is no scientific evidence to back up this claim either for acupressure, which relies on applying pressure on meridian points, or for acupuncture which uses needles instead of pressure. Whatever temporary relief people may experience in acupuncture/acupressure is believed to result from the release of endorphins which are part of the body’s natural pain-control system, or by the naturally occurring increase in blood flow that occurs at the sight of the puncture or pressure. These results come about regardless of where the skin is treated, which contradicts the belief in meridians and the underlying energy that supposedly runs through these areas.

The main difference between acupressure therapy and trigger point therapy is that acupressure deals with pressure on meridian points and trigger point applies pressure mainly to muscle tissue. The latter is used primarily for pain management whereas acupressure, which is based on the belief that there are 14 energy centers in the body that correspond to particular organs, is often erroneously used as a diagnostic tool.



When Chair Massage Goes Off the Rails

By Susan Brinkmann, April 18, 2015

CW asks: “Is chair massage okay?”


Chair massage is problematic because it blends both deep tissue manipulation (which is not New Age) with reliance on acupressure points to stimulate the flow of energy in a client (very New Age).

For those who never heard of it, chair massage is a style of seated massage which focuses on the back, shoulders, neck and arms. It is typically done over clothes and without any kind of massage oil. The client sits in a special chair with the face resting in a cradle and facing downward, with supports for the arms. Swedish or deep-tissue massage techniques can be used, in which case this kind of massage would be acceptable. The founder of chair massage is a man named David Palmer who began his career in 1980. He was taught the traditional Japanese massage technique known as Amma (means push-pull in Chinese) which is aimed at balancing the flow of energy in a client’s body. It relies on acupressure points which are related to alleged energy centers known as meridians, a type of energy that is not founded in science. When Palmer’s teacher, Takashi Nakamura, returned to Japan in 1982, Palmer took over The Amma Institute and it was here that he began to develop a technique of working on seated clients with an adaptation of Amma and acupressure-based massage routines. While there is certainly nothing wrong with a chair massage which utilizes acceptable deep tissue massage techniques, any practice that relies upon the manipulation of a scientifically unfounded life force energy would not be acceptable for obvious reasons.



The Spiritual Dangers of Acupuncture

By Susan Brinkmann, August 7, 2015

PO writes: “I have been having acupuncture for 2.5 years on a regular basis for anxiety. The doctor that is treating me is a Catholic and a MD. I have benefited greatly from this therapy. He does mention that I have had blocks that need to be opened and I do feel very relaxed after the treatments . . . I do not feel that he is doing anything that is against the Catholic Church but when I went to a healing service at our local Catholic church they had acupuncture on the list that was something that one should not do. My main question is that during this healing service I held up my hand and renounced all of these practices that were listed and acupuncture was one of them. If I go back to have acupuncture am I allowing a bad spirit back into my life, i.e. the devil?”


Yes, you may be allowing a bad spirit back into your life and you’re also going back on your word to Jesus. Neither is a very good idea.

The reason the acupuncture is making you feel better is because pricking the skin with a needle releases pain-relieving endorphins and other chemicals that naturally make you feel better. It has nothing to do with the “blockage” your doctor referenced. This “blockage” is based on a belief based in Traditional Chinese Medicine that a universal life force permeates the universe, including the human body. This alleged energy enters the body through “energy centers” known as meridians. Practitioners believe that Imbalances in this energy (yin yang) are what cause illness.

The problem with this belief is that there is no such thing as a universal life force, which explains why scientists have been able to prick the skin anywhere on the body – not just in the alleged meridians – and bring relief to people.

That said, there is a very real spiritual component to acupuncture that must be dealt with.

As the website Acupuncture Today explains, in oriental medicine, there is no separation between mind, body and spirit. All are seen as components of the life force. This is why acupuncturists believe that “the spirit is the motive force of organism and must be reached first in order to initiate the healing process.”

It goes on to explain: “In Oriental medicine, the acupuncture needle is often seen as the instrument of containing the spirit because the needles are inserted into discrete acupuncture points, each of which is said to control specific physiological functions of the body down to the cellular level – indeed, what we might think of as the innate wisdom or spirit of the body.



“However, Oriental medicine also recognizes that before a practitioner can insert a needle in someone, another form of spirit connecting is also optimal. Whether it be guided imagery, eye contact, a handshake, or the ability to listen and be present, satisfying medicine for both practitioner and patient requires the possibility of meaningful interaction that allows a deeper, soulful, spiritual encounter. It is the medicine of the past and the new millennium. Needling acupuncture points is a powerful avenue for achieving this connection.”

The article goes on to list different locations in the body to needle in order to affect the spirit of a person.

As this licensed California acupuncturist explains, “There are many Taoist spiritual acupuncture points that deal with a bevy of spiritual issues. Anything from getting you back on your life path to what is buried in your subconscious mind.”

In other words, whether your Catholic acupuncturist intends it or not, the spiritual aspect of acupuncture is intrinsic to the practice. Acupuncture is based on the belief that there is no separation between mind, body and spirit so whatever the acupuncturist is doing is intended to affect all three aspects of the patient.

In addition to this, when you are laying on a table being treated by an acupuncturist, you are opening yourself to a practitioner who believes in a universal life force which is akin to a god in many religions. As we read in the Pontifical document, Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life, this life force energy is called “the New Age god.”

Although Taoism does not have a god, per se, Tao is considered to be the universal life force or the underlying nature of all things that exist in the world and the path one must follow.

Christians believe the path we must follow is the Will of our Creator, not the Tao!

Because we know that the universal life force does not exist, and the Fathers of our Church teach that Satan and his minions hide behind the false gods of other religions, we are exposing ourselves to demonic forces whenever we participate in practices that are based in these beliefs.

This is where the spiritual harm can come to a person who is receiving acupuncture – or any other treatment based in the existence of a universal life force. It is akin to putting our faith and hope for healing in a false god who does not exist, and who may be serving as a front behind which Satan can operate with impunity.

My advice is to keep your word to Jesus and stay away from acupuncture.



Is Acupuncture Harmless?

By Susan Brinkmann, October 2, 2015

GM asks: “My doctor says acupuncture is harmless. Is this true?”


Not exactly. There are numerous risks with acupuncture ranging from soreness and bruising to infections and punctured lungs and even death. According to Dr. Edzard Ernst and scientist Simon Singh in their book, Trick or Treatment , there are certainly risks involved in acupuncture. Some of the more minor issues involve slight pain, bleeding or bruising at the sight of the insertion. People who get woozy at the sight of a needle are also known to . . . well . . . get woozy and feel dizzy, faint or vomit. Among the more serious side effects is that of infection.

There have been documented cases  of patients contracting diseases such as hepatitis. The journal Hepatology documented 35 out of 366 patients who contracted hepatitis B from an American acupuncture clinic. The problem was caused by re-using needles that were not properly sterilized. Another more serious side-effect can occur if a needle happens to puncture a major nerve or organ.

For instance, in this article, Ernst said that there have been 86 deaths associated with acupuncture between 1965 and 2009 with most of them being due to lung collapse. This happens when the needle punctures membranes around the lung. In another case, an Austrian patient died after an acupuncturist inserted a needle into her chest which managed to pierce her heart and kill her. Even though acupuncturists like to say their craft is risk-free, this is not true. Although the number of injuries compared to those treated could hardly be called a “huge” risk, it is there nonetheless.

And when we consider that acupuncture has not been found to be effective for much of anything in laboratory testing, we can only wonder why anyone would take any risk at all in order to have one of these treatments.

Doctors recommend that people with bleeding disorders or are taking blood thinners such as warfarin or Coumadin could suffer a higher rate of complications. In addition, any kind of electrical acupuncture could interfere with the operation of a pacemaker. Pregnant women are also advised to be wary of the procedure because some types of acupuncture are believed to stimulate labor which could result in a premature delivery.



From: Michael Prabhu To: Sue Brinkmann; Sent: Thursday, April 11, 2013 8:10 PM

Subject: ACUPUNCTURE – Michael Prabhu, India

March 27, 2013

Dear Susan,



If you link to any page of the Catholic Answers online forum today, there is the phrase “Catholic FAQ” at the left-hand top corner that asks the question, “Can I receive acupuncture for pain” under which is a box. You click on the box, and the link is given to

At this link, a member asks, “Can I receive acupuncture for pain relief without going against my Catholic teaching?”

On behalf of Catholic Answers, Fr. Vincent Serpa O.P.* replies “Certainly! There is not conflict between acupuncture and Catholicism.

*Recent apologetics answers by Fr. Vincent Serpa:


I am copying below, a couple of excerpts from letters that I received from a Catholic in the UK (name withheld by me) who was once deep in New Age:

I was heavily involved in the New Age – Reiki, yoga, occult and past life regression. I had an encounter with God in a church nearly 7 years ago. I was going to commit suicide but God helped me stopped drinking immediately and without withdrawal. I go to Mass every day now.  On a pilgrimage to a National Roman Catholic Shrine in England, I renounced all New Age practices. I have been a hypnotherapist and auricular acupuncturist until very recently and after reading your website, I feel that being I am being called by  Jesus Our Lord to become an evangelist. -November 12, 2010

I have seen something on acupuncture on Susan Brinkmann’s site that I completely disagree with – i.e. that Western acupuncture is ok. Not so. The concept of meridians is Taoist. –August 15, 2011

With regards, Michael




What is Shiatsu?

By Susan Brinkmann, December 23, 2014

CJC asks: “Is Shiatsu New Age?”


Great question! Shiatsu massage is not New Age*; it is a Japanese healing treatment that applies manual pressure to specific points on the body believed to be energy pathways or meridians in order to reduce muscle tension, fatigue, and improve blood flow and the function of the lymphatic system. The word “shiatsu” actually means “finger pressure” because the fingers, thumbs, elbows and even knees are used to apply pressure during this type of massage.

It is said to have derived from an ancient form of Japanese massage known as Anma, and from acupuncture. Anma involves tapping, rubbing and applying pressure to different points on the body in order to stimulate the muscular and circulatory system. It’s also used to return the body’s “energy flow” to a normal state.

Tokujiro Namikoshi started the Japan Shiatsu college in 1940 where he integrated shiatsu with western anatomy and physiology. Marilyn Monroe was said to have been treated by him for an unknown illness which led to wider acceptance of the technique around the world.

In 1964, the Japanese government officially recognized it as a form of medical therapy.

A little more than a decade later, Shizuto Masunaga, a Japanese psychologist, created Zen Shiatsu which incorporates psychology, pressure points and neurology into the therapy and developed specific exercises for patients to perform to help reduce “energy” imbalances in their bodies. Zen Shiatsu is one of the more common forms of shiatsu massage in the U.S.

Although some practitioners of Shiatsu claim it can benefit a variety of physical, spiritual and mental ills, there is no evidence that it does anything more than what can be expected from a typical massage.

*Absolutely incorrect. Shiatsu is the Japanese version of acupressure which, like acupuncture, is New Age.






By Susan Brinkmann, December 4, 2009

We frequently receive questions about reflexology from people who are surprised to learn that it is another form of New Age “energy medicine” – which, as we all know, is pure snake oil. (See “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Energy Medicine” available here:

Reflexology is one of the techniques that rely on the manipulation of an alleged universal life force energy. According to the Reflexology Association of Rhode Island, “Reflexology is based on the premise that there are zones and reflex points in the feet, hands and ears, corresponding to all glands, organs, parts and systems of the body. Through the application of thumb, finger or hand pressure to these reflex points, energy pathways are cleared, balancing all body systems.”

However, it must be pointed out that there is no universal definition of reflexology. Practitioners are “all over the map” as far as what it is and how it works.




Even more important, it has no stamp of approval from the FDA or any other reputable public health agency – which is even more reason to avoid it.
Basically, practitioners believe energy pathways (also called meridians) on the extremities of the body (feet and hands) are particularly powerful because the energy in these places is barely skin deep. Working at various other points along the energy pathways achieves a slower response, which is why Reflexologists incorporate points in the hands and feet for their treatment.

Reflexology supposedly dates back to ancient Egypt and China, but the modern version was introduced in 1913 by William H. Fitzgerald, an eye, ear, nose and throat specialist practicing in New England. Fitzgerald divided the body into ten vertical zones which corresponded to the fingers and toes and taught that “bioelectrical energy” flowed through these zones to reflex points in the hands and feet. When treating an injury, he found that he could apply pressure to zones corresponding to the site of the injury and relieve pain. He also used pressure points on the tongue, palate and the back of the pharynx wall.

Dr. Shelby Riley expanded on the zone theory by adding horizontal zones across the hands and feet, together with longitudinal zones. A physical therapist working with Dr. Riley, Eunice D. Ingham, further developed reflexology but concentrated more on the feet. It was Ingham who authored the first book on the subject, “Stories the Feet Can Tell,” in 1938. The work was eventually translated into seven foreign languages.
After Ingham’s death in 1974, a relative, Dwight Byers, continued her practice and instituted what is now known as the International Institute of Reflexology.

Proponents claim that it can do everything from cleanse the body of toxins to assist in weight loss. They say it can be used to treat earaches, anemia, bedwetting, bronchitis, hemorrhoids, hiccups, deafness, hair loss, emphysema, prostate trouble, thyroid problems, kidney stones, cataracts and a variety of other ills. However, there is no scientific support for any of these assertions. The main criticism of reflexology from a medical standpoint is the danger that it could be used as a substitute for necessary medical treatment.

Also, since it is not recognized by law, no formal training is required. There is a lack of central regulation, accreditation and licensing in the field, as well as a lack of medical training. Training programs are relatively short in duration. Diplomas in reflexology can be attained in as little as six months.

An additional problem with practitioners of any kind of New Age “energy medicine”, including reflexology, is that many of them often “dabble” in other New Age practices. I would advise Christians to avoid these practices.



“But I’m not worshiping other gods!” EXTRACT

By Susan Brinkmann January 21, 2010

Sheila asks one of the most common questions I receive about the New Age. If a person is not deliberately worshiping other gods by practicing things such as yoga and reflexology, is it still wrong to participate in them?

Sheila’s question(s) is so good, I’m going to reprint the entire e-mail here, then respond to the specific issues she raises:

“Two questions. I had no idea that reflexology had anything to do with another religion. I can’t see why it would be bad if I am not worshipping another god by doing this. God made us a miraculous body and why is this contrary to what he may have done for us. So, the parts relate to one another… that is not evil or weird ’energy’, just the way the body is made. I can’t understand this being contrary to the Christian Faith as I can with Yoga.

Also I am not sure why Pilates would be against Faith or contrary to God’s plan for us. Again, the body works as a whole, created by God. I could guess that if you attributed the healing to yourself and not God or the way he made the body that would be a danger. I see that as a problem within the person themselves not with the exercises. A person could think the same when going to the gym and “worshipping” all the machines and not seeing the glory in the way God made the body and how it works and attributing their health and fitness to themselves and the machines.”


  1. I had no idea that reflexology had anything to do with another religion.

Reflexology and all other alternative healing methods that are based on the existence of a universal life force are based in pantheism, a non-Christian belief system that God is an energy force that permeates all of creation. Major religions based on this concept include Taoism and Hinduism. (See our post on reflexology, available here

  1. God made us a miraculous body and why is this contrary to what he may have done for us. So the parts relate to one another  . . .  that is not evil or weird “energy”, just the way the body is made.

Sheila is correct that God made us a miraculous body, but a body infused with a non-existent life force energy that can be manipulated through pressure points is not the body He created for us. Science has never been able to substantiate the existence of this so-called life force energy and considers any alternative healing method based upon this principle to be junk science. (See our post on energy medicine available here )

It is also important to note that the Church considers any therapeutic practice that is not based on sound scientific research to be a superstitious practice (CCC 2110-2111).




Okabashi sandals and Reflexology

By Susan Brinkmann, August 16, 2010

CF Writes: “My favorite summer sandals for the past 7-10 years have been Okabashi. When I was recently on your blog topics, I was surprised to see reflexology. I remembered that the term was used in reference to the making of these sandals. I went to the updated Okabashi web site, which now plays down the role of reflexology . . . . I was about to purchase new sandals, but now I hesitate . . .”


CF sent me a statement from the website which confirms that the family-run business bases its products on “the ancient art of reflexology.”

For those of you who are not familiar with reflexology, it is a New Age practice based on the existence of an alleged universal life force energy that supposedly permeates the body and can be manipulated to effect health by pressing on certain zones or reflex points in the feet, hands and ears that correspond to bodily organs. Practitioners believe that by applying pressure on these points, they can clear “energy pathways” and “balance” body systems. (For more, see Reflexology,

The Okabashi sandal was brought to America by an Iranian shoemaker named Bahman Irvani who fled his native country during the Islamic Revolution. The Irvani family settled in Buford, Georgia where their manufacturing plant is located. They have sold millions of these sandals which come equipped with a contoured reflexology insole that has 500 “massage beads” that supposedly stimulate pressure points on the soles of the feet for the purpose of invigorating the body.

If these soles feel great (as CF says they do), it’s not because of whatever those “massage beads” are doing to your universal life force energy. The truth is, there’s no such thing as a universal life force energy (see What You Should Know about Energy Medicine, which begs the question of why anyone would even bother with shoes that are built upon a false notion. The manufacturer claims they prevent foot fatigue by applying the principles of reflexology, but any well-crafted shoe is expected to prevent foot and leg fatigue so I’m not sure what makes Okabashi any different from other responsibly-made shoes other than their trademark reflexology.

The bottom line is that one doesn’t need reflexology for comfortable shoes and sandals. Remember Dr. Scholl’s and those big clunky wooden-soled sandals from the 1970′s? Well, they’ve come a long way since then and now have fashionable shoes that are based on proven orthopedics. Come to think of it, I’ve had a pair of Dr. Scholl’s black flats for at least 15 years and they’re still my favorite shoes!




Exorcist says Promiscuity, New Age Practices Lead to Demonic Possession

By Susan Brinkmann, August 18, 2008

A British priest and practicing exorcist says that promiscuity, whether heterosexual or homosexual, and New Age practices such as Reiki, can lead to demonic possession. According to a report by LifeSiteNews, Father Jeremy Davies, 73, a priest of the Westminster diocese of the Catholic Church of England and Wales, said sexual perversions as well as trendy New Age practices can open the door to evil spirits. Offering what may be an explanation for the explosion of homosexuality in recent years, Fr. Davies said, “Among the causes of homosexuality is a contagious demonic factor.” He went on to say: “Even heterosexual promiscuity is a perversion; and intercourse, which belongs in the sanctuary of married love, can become a pathway not only for disease but also for evil spirits. Some very unpleasant things must be mentioned because young people, especially, are vulnerable and we must do what we can to protect and warn them,” he told the Catholic Herald. He also said that Satan is responsible for having blinded most secular humanists to the “dehumanising effects of contraception and abortion and IVF, of homosexual ‘marriages’, of human cloning and the vivisection of human embryos in scientific research.” He also said that extreme secular humanism, or “atheistic scientism,” which he compares to “rational Satanism” is leading Europe into a dangerous state of apostasy. “Only by a genuine personal decision for Christ and the Church can someone separate himself from it.” Fr. Davies, an Oxford graduate and medical doctor, made these comments in conjunction with the publication of his new book, entitled, Exorcism: Understanding Exorcism in Scripture and Practice published earlier this year by the Catholic Truth Society (CTS).

Fr. Davies also warns in his book against so-called New Age and occult practices, as well as trendy exercise and “spiritual healing” regimens derived from eastern religions. “The thin end of the wedge (soft drugs, yoga for relaxation, horoscopes just for fun and so on) is more dangerous than the thick end because it is more deceptive – an evil spirit tries to make his entry as unobtrusively as possible.” “Beware of any claim to mediate beneficial energies (e.g. reiki), any courses that promise the peace that Christ promises (e.g. enneagrams), and any alternative therapy with its roots in eastern religion (e.g. acupuncture).” Needless to say, overtly occult activities such as séances and witchcraft are direct invitations to the Devil which he readily accepts.” Fr. Davies was appointed exorcist of the Westminster Archdiocese in 1986 after a four month training period in Rome. In 1993 he co-founded, with Italy’s Father Gabriele Amorth, the International Association of Exorcists which now has hundreds of members worldwide. In 2000, Fr. Davies told the Independent newspaper that incidents of demonic possession are rising dramatically along with the increase of New Age beliefs and practices, ignorance of the Bible and a growth in spiritual confusion. “At the centre of this is man’s ever-growing pride and attempted self-reliance,” he said, “man trying to build a better world without God – another Tower of Babel.”



Why people believe Alternative Practices work

By Susan Brinkmann, September 22, 2010

Have you ever wondered why people are so convinced that therapies work, even when they’ve been proven by science to be quackery? Almost every New Age therapy has a website full of testimonials from people who really believe the technique worked. How could this be?

Barry L. Beyerstein, Ph.D.*, compiled an interesting list of seven reasons why people can think they’ve been healed by either alternative or conventional medicine when they really haven’t.

*Why Bogus Therapies Often Seem to Work July 24, 2003**.

Dr. Beyerstein, a member of the executive council of the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), is a biopsychologist at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada. A more detailed discussion of this topic is one of six superb articles on “alternative medicine” in the September/October 1997 issue of CSICOP’s Skeptical Inquirer magazine

  1. The disease may have run its natural course.

“Many diseases are self-limiting,” Dr. Beyerstein writes. “If the condition is not chronic or fatal, the body’s own recuperative processes usually restore the sufferer to health.”

In order to prove that a therapy is effective, the practitioner has to be able to prove that the number of patients whose condition improved is greater than the number who might be expected to recover without any treatment at all.

“Without detailed records of successes and failures for a large enough number of patients with the same complaint, someone cannot legitimately claim to have exceeded the published norms for unaided recovery.”

  1. Many diseases are cyclical.

Conditions such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, allergies, and gastrointestinal problems normally have “ups and downs,” Dr. Beyerstein writes. “Naturally, sufferers tend to seek therapy during the downturn of any given cycle. In this way, a bogus treatment will have repeated opportunities to coincide with upturns that would have happened anyway.”

  1. The placebo effect may be responsible.

Through suggestion, belief, expectancy, cognitive reinterpretation, and diversion of attention, patients given biologically useless treatments often experience measurable relief, Dr. Beyerstein writes.

It is also possible that in some cases, even a placebo response will produce an actual change in the physical condition. In other cases, subjective changes take place in which the patient feels better even though their condition has not improved.

  1. People who hedge their bets credit the wrong thing.

Dr. Beyerstein has found that if improvement occurs after someone has had both “alternative” and science-based treatment, the fringe practice often gets a disproportionate share of the credit.

  1. The original diagnosis or prognosis may have been incorrect.

It is always possible that an original diagnosis is incorrect, in which case a trip to an alternative “healer” could lead one to think they’ve been healed from a certain condition when they never really had it in the first place.

  1. Temporary mood improvement can be confused with cure.

“Alternative healers often have forceful, charismatic personalities,” Dr. Beyerstein writes. “To the extent that patients are swept up by the messianic aspects of ‘alternative medicine,’ psychological uplift may ensue.”

  1. Psychological needs can distort what people perceive and do.

Even when no objective improvement occurs, people with a strong psychological investment in “alternative medicine” can convince themselves they have been helped, Dr. Beyerstein has found.

“According to cognitive dissonance theory, when experiences contradict existing attitudes, feelings, or knowledge, mental distress is produced. People tend to alleviate this discord by reinterpreting (distorting) the offending information. If no relief occurs after committing time, money, and ‘face’ to an alternate course of treatment (and perhaps to the worldview of which it is a part), internal disharmony can result.”

Rather than admit to themselves or to others that their efforts have been a waste, many people will find some redeeming value in the treatment.

“Core beliefs tend to be vigorously defended by warping perception and memory. Fringe practitioners and their clients are prone to misinterpret cues and remember things as they wish they had happened. They may be selective in what they recall, overestimating their apparent successes while ignoring, downplaying, or explaining away their failures.”

In fact, the reason why we developed the scientific method is to counter this very human capacity for jumping to unfounded conclusions based on what we want to believe. “In addition, people normally feel obligated to reciprocate when someone does them a good turn. Since most ‘alternative’ therapists sincerely believe they are helping, it is only natural that patients would want to please them in return. Without patients necessarily realizing it, such obligations are sufficient to inflate their perception of how much benefit they have received.”

**Related topics:

Spontaneous Remission and the Placebo Effect

Common Questions about Science and “Alternative” Health Methods

Why Extraordinary Claims Demand Extraordinary Proof

How Quackery Sells

Response to an Alt-Muddled Friend



Science and the Church

By Susan Brinkmann, September 27, 2010

MS writes: “If western science shows that practices such as chiropractic, etc. work, will the practices become ok to use?”


The Church does not approve or disapprove of a practice based solely on its scientific efficacy, but also on its compatibility with revealed Truth. Irregardless of whether something “works”, if it does so based on a reliance upon occult powers, for instance (i.e. “life force energy” or psychic powers) it would not be approved of for use by the Church.

Science may, however, discover that a practice works for reasons other than the various mystical philosophies with which it is associated, which might then change the way the Church rules on the use of a particular practice.

For instance, science is currently studying acupuncture with a belief that it may work because of the release of endorphins which are part of the body’s natural pain-control system; by stimulation of nerves in the spinal cord that release pain suppressing neurotransmitters; or by the naturally occurring increase in blood flow in puncture areas that remove toxic substances. It does not believe that it works for the reasons put forth in Chinese Traditional Medicine which asserts that the insertion of needles at certain locations on the body, known as meridians or energy pathways, helps to balance the flow of “qi”. There is simply no evidence that “qi” even exists, let alone that it infuses the body in such a way that it can be balanced by the insertion of needles.

The Church currently associates acupuncture with the New Age, but it may rule differently if science determines that its course of action is due to the normal function of the body rather than to the occult forces with which it is presently associated.



The Power of Placebo

By Susan Brinkmann, October 11, 2010

What is the one thing all alternative medicine techniques have in common? Testimonials.

No matter what site you visit, iRenew Bands, The International Center for Reiki Training, Peaceful Soles Reflexology, etc., they’re all loaded with impressive testimonials from people who swear by the treatments. But because so few of these methods have any scientific backing, does this mean all of these people are lying?

Absolutely not.

I found this out recently while reading a book entitled, Trick or Treatment, by Edzard Ernst, M.D., the world’s first professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter, and Simon Singh, science journalist and best-selling author. The book is about the establishment of evidence-based medicine and what happens when it is applied to some of the most popular alternative healing practices in use today – such as acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic and herbal medicine.

Although I knew a little something about the placebo effect before reading this book, I was astonished at the scope of this phenomenon, and the central role it played in forcing the development of rigorous scientific testing in order to determine if a treatment really does work.

Let me explain.

The placebo effect was discovered back in the late 1800′s* when a physician named Elisha Perkins began marketing a pair of metal rods which he claimed could extract pain from people just by being brushed over the painful area. He claimed the rods were made of an expensive exotic metal alloy which was crucial to their healing capabilities (and to charging their high fees). Literally thousands of people, including George Washington, were recipients of these treatments and Perkins had a long list of satisfied customers who swore their pain disappeared upon contact with the rods.

However, another doctor named John Haygarth became suspicious and decided to try an experiment to prove whether the rods really worked. For the experiment, he secured one pair of Perkins’ rods, then had another bogus pair made. Two groups of people were assembled and given treatment with the rods. No one was told who was receiving treatment with the authentic rods and who was receiving treatment with the fake rods. The results of the trial were exactly as Haygarth expected – patients reported precisely the same benefits from the treatment irregardless of whether they were treated with real or fake rods. He determined that the only explanation for this outcome is that “powerful influences upon diseases are produced by mere imagination.” See *I believe this should read as 1700s

When he says powerful, he means it!

Other examples of the power of the placebo effect are almost beyond belief. During World II, an American anesthesiologist named Henry Beecher was very interested in researching the placebo effect and did an experiment on his soldiers when he ran out of morphine. Rather than just treat them without a painkiller, Beecher told his patients they were being injected with the powerful painkiller even though they were receiving nothing more than a saline solution. To his astonishment, the patients relaxed and showed no signs of pain or distress when being subjected to very painful procedures.

Needless to say, after the end of the war, Beecher returned to Harvard Medical School and started a program to explore the miraculous power of placebo.




It was found to be at play in all kinds of procedures, from tooth extractions to cardiac care. One of the most astonishing was a study of angina patients where one group received surgery to correct their narrowed arteries and the others didn’t. Both groups improved so much that some were able to reduce their intake of medication!

Does this mean that mind-over-matter may one day lead to no more reliance on medicine?

Unfortunately, no.

The problem with placebo is that the underlying problem is not cured – we just think it is. In the case of the angina patients, they may have been able to reduce their medicine intake, but their arteries were still dangerously narrowed.

Scientists believe the placebo effect works either through conditioning or expectancy, which means we are either conditioned to respond in a certain way, such as feeling better after seeing a doctor, or expecting to get rid of a headache after taking an aspirin. In the latter case, the more one believes they will benefit from a treatment, the more likely they are to do so.

But we can’t have a bunch of people running around who think they’re cured when they’re not. This is why science has had to develop very rigorous testing standards – such as blind and double-blind trials – to eliminate the possibility of the placebo effect and determine whether certain drugs or treatments actually work.

In blind trials, the patients do not know whether they are receiving the real treatment or a fake. In double-blind studies, neither the patients nor the doctors know which treatment the control groups are getting. This discounts any possibility of suggestion, either by the patients themselves or by a doctor whose body language or other unwitting signals might give away which treatment is being administered.

Having said all this, it’s easy to see how someone can walk away from a Reiki or reflexology or acupuncture session and be totally convinced that they were healed or at least helped in some way – even though the treatments were as useless as that saline solution used by Dr. Beecher.

So the next time you hear someone tout a new alternative method where “hundreds of people” have been healed, unless it’s been subjected to rigorous scientific trials like those just described, please don’t waste your hard-earned money!


Can Catholics Use Alternatives to Treat Serious Illnesses?

By Susan Brinkmann, October 26, 2012

JD asks: “I don’t see any mention in the Catechism about Catholics being forbidden to use alternatives such as homeopathy or acupuncture to treat illnesses like cancer or diabetes. Is this true, and if so, can you tell me what documents contain this teaching?”


Yes, this is true. This teaching can be found in the Ethical and Religious Directives for Health Care Services (Part V, No. 56) which is based on the Catechism.

These Directives state that “A person has a moral obligation to use ordinary or proportionate means of preserving his or her life. Proportionate means are those that in the judgment of the patient offer a reasonable hope of benefit and do not entail an excessive burden or impose excessive expense on the family or the community.”

This teaching derives from Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter On the Value and Inviolability of Human Life (Evangelium Vitae).

Keep in mind that “proportionate means . . . in the judgement of the patient offer a reasonable hope of benefit . . .” does not mean that we can use alternatives such as homeopathy and acupuncture in spite of their lack of scientific credibility just because we want to believe they’ll work. If the science is not behind them, we cannot use them to the exclusion of ordinary means to treat serious or contagious diseases.

As I’ve quoted elsewhere in this blog, and in my Learn to Discern booklets, Kevin G. Rickert, Ph.D. explains in Homiletics and Pastoral Review that “Catholic moral teaching requires that we use ordinary means to save a life or to treat a malady. When a person is confronted with a life threatening condition, or some less serious illness (especially a communicable disease), which can be easily treated by ordinary means, there is a moral obligation to do so.”

Unscientific medical cures such as alternatives that are either untested or failed to pass the test of rigorous scientific scrutiny (as is the case with most alternatives in use today) are not considered to be ordinary “because they are not real means at all,” Dr. Rickert writes. “As such, they are neither required nor permitted. The main problem with these kinds of “cures” is that they don’t really work; they are irrational, and as such they are contrary to the natural law.”

When we put our full faith in one of these untested methods to treat a serious illness like diabetes or heart disease, while refusing the best science of the day, we fall into the trap of deception and error, aka “superstitious medicine.”

“In this case, I subject my mind to deception, and at the same time, I neglect my obligation to employ ordinary means; in so doing, I subject my body to illness and my loved ones to potential hardships.”