SCIENCE IN THE NEWS #2114 - Digest

By StaffThis is Bob Doughty.And this is Sarah Long with SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, a VOA Special English program about recent developments in science. Today, we tell about an American study of an ancient Chinese treatment. And we tell why breast-feeding is important to both babies and their mothers.

An American government health agency is studying an ancient Chinese treatment to see if it helps patients with arthritis. Almost six-hundred patients over age fifty will take part in a test of acupuncture. Acupuncture is the ancient Chinese method of easing pain, treating disease and improving general health. During acupuncture, very small, sharp needles are placed in the skin at targeted body points. Millions of people in many countries have tried acupuncture to ease pain. But researchers still do not fully understand how it works.

Researchers organized the study to find out if acupuncture can help arthritis of the knee. Millions of older Americans suffer from the problem. The disease damages the knee joint -- the place where the bones connect. Arthritis can make moving the knee joint very painful. Arthritis is caused by the destruction of cartilage. This is the connective tissue at the ends of bones that permits the bones to slide smoothly across one another.Acupuncture for arthritis is among several treatments being tested by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The agency is part of the National Institutes of Health, near Washington, D-C.

Alternative usually means a medicine or treatment used in place of a traditional one. Complementary usually means treatments used with other methods.

Congress created the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Nineteen-Ninety-Eight. Its major goal is to prove which treatments can help patients. It also will warn the public about unsafe or useless treatments.The World Health Organization says acupuncture can help patients with arthritis. Chinese and some European health experts often use the treatment for the disease. However, the new study is the first scientifically controlled American study of acupuncture with a large number of patients. Brian Berman leads the project. Doctor Berman is a researcher at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Patients at three medical centers are taking part in the study. One is the University of Maryland medical center. Another is a private research center in Catonsville, Maryland. The third is the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.The study is trying to find out if traditional Chinese acupuncture is an effective treatment for arthritis. One group of patients is receiving true acupuncture. They are having needles placed in their skin at traditional acupuncture points designed to help arthritis of the knee. The other group is receiving false acupuncture. They are having needles placed in other areas. The researchers say they can perform the acupuncture so patients will not know which kind they are receiving.

The patients receive two treatments a week for the first eight weeks. Then they are treated less often for eighteen weeks. The researchers will publish their findings after six months. The study also will measure the effectiveness of true acupuncture compared with an information program. The National Arthritis Foundation will offer information and suggestions for some of the patients.The scientists will continue studying the patients for four years. They want to learn if acupuncture reduces the patients' need for drugs or operations.

Earlier studies have shown that traditional Chinese acupuncture may increase the production of natural pain-reducing chemicals in the body. These endorphins are released in the brain, spinal cord and pituitary gland. Acupuncture also may release neurotransmitters. These are chemicals that carry messages in the nervous system. And it may activate nerve pathways that are important in the control of pain.People in China have used acupuncture for more than two-thousand-five-hundred years. It developed from the ancient Chinese theory of the forces called yin and yang. These forces act in the whole universe as well as in the human body. Chinese medicine says an incorrect balance between yin and yang causes problems in the body. The goal of Chinese health care is to return balance to the body.

Chinese doctors believe an imbalance of yin and yang blocks an important life force. This force is called ch'i (CHEE). The energy of the ch'i flows through twelve pathways of the body called meridians.Each meridian is linked with a major organ, such as the heart or liver. Meridians also are linked to systems of the body, such as the digestive system. Pain is believed to result from blockages in energy flow.

Acupuncture is designed to affect the yin and yang in the meridians so that the ch'i will be able to flow freely. Modern Chinese acupuncture experts use it to treat conditions including headache and stomach problems. In China, acupuncture also is used to block pain in patients having operations.The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is carrying out another study about arthritis. It is studying two popular nutritional substances. They are glucosamine (glue-COH-sa-meen) and chondroitin (con-DROY-tin) sulfate. Many Americans take these substances to ease the pain of arthritis. One-thousand-two-hundred patients are taking part in the study.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))You are listening to the Special English program SCIENCE IN THE NEWS on VOA. This is Bob Doughty with Sarah Long in Washington.


Doctors are concerned that women in industrial nations are not breast-feeding their babies long enough. Now, two new scientific studies show how important breast-feeding is to both babies and mothers.

A recent medical study shows that breast-feeding improves the health of babies. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers studied more than seventeen-thousand mothers and their babies in the former Soviet Republic of Belarus. Almost all the mothers breast-fed their babies. However, one-half of the mothers breast-fed longer than the other half.The study found that the babies who were breast-fed for longer periods of time had forty percent fewer infections of the stomach and intestines. The research also showed that these babies had fewer skin problems.

Michael Kramer of McGill University in Montreal, Canada was one of the research leaders. Doctor Kramer says the number of mothers who do not breast-feed is too high. He says many mothers stop breast-feeding too early, or give their babies solid food too early.The other study was done in Shandong Province, China. Researchers from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut carried out the study. They studied more than seven-hundred Chinese women.

The study found that women who breast-fed their babies for more than two years reduced their risk of developing breast cancer by about fifty percent. The study compared women who breast-fed for two years and women who did so for only six months. The researchers also noted that women who breast-fed for at least seventy-three months during their life had a much lower risk of breast cancer.The study did not explore why breast-feeding may reduce the risk of breast cancer. One theory is that breast-feeding suppresses the hormone estrogen which has been linked to breast cancer.

Women in China and other developing countries normally breast-feed their babies for two years or longer. This is not true in the United States. American government health studies show that sixty-four percent of mothers breast-fed after giving birth. But only about thirty percent continue after six months. Public health officials want more American women to breast-feed their babies for at least one year.

This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Jerilyn Watson and Mario Ritter. It was produced by George Grow. This is Bob Doughty.And this is Sarah Long. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.

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