Have you ever learned to appreciate something but only after it was gone?
The fact is it’s easy to take something for granted when it’s always been there. Take saliva for example.
Yes, saliva. Let me explain.
If you’ve ever had to deal with a temporary case of dry mouth then you’ve experienced just a small hint of what many head-and-neck cancer patients suffer with every single day.
Xerostomia… or an abnormally dry mouth caused by decreased saliva production… is a common and debilitating side effect of undergoing radiation treatments for certain cancers. And although the condition may not sound all that serious on the surface, it can have a devastatingly serious impact on your quality of life and your health.
In fact, radiation-induced dry mouth can get so bad that a patient will experience trouble sleeping, eating, and even speaking. Plus they run an increased risk for all kinds of nasty oral infections.
Oh, and if that wasn’t bad enough, mainstream medicine has very little to offer sufferers to relieve the problem. So the suffering could go on for years… even after the radiation treatment had ended.
But exciting research from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center has shown that one ancient Eastern practice could make a remarkable difference before the condition is even able to gain a foothold.
Researchers ponder dry mouth prevention
I’m talking about acupuncture. And while the practice had already shown some promising results for treating cases of xerostomia no one had studied its use as a preventative measure before.
Eighty-six patients with nasopharyngeal cancers were recruited for the study. Forty of the volunteers were placed in an acupuncture group and the remaining forty-six were assigned to a control standard-care group.
The volunteers in the acupuncture group received acupuncture therapy three times a week during their seven-week course of radiation treatments. And volunteers in both of the groups were given evaluations before radiation treatments started, weekly during treatment, one month after treatment, and, finally, six months after treatment.
“Remarkable results” seen with acupuncture
Researchers used a combination of two xerostomia symptom questionnaires and measurements of saliva flow rates to compare the effects of the acupuncture treatments to the standard-care treatment on the xerostomia.
What they found surprised them.
The benefits of the acupuncture treatments became clear quite quickly. In fact, chief investigator Zhiqiang Meng, M.D., Ph.D., called the results, “…quite remarkable…” He went on to say, “…we started to see group differences as early as three weeks into radiotherapy for the development of xerostomia…”
A score under 30 on the questionnaires meant that dry-mouth symptoms were mild or completely gone. One month after treatment 54.3 percent of the acupuncture group had scores over 30 compared to 86.1 percent of the control group.
With an over 30% percent difference in those reporting more-than-mild symptoms between the groups the acupuncture group’s numbers were already impressive…but they got even better.
By the six-month mark the acupuncture group had dropped to 24.1 percent of participants being over 30 on the symptoms score compared to 63.6 percent of the control group still reporting significant dry-mouth problems.
The results have been so positive that researchers are now planning a much larger trial involving 150 patients. They hope to not only repeat the positive results, but also start to uncover the mechanisms behind why the acupuncture works.
But why wait? If you’re going to be undergoing radiation treatments.. .or are already suffering with a dry mouth because of radiation or other medical reasons… you can get started with acupuncture right away.
Do you have friends or family that suffer from dry mouth? Try the simple to use share buttons at the top of this article to share it with them.
Dr. Allan Spreen
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